Sony are sort of perennial outsiders, or ‘nearly men’ in the tablet PC marketplace.
They’ve tried very hard not to be, in fact, they’ve ploughed millions into the development of various tablets. From the underrated Sony Tablet S to the pretty dismal Sony Tablet P and onwards to the mis-step of the first Sony Xperia, it seems like everything they touch is doomed, inexorably, towards slow sales and mediocre reviews.
In preparation for this review, I dug out a few of my own reviews for the aforementioned products. I believe I can narrow down a few negative points common to all Sony tablets.
1) The price – even when the tablet is generally sound, Sony lack the reputation required to charge as much as they do for their tablets.
2) Branding – A single letter name and an offbeat design can make the branding a little too ‘high concept’ for the average consumer and a little too ‘hokey’ for the expert.
3) The screen – Let’s face it; the screen is, in some respects, the only aesthetic feature a tablet PC has. It is also the first thing that the average customer gravitates to. Sony’s screens have been, by turns, slippery and awkward or just far too polished for its own good (definitely the case with the Xperia).
So, this is the criteria we’ll be looking at as we review the new Xperia Z.
The screen is, sadly, not much to write home about. It looks nice enough and has a polite 1920 x 1200 resolution, but when measured against the Google Nexus, the Microsoft Surface Pro or the iPad’s Retina Display, it just comes off as inadequate. Of course, this isn’t to say that the screen is bad, just that it is a mid-range, average display.
On the other hand, at 6.9mm, the Xperia Z is the thinnest tablet in the world and exhibits a smart, modern design that really looks the part. Sony’s earlier S and P models indicated a great desire to play with the aesthetics of the form (the ‘rolled up magazine’ model was a personal fave) and, although these desires have since been scaled back somewhat, Sony sure knows how to design a handsome product.
The Xperia is also completely waterproof (and can be dunked into a fishtank if you don’t believe me), this makes it very useful for use in the rain and eliminates the worry that it’ll blow up if a few drops somehow get inside the casing.
The Xperia is being released to compete with iPad on price. Oh, Sony…
Personally, I loved the infrared port, this allows your Xperia to work like an all-purpose remote control, meaning that it can change the channels on your telly if you can’t find the remote. It’s kind of gimmicky, but hey, I like it.
I like Android Jelly Bean as well and there is an opening for a truly brilliant Android tablet to swoop in and become ‘The Android iPad’, however, the Xperia just isn’t that tablet. It is likeable enough, uses good, fast processors and runs reasonably well, but this is, simply, an average tablet. It is not the iPad beater that the inflated price tag is forcing it to be.
When I was at school, I had a friend who was a nice enough guy (if a little annoying at times), but who was, at best, an average student. He wasn’t especially bright, wasn’t particularly athletic and certainly wasn’t an academic. His parents, however, pushed him to believe that he could do anything; in fact, they pushed him so far and so hard, that if he wasn’t a self-made millionaire by his late teens, they would possibly have died of shame. Of course, this friend did his best; he worked as hard as he could, but eventually it all came undone, as it was always going to. Sony, I feel, are like my old friend’s parents, telling him he could crack Unified Field Theory on his lunch break and then getting upset when he failed to do so and proved to be, well, average.
Sony does not have a great reputation with tablets. What they need is an innovative, affordable 7” tablet in the vein of the Kindle Fire HD or Nexus 7, something that can build a customer base and then attract customers to the next big, well-branded release.
Releasing their tablet against the iPad will probably doom it to the same ignominious fate as its predecessor. Let’s face facts: the iPad is the best branded, most visible and most popular tablet in the world today. If the average person is going to spend their money on a top-range tablet, what are they going to buy? An untested model that is an update for a low-selling and underwhelming series, or the world’s most famous tablet? Answers on a postcard, please.
As a stand-alone model, I would say that this tablet is a fine computer, like most of its predecessors, but also that it isn’t anything particularly special when held against the rest of the marketplace. As usual, a mediocre screen, branding that is better recognized as a smart phone model and a, frankly, silly price tag have conspired to sink a promising ship.