Sony Xperia Z Tablet Review – Hello, This Is 2013 Calling
I’m a fan of Android tablets, and at the time of writing the Android device that I pick up and use most of the time is my much used Sony Xperia Z Tablet. This particular model was first announced by Sony in February 2013 and it reached stores in May 2013. It’s four years old, which in the Android world is an eternity. We’ve already covered using older hardware in a modern world, but let’s take a more detailed view of the Wi-Fi only version of Xperia Z Tablet.
By way of a quick history lesson, when Sony originally released the tablet it ran Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, which at the time was around a year out of date. Android 4.1 Jelly Bean was introduced in the summer of 2012 along with the original Nexus 7. However, Sony kept the original Xperia Z Tablet up to date over the years until support was stopped at Android 5.1.1 Lollipop. At the time of writing, the Sony is running a version of Android some three generations behind the current builds. The only application that is it officially available via the Google Play Store is Netflix, as this no longer supports Android Lollipop. Luckily it is readily available from the Netflix website.
Under the skin, the Sony Xperia Z Tablet is based around a late 2012 flagship grade chipset, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 600. By the numbers, this is a quad core, 1.5 GHz, 32-bit System-on-Chip backed up by 2 GB of RAM – it’s very similar to the chip found in the LG Google Nexus 4. There’s 16 GB of local storage and a microSD card slot that can take cards of 64 GB, dual band 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC and GPS. There’s a 6,000 mAh battery, which in the context of the Samsung-built Nexus 10, sounds underpowered even if the Sony lacks the Nexus’ ultra high resolution display. More on battery life later. The tablet has stereo speakers along the bottom edge as you look at it in landscape mode, an 8MP rear camera and a 2MP front facing camera (neither have a flash).
The design is thin and light too, at only 6.9mm thick and under 500g. There is a big bezel around the 10.1-inch, 1080p display but the tablet is water resistant. If you spill coffee over it, it’s not instantly destroyed although on a technicality, the device is only resistant to cold freshwater, so this isn’t proof against coffee, soda and saltwater: please don’t try this at home! The tablet gains some of its water resistance through three plastic tabs that must be removed for recharging via the microUSB port, swapping the microSD card out and using the headphone socket. These are fiddly in use; there’s a solid case for using wireless headphones or speakers with the Xperia Z Tablet, and for buying the expensive Sony dock, which uses the pogo pins to recharge.
As I wrote above, the Sony Xperia Z Tablet was originally launched running Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. Over the years, the software was progressively updated until support finished with the device running Android 5.1.1 Lollipop. The tablet has Sony’s Xperia software interface over stock Android and in some respects it’s similar, but in others, it’s quite different. Sony have bundled in a number of their own applications and services, together with their own changes to Android. For example the Google Clock has been replaced with the Sony Clock and there’s a Sony email application in place of the stock Android application, which still works. Google dropped support for the Android email application some time ago. The launcher manages to be distinctively different from the stock Google Now Launcher but is similar to operate, if a little old fashioned in 2017. Sony also added a toggle for the network scheduler facility offered in Android Lollipop.
One big improvement from the stock software is that Sony have included “Small Apps.” These allows the device to run some applications over the top of whatever is filling the screen. Small Apps are activated from the task switcher view and are surprisingly adaptable and flexible. The tablet comes with a number built-in and more are available from the Google Play Store. However, the tablet can also convert a widget into a Small App, meaning if you have a widget that you constantly refer to, you can overlay this over the top of whatever application you are using. The device allows you to have multiple Small Apps over whatever is currently showing on your screen; this is a different take on multitasking but it works very well with no performance hiccups noticed on the device.
The Sony Xperia Z Tablet runs Android 5.1.1 Lollipop very well, but it is starting to show its age in some areas. For the most part, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 can keep up with matters. However, as applications grow in size and complexity, the chip and 2 GB of RAM can cause some lag or hesitation when switching between applications. There are no issues with casual, lightweight gaming all of the way up to XCOM, although loading times can be lengthy.
The screen has solid, even backlighting but is too bright at night. It benefits from Sony’s Mobile Bravia engine, which is designed to improve how photographs and movies by enhancing sharpness, increasing contrast and saturation, and keeping a handle on digital noise. The Mobile Bravia engine can be disabled in the device settings if desired. In use, the Mobile Bravia engine helps things. For websites and documents, colors are somewhat muted compared with some competitor tablets. Sound output is respectable, especially through the headphone socket and it’s such a shame that this is hidden under a flap.
Both cameras are nothing remarkable. The rear unit sounds promising with a resolution of 8MP and Sony’s Exmor-R sensor technology. In use, and putting aside the problems of holding a full size tablet to take a picture or record video, the camera is good for a tablet, but compared with modern smartphones, you’ll not be using it. The front facing camera is perfectly fine for video calling.
Compared with more modern devices, the Xperia Z Tablet’s Wi-Fi network is slower as the device doesn’t benefit from the latest standards. It can become overwhelmed where there are a great many Wi-Fi hotspots operating at the 2.4 GHz point. The device’s Bluetooth 4.0 and NFC radios work as well as they need to, and there’s no discernible battery impact through keeping Bluetooth on all of the time. Sony have included aptX higher quality audio streaming as standard.
Writing of battery life, the Sony Xperia Z Tablet only ships with a 6,000 mAh battery, but despite this the tablet has all-day battery life. By this, I mean eight to ten hours of screen on time is possible from a charge. Part of this is because of Sony’s STAMINA technology, which disables the Wi-Fi network when the handset is idle so as to reduce battery power and results in a very flat battery drain chart when the device is not being used. This works in a similar way to a number of battery saving applications such as LeanDroid or GreenPower. The tablet also has efficient hardware, especially the screen. One way that the tablet shows its age is that there are no fast charging technologies included in the device, so it takes several hours to completely top up the battery, especially when in use. Here, the official dock is recommended as it acts as a stand as well as a charger.
From a productivity perspective, the Sony Xperia Z Tablet has no special tricks other than a few pre-installed applications and solid, if unexceptional, performance. Battery life is respectable, and whilst the device does show some pauses when switching between applications, for the most part it remains smooth and enjoyable to use. I’ve used it as my productivity workhorse for over a year now and have no immediate plans to replace it.
Sony’s small apps, already mentioned above, can be especially useful for certain functions. In particular, I’ve found using the calculator and Gmail label view handy when working on documents. The feature is not as comprehensive as a split screen mode but works well.
In conclusion, the Xperia Z is a solid, usable device that offers reasonable performance in a likeable form factor. The device could very easily be a better choice than a new budget model if you are not too bothered about using a more modern version of Android.