We haven't seen or heard too much from Sony on the tablet front since late last year, when the Sony Xperia Tablet S was released. Following on from its debut model, The Sony Tablet S (sans Xperia), the device was almost identical albeit with a thinner body. But this is all set to change with the release of the Sony Xperia Z. A gorgeous piece of kit, there isn't much missing from this 10.1 inch, Android 4.1 OS tablet, packing specs that will give Samsung a good run for their money.
Sony Xperia Tablet Z - Design
High-end specs aren't the most miraculous part of the Sony Xperia Tablet Z, though. It uses a 10.1-inch screen, larger than that of Sony's previous tablets, but is incredibly light. At 495g, it's a good 100g lighter than most 10.1-inch tablets.
Sony hasn't messed about here - the design aims of the Sony Xperia Tablet Z are clear. It wants to be the thinnest, the lightest and the coolest-looking Android tablet there is. And, to be frank, it's pretty successful. Its rear is topped with fairly tough-feeling soft-touch plastic, all its side flaps and panels are extremely discreet and the slim factor hits you like a slap around the face. It can't be ignored.
However, we're starting to think that Sony cares more about a slim and light design than actual tablet buyers. Would you really spend the extra dosh on tablet X just because it's 0.5mm thinner than tablet Y? That said, this tablet isn't all that expensive at $729 for the Wi-FI only edition with 32GB internal memory and $649 for the 16GB.
The downside of the Sony Xperia Tablet Z's obsession with shedding fat is that it feels a little fragile. It's not at all badly made, but has that "oh my god, if I drop this the world will end" factor of a naked iPad. It's surprising, then, that the Tablet Z offers ruggedisation. It's certified to IP57 standard, meaning it's more-or-less dustproof and can handle submersion in shallow water. If you're thinking about watching a movie in the bath right now, don't feel bad - so are we.
Style is important to the Sony Xperia Tablet Z, but features are too. There's a hidden microSD card slot on the bottom edge of the tablet, and we had a hands-on with the 3G edition - so there's a SIM slot too. Is this the tablet that ticks all the boxes?
Sony Xperia Tablet Z - Screen
To add to the merits list, the Sony Xperia Tablet Z's screen is solid too. It's a 10.1-inch Full HD display, using Sony's Bravia 2 Engine. This is really just a marketing term, but is indicative of a certain level of quality.
The harsh lighting conditions of Sony's booth at MWC 2013 made for just about the worst conditions to assess a screen, but it appeared sound with good contrast, faithful colours and no visible pixellation. Viewing angles are solid too. This screen is much better than that of the Sony Xperia Tablet S.
Sony Xperia Tablet Z - Software and Interface
Like every Sony tablet, the Sony Xperia Tablet Z runs Android, with some Sony tweaks. These are largely centred around Sony's additional services, such as Sony Unlimited music streaming, but there's no obligation to fork out any more cash here.
As usual, Sony has done its best to make the tablet look a little "cooler" than the competition, with a fairly stark, if colourful, UI design.
The stand-out extra functions the Sony Xperia Tablet Z offers are found in the nav bar - there are two additional buttons down there. One activates the IR blaster, which lets the tablet control TVs. The other opens-up the tablet's treasure trove of floating widget apps. These are things that sit above whatever you're doing, offering more advanced multi-tasking than standard Android. There are a bunch of them, including a calculator. However, only one can be used at a time.
Performance was excellent during our hands-on time. But anything less would have been suspect, given the Sony Xperia Tablet Z's specs. It uses a quad-core 1.5GHz Snapdragon Krait processor, with 2GB of RAM. We'll see faster processors in tablets later this year, but it's among the nippiest at present.
Sony Xperia Tablet Z - Camera and Battery Life
The camera array is the one feature the Sony Xperia Tablet Z doesn't go to town on. It has a flash-free 8.1-megapixel main sensor and a 2.2MP front one. These are great specs for a tablet, but 13-megapixel cameras are common in phones now.
Inside the fully closed bod is a 6,000mAh battery and you can expect between eight and ten hours of real-world use.
Sony Xperia Tablet Z - Our Impressions
The Sony Xperia Tablet Z is aggressively thin, in a manner that takes a bit of getting used to. However, given the style-focused approach, we're surprised to see the tablet so sensibly-priced. A water resistant, powerful and attractive Android tablet that sells for under $800 makes for a pretty good alternative to a Retina iPad, if you ask us.