The Sony Tablet S runs Android Honeycomb 3.2 at the time of our review, though Sony has confirmed it will receive the Android Ice Cream Sandwich update sometime soon. While the Tablet S is zippy enough with Honeycomb 3.2, Ice Cream Sandwich will be a big improvement and will bring a bit more polish to this Android tablet. Hopefully, ICS will bring stability as well, because the Tablet S crashed too often for our liking. The one app that seems to give the Tablet S biggest fits is Netflix, which is no surprise because the Android version of the popular movie streaming app has never played well with Honeycomb. Thankfully, it tested well running on Ice Cream Sandwich during our OS review, and hopefully will be more stable on the Tablet S after the update.
Turning to the benchmarks, the Tablet S compares well with other Android tablets. It bests all other Android tablets on the Sunspider browser performance measurement and is on the low end for the Quadrant benchmark. Keep in mind, these numbers often do not reflect real-world output, but we were still plenty pleased with the Tablet S overall performance.
Quadrant measures CPU, 3D, and memory performance. Higher numbers are better.
The Sony Tablet S powered up in approximately 45 seconds from a cold start, which is about average for an Android tablet. The tablet oriented itself quickly and accurately, but curiously, can only orient the display three ways in keeping with the design philosophy. Sony apparently doesn’t want users holding it wide side down. The Tablet S battery is sufficient, and the tablet lasted us all day with active use.
Sony used a heavy hand in styling Honeycomb, and when viewed from the UI, this looks like a Sony tablet. New additions to the homescreen include a favorites shortcut that aggregates all the user’s Sony content, including movies and games purchases through the Sony Entertainment Network (more on that later), user content from Sony Personal Space, and an ever-present shortcuts bar on the top left side of the display, with room for four app shortcuts. Sony also tweaked the app tray with a white background and some customization settings for grouping apps.
The Sony Tablet S ships with a bunch of proprietary Sony apps that are much more than the typical bloatware most manufacturers cram onto devices. The best are the Sony Entertainment Network apps that consist of Video Unlimited (for movie rentals and purchases), Music Unlimited (a mix between Pandora and Spotify), and the PS Store, which offers a dozen or so PS One titles for download. The Video Unlimited movie and TV show selection is top notch, and prices are competitive. The whole process of accessing the apps and services out of the box requires a lot of downloading, updating, and account creation, however, which is the only drag.
The Tablet S ships with two PS One titles: Crash Bandicoot and Pinball Heroes. Both games can be played via on-screen controls, but that is an awful way to experience the games. Funny enough, both also support an Xbox 360 controller over USB. The two titles we purchased from the PS Store, MediEval and Destruction Derby do not, unfortunately. The good news for PS3 owners is that all games will work with the PS3 controller, even wirelessly. In fact, users can navigate the Tablet S with a PS3 controller, both over USB and Bluetooth. (Quick word of advice: save yourself $10 and skip the Sony-branded USB adapter in favor of a generic one. It will work just as well and there are plenty available on Amazon for less than the cost of shipping.)
Other notable apps include a universal remote that we prefer to the two others we’ve tested on competing tablets, Peel and Dijit, and a DLNA sharing app and is both easy to use and works well. Sony Personal Space for saving and sharing pics and video in the cloud is preloaded on the Tablet S, as is Sony Reader, the company’s answer to the Kindle App. Sony wisely included an easy-to-use file transfer app, to help users better take advantage of the full-sized SD card slot (be warned however, the Android file structure is a tad bit confusing), and finally, the notable but generically titled Media Remote.
Media Remote turns the Sony Tablet S and a handful of other Android tablets into an extension of a Sony-furnished home theater, as it only works with certain Sony HDTVs, AV receivers, and Blu-ray players. But with it, the Sony Tablet S can become a remote, a keyboard, cursor remote, game pad (all ideal in the coming age of smart TVs), and an additional information screen for movies and TV, provided all devices are on the same Wi-Fi network. Users can also pull up web content and “throw” it to the TV, for display on the big screen.
We could not test this function with our review unit due to the fact that no one on the staff has a Sony entertainment system, but members of the TabletPCReview team have demoed it at tradeshows, and think it’s an excellent feature. Apple, Samsung, and Panasonic think so too, as they have either unveiled something similar, or are working on integrating their respective tablets into the home theater space.