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Thursday
May152014

Review: Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet 

Sony’s latest Android tablet is a worthy successor to the Xperia Z, with unique features, an incredibly thin and light design and a gorgeous screen. But battery life is not as good as it could be.

Text and photos by Simon Cohen

The Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet ($529 16GB) is a remarkably thin and light device. At 426 grams, the Z2 is significantly lighter than the comparably equipped Apple iPad Air (469 grams) even though it has larger overall dimensions.

The chassis exterior is coated in a rubberized finish on the back and uses edge-to-edge scratch-resistant glass on the front. The sides (what little there is of them) is finished in a metal-look plastic material. Unlike the iPad, there is no metal shell.

Although this results in an amazingly light device, the problem with this design is that the Xperia Z2 gets all of its rigidity from the internal framework and the glass screen itself. Which it to say, you can actually flex the tablet without exerting much pressure at all. I suppose this isn’t necessarily an issue of quality – I wasn’t able to come even close to damaging it through normal use—but it doesn’t give you a tremendous feeling of confidence.

But there’s no question that despite this nagging feeling that you could snap the Xperia Z2 in half, holding the tablet in one hand is effortless and goes a long way to reducing the fatigue you can feel when holding it for long periods.

Because the Z2 is both water and dust proof, special measures had to be taken to protect the Micro-USB and MicroSD ports. They sit behind tiny plastic panels that require the use of a fingernail or similar object to unseat them from the tablet’s frame. This could be a source of frustration for serious users as it makes the task of connecting and charging the Z2 a bit of a chore. But it’s hard to argue that if this is the price we must pay for a tablet that can stand up to more of life’s abuses, it’s not a very high price at all.

One extremely clever feature of these panels: they contain sensors that allow the Xperia Z2 to know when they are open or closed. The tablet will issue you a quick on-screen reminder when it senses the panels are open, but you don’t have anything plugged in.

Display


Sony prides itself on producing top-quality displays and their attention to detail on this front is really evident on the Xperia Z2. It’s the screen’s ability to display vivid colours that stands out most of all. The Triluminous technology, as Sony calls it, provides a wonderful balance between an LCD’s warmth and an OLED’s contrast, resulting in colour that is noticeably more vivid than on an iPad, without going into the ultra-vivid (and often unrealistic) contrast of an OLED screen.

Surprisingly, the Z2 actually sports lower resolution and pixel density than the iPad Air (1920x1200 @ 224 PPI vs. 2048x1536 @ 264 PPI). But in day-to-day use, you’ll never notice the difference. Text appears very crisp with no discernable jagged edges, even at small font sizes.

I found the glass Sony has used on the Z2 to be highly reflective. Most tablet screens exhibit a lot of reflectivity, but it was especially pronounced on the Xperia.

Sound

Now I suppose you could say that a tablet’s sound performance shouldn’t matter that much. After all, it’s not meant as either a home theatre or a Hi-Fi replacement. But when you create a screen as gorgeous as the Xperia Z2’s, which is clearly capable of letting you watch HD movies or play 3D games, you just naturally expect the sound quality to rival that of the visuals.

Unfortunately, even though Sony has mounted a pair of front-firing stereo speakers to the Z2’s edges, they are insufficient to deliver high-quality sound. Now, I should point out, I don’t expect concert-hall quality from a tablet. But when you compare the Xperia Z2 to the iPad Air, or even earlier generations of the iPad, you immediately notice how thin and tinny the Z2 sounds. And while it’s true that you do get better stereo separation thanks to the positioning of the speakers, I would happily give that up for richer, fuller sound.

Performance

These days, it’s getting hard to provide meaningful comments on a tablet or smartphone’s performance. The chipsets and software have come so far in recent years that almost every device I have tested lately is more than capable of effortlessly handling the various tasks I ask of them. This should is especially the case with the Xperia Z2 given that it comes with a whopping 3GB of RAM – three times more than the iPad. Indeed, the Z2 never noticeably lagged during any operation, even when I had multiple apps open.

