IFA 2011: Hands on with Sony's new tablets

Following Sony's unveiling of the Tablet S and Tablet P at IFA 2011 in Berlin, T3 gets a hands-on look at the two devices set to give the Apple iPad a run for its money

Let's make it clear, the tablet war is currently a one-horse race. The Apple iPad is not only thrashing the competition in terms of sales - over 10 million iPad and iPad 2 devices have been sold thus far - but has the best content to sate the appetite of anyone new or old to technology. Kudos, then, to Sony for (finally) launching its own brace of innovative tabs, aiming to take some of the deep-rooted limelight from Apple Corp. And as mission statements go, Sony CEO, Howard Stringer, was confident in his IFA 2011 press conference: "It's not who makes the first tablet, but who makes the best"

So, what are they like?

The Sony Tablet S fits nicely in the hand. Lightweight, with a dimpled back that adds a premium feel when using it. The 9.4-inch touchscreen display is bright and colour-rich but is susceptible to a smattering of fingerprints after a few minutes use. But then, who's isn't?

The 'raised' design not only makes typing comfortable but the unique design gives it the air of a product that's had a lot of drawing-board love.

Sony was keen to point out the virtues of its virtual remote control app, which seems to work well. The line 'control any device in your home' (as long as it has an IR receiver) is one that Apple can't claim out of the box and the S's ability to 'gesture' control volume, Sky+ playback and other commands is a neat trick.

'Throwing' content from the Tablet S to another device is simple enough. Just tap the (AirPlay-looking) icon to wirelessly push content from the tablet to a HDTV or hi-fi. Sony told us that this would work with any media device that's connected to your home network. We'd like to try this ourselves.

The third area we were shown was gaming. These two devices are the first 'PlayStation Certified' tablets, which equates to being able to download and play 'heritage' (old) PSOne games. In reality, the experience isn't great – the conversion process has rendered games like Crash Bandicoot very pixelated. And, like the Xperia Play, they're not full screen. The option to customise the size of virtual controls on the tablet screen is a nice one, though.

A plastick-y cover pops off the side to reveal micro USB and SD slots that can be employed to transfer photos from a memory card or transfer data from an external hard drive.

The interface is very pretty, especially when browsing media files, and Android 3.1 seems to work well when flitting between apps and in general use. Again, we'd like more time to explore the plethora of features and how good the browser is in real-world events. An Android 3.2 update is promised in the coming months.

First impressions are that the Sony Tablet S is up there with the best of the Android tablet bunch. The unique design sets it apart from the bland array of slabs and the features Sony is touting seems to suggest that its looking to attract those who want a tablet that will work with all their existing kit.

The Tablet P is interesting. Looking like a cross between an old Nokia Communicator and a Nintendo DS, the clamshell design is neat, fits in a (big) pocket when closed and feels sturdy enough to endure a daily commute. It doesn't sport the IR features of the Tablet S, but can 'throw' media content like its bigger brother. However, while the appearance of the PlayStation button logos will please some, like the S, gaming was underwhelming. We'd like to see an array of better titles launched to really take advantage of the Tegra 2 processor.

Nevertheless, the dual-screens are clear and sharp, the ereader feature is easier on the eye than expected and it's quick to switch between menus. Websites stretch between both screens when browsing and it's fast to zoom into pages and between sites. The Tablet P runs Android 3.1 but, again, is promised a 3.2 upgrade soon.

While our experience of the Tablet P in the confined environment of a German exhibition hall was good, we'd need to see how well it copes out and about. It's impossible to do anything but consume content when holding it with one hand and we question how much content creation will be possible on the small screens. Nevertheless, it's a different (albeit expensive) spin on the new tablet world and we're keen to see what more Sony develops for it.

So do you like what you see? Whether you're excited or underwhelmed, let us know what you think via the T3 Facebook and Twitter pages. 

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