They may be arriving at the Honeycomb tablet game a little late, but you can never underestimate a company like Sony. Howard Stringer, Sony president and CEO, took to the stage at IFA 2011 to kick off a run of new product launches saying that it’s “not who makes it first, but who makes it better”.
Apt words indeed for the first Honeycomb tablet we’ve seen for a while that feels a little different in the hand. Much of this comes down to design which is both distinctive and has a practical application.
The wedge-shaped design looks a little like a folded newspaper and it’s noticeably lighter in the hand than rival tablets at 598g. The idea is that holding it feels more comfortable because there is something to grip on to.
In practice that rings true, especially if you want to use it in portrait to read. With Sony’s Reader Store available to the Tablet S - along with the likes of the Amazon Kindle app - it serves well as a device for reading books or comics and the lighter weight is welcomed.
But on the other hand, the plastic finish might deter some. It quickly attracts fingerprints and unlike the luxurious feel of the metal you might find elsewhere, some might say that the Tablet S doesn’t feel as premium as other devices.
A benefit of having that wedge shape is that once laid done on a desk or table, you get a better viewing angle and it’s easier to type. As a Sony agent pointed out, you don’t need a fancy case to help you get a good typing angle, no matter how magical it is.
The design is likely to be a love it or hate it point: you’ll either buy into it being distinctly different or you won’t. Having toted the Tablet S around on the showfloor, we quite like the feeling it gives you in the hand.
Honeycomb tablets are nothing new these days and Sony have, in our opinion, taken the right approach by leaving the interface mostly unfettered. There are a few tweaks here and there like the app menu, but landing on the homepage is very much a stock Honeycomb experience.
Sony’s differentiation comes by sucking in the world around you, so the Tablet S goes beyond just offering you DNLA connectivity. Sony have created a collection of their own apps which are unique to the Tablet S (although we’re sure that they will find their way onto the internet blackmarket).
These apps include the likes of Select App, which is designed to make it easier to find apps from Android Market, you’ll get a Reader app and you’ll get integration with other connected devices on your network. One application here is the idea of throwing your content onto your TV.
We’ve seen other DNLA apps that will let you send video connected devices, so it isn’t unique, but in the demos we’ve seen so far, it is a little more lavishly designed than other solutions.
The Tablet S will function as a universal remote control thanks to the inclusion of an IR transmitter, so you can tell it what devices you have and it will pull up the controls - it’s amazingly simple to set up new devices so you can have full control over your entertainment system, no matter who the original manufacturer was. If you have something obscure you can teach it the controls too.
There is another trump card that Sony is going to play with the Tablet S: keeping it in the family, we have PlayStation certification. Essentially, as we saw with the Xperia Play, this means that you’ll be able to access PlayStation classics for a little gaming on the tablet. The on-screen interface offers a great deal of customisation, so you can change the control layout to suit your needs.
It’s nice to see something a little different from a design point of view and the hardware also delivers: the 1280 x 800 9.4-inch display looks sharp and at its core you have the power of the 1GHz Tegra 2 chipset, also in most other rival devices.
The design does mean that physical connectivity is on the light side - an SD card slot and Micro-USB are joined by a 3.5mm headphone jack, but you don’t get HDMI of any variety.
Wi-Fi and 3G versions will be available, with 16 or 32GB memory options. The Tablet S is set to land at the end of September, with a €479 price tag. We overheard a Sony rep saying it would be hitting Sony.co.uk for £399, but this price isn't confirmed.