Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

Is the Sony Xperia Tablet Z the best Android tablet ever?

Reasons to buy
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    Great looking

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    Scarily thin and light

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Reasons to avoid
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    Pale flat screen

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    Parts under hatches

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    Mediocre performance

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The Sony Xperia Tablet Z is the world's thinnest 10-inch tablet, but can it become the best Android tablet and even rival the mighty iPad 4?

The brand's first effort - the Sony Tablet S - hardly set the world on fire and since its lacklustre launch in 2011 a broader selection of tablets has emerged. The next-gen Sony Xperia Tablet S was also a rather average device, but can the new version turn the tables?

Only Google is genuinely contesting the Apple iPad 4 with its mighty Samsung-built Nexus 10, but the Sony Xperia Tablet Z is gunning for a fight. It's got a big job on its hands - read on to discover whether it's up to the task.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z: Size and build

Superlatives rarely last long in tech, but toppling the svelte dimensions of the Sony Xperia Tablet Z - the world's thinnest tablet - will take some doing. The thinness is evident the second you pick it up and at just 6.9mm it makes the iPad 4 feel overweight. At 500g it's a whopping 150g lighter than the iPad, a difference you notice immediately.

When some companies shave off weight it can make the device feel cheap - yep, we're looking at you, Samsung - but that's not the case with the Tablet Z. The compact size means there's no disconcerting creaking, and while it feels like plastic (albeit premium plastic), the chassis is actually made of reinforced glass fibre (on the back) and glass fibre polyamide on the frame.

There is a slight unnerving flex, but that's due to the size-zero body, which is so thin you can almost wrap your hand around it and hold it like an e-reader. It's head and shoulders above the Tablet S, Sony's last 10-inch Android outing, and it's by far its best effort so far.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z: Features

As a 10-inch tablet there's a lack of standout features here, and compared with some notable new tablets such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 and Asus FonePad, there's a refreshing lack of gimmicks. In fact, other than its size there's precious little to boast about.

There's no input pen, no telephony capabilities, but there is a trick up the Xperia Z's sleeve: it's waterproof. Like its smartphone sibling the Sony Xperia Z, the Tablet Z can survive in liquid for up to 30 mins, and its covered ports means it's dust resistant too.

Elsewhere there's dual cameras, 8.1MP on the rear, which also records in 1080p and 2.2MP on the front for video calling. Both cameras are standard affairs, with particularly noisy pictures when used in artificial light.

The iPad's FaceTime camera offers better value for chatting, and while it's loaded with effects such as panoramic shooting, burst mode and HDR, we still believe tablet photography is an offense punishable by public humiliation.

Connectivity is good too, with microSD support meaning you can add extra storage up to 64GB. Unfortunately this is necessary, as the maximum internal storage is a paltry 16GB. Unlike the latest crop of Windows tablets there's no USB port and under the waterproof catches that dot the Tablet Z's sharp lines, there's just a microUSB which doubles for charging.

There's also an LTE version available and NFC built in.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z: Screen

In a world dominated by the Retina panel of the Apple iPad 4 and the super resolution offered by the Nexus 10, a meagre 1,920 x 1,200 panel does little to pique our interest. Sony's made much of its screens on both Xperia Z devices, but the truth is that results are mixed.

Firstly, the visuals are noticeably smooth with cool-looking colours and eye-searing brightness when cranked up to maximum. However, despite the 224ppi there's a noticeable lack of sharpness, which is particularly evident when looking at web pages.

Whites look dull, making it harder to read text and there's a paleness to the whole panel, whether you're movie watching or web surfing. Unlike the Nexus 10, visuals don't 'pop' and it's not the device for movie lovers. On that note, the built-in speakers proved to be well below par, which is disappointing for a company like Sony, which produces great audio products.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z: Performance

The processor is a Snapdragon S4 quad-core processor clocked at 1.5GHz, which you'll find used frequently in mid-range tablets. The timing is awkward for Sony because on the horizon are the blisteringly fast Tegra 4 and Snapdragon 600/800 chips, while its shiny new tablet delivers pretty mediocre performance.

The score of 4353 in SunSpider processor speed tests was devastated by the iPad 4's 769 (lower's better by the way) and the Nexus 10 (1507). While this shouldn't make a difference in general navigation, the difference is evident in web page rendering, app loading time and could manifest itself as games become more advanced.

Sony's previous tablet felt sluggish to use but there's no hint of the jerkiness or juddering here. The Sony skin - which isn't as good as stock Android or Samsung's increasingly well developed TouchWiz - didn't miss a beat as we swiped between its screens and widgets.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z: Battery

Not having the blistering performance of the latest processors helps the Sony Xperia Z to achieve a solid 8 hours of movie playback. The test involves streaming an HD movie in the YouTube app on full brightness, so the combination of pixel pushing and data drawing make this a healthy score. In standby mode it rarely slipped more than a few per cent over night.

It's a great result, when you consider than the extreme size and weight means there's little room for adding larger batteries, such as Apple on the iPad 4. Rocking a Retina display means there has to be a pay-off, if you want your iPad to last on a long haul flight or weekend trip away - and the Sony Xperia Tablet Z certainly has this in the locker.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z: Verdict

The Sony Xperia Tablet Z is a decent return for a company that's struggled with mobile over the last few years. It's certainly the best Sony tablet ever made, and the insanely thin lines and lightweight build will appeal to Android-hunters looking for a device that turns heads.

While the Xperia Z is up there with the Nexus 10, Google's slate just takes first place for us. Despite being substantially heavier and thicker, the vastly superior screen and lightning-quick performance tip the scales in its favour.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z release date: May 2013

Sony Xperia Tablet Z price: £399