The one small hitch that I found, and it might have been more me than the Z2, is that on occasion the tablet wouldn’t respond to taps on various parts of the interface. It didn’t happen all of the time and it was far from a deal-breaker, but it was noticeable. It’s hard to know if this is a glitch in the hardware, the screen or the software. Or it might have been user error.

Battery

The Xperia Z2 Tablet is equipped with a sealed, non-user replaceable 6,000 mAh battery. That’s about twice as much power capacity as today’s smartphones. The Sony Xperia Z2 Phone for instance, is powered by a 3,200 mAh battery.

Trouble is, the Z2 tablet’s screen is double the size of the phone and that puts a lot of demand on the tablet’s battery. Sony claims the Z2’s power is sufficient for 10 hours of continuous use, but I have a feeling that’s a tad exaggerated. To give you a sense of how well it stood up for me, within 30 minutes from a full charge, the battery was already reading 90%. By my math, that means only 300 minutes or 5 hours of continuous use. I had both WiFi and Bluetooth enabled and the screen set to maximum brightness so it was definitely a worst-case scenario, but when I put a 4th gen iPad through a similar round of abuse, battery life was still reading as 94%.

This isn’t all that surprising. The 4th gen iPad’s battery is an 11,560 mAh monster and it weighs a lot more. Again, much like with the chassis’s rigidity, Sony has chosen to prioritize weight over battery life.

That said, the Xperia Z2 does come with a host of features that let you maximize its battery’s potential if you so choose. Between the Stamina mode which lets you select which apps are allowed to run when you’re worried about battery life, low battery mode which disables additional functions, and the ability to queue background data to be sent a set intervals, you can definitely take control over the tablet’s power consuming behaviour.

Extras

The Xperia Z2 has so many extra features, it’s hard to know where to begin. So I’m just going to list my favourites:


·      Ability to sync with a PS3 Dual Shock controller for wired or wireless gaming
·      Mini-apps such as a calculator that can float above any app you have open and be moved anywhere on the screen you wish
·      A built-in infrared emitter on the top edge of the tablet and an included remote app that lets you control any infrared device (TV, set-top box, DVD player)
·      SmartConnect app which lets you create custom events when devices are connected or certain things happen (e.g. When I connect headphones, start the Walkman app)
·      A built-in FM radio – in a tablet!
·      Fun camera special effects like background defocus, Augmented Reality (AR) and Timeshift burst
·      Tap-to-wake feature
·      Multiple user accounts and restricted user accounts
·      NFC for effortless Bluetooth pairing (See my review of the Sony SRS-X9)
·      Android KitKat – OK so not really a special feature but not every Android tablet comes with this version of the OS and there is a LOT to like about KitKat\


Pros:
·      Ultra-thin, ultra-light chassis
·      Crisp, colourful and bright display
·      Water and dust-proof
·      Tons of extra features
·      Easy pairing with Sony’s DualShock controllers


Cons:
·      Battery life won’t live up to Sony’s claims
·      Chassis is worryingly flexible
·      Playstation Mobile Store lacking quality games

Conclusion

At $529, the 16GB Xperia Z2 is only $10 more than the 16GB WiFi iPad Air. And while it can’t compete with the iPad on battery life and sound quality, it packs in so many extra valuable features you simply might not care.

With an unprecedented thin and light body, the ability to withstand spills and dust and a stunningly crisp and colourful display, the Xperia Z2 easily delivers value for the money.

If you’re looking for a tablet that can handle the demands of a busy family including life in a kitchen or bathroom, the Xperia Z2 is an excellent choice.

If battery life is critical, or you’re a stickler for good sound, (or you simply can’t stand Android), you might want to go with the iPad instead. Just stay away from clumsy friends and family.

---------------

Simon Cohen is one of Canada’s most experienced consumer technology bloggers. He has regularly appeared on national TV and radio as a tech expert. You can find more of his work at Excitable.ca. 

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