Sony’s bi-annual release cycle strategy that the company has used for its flagship smartphone has made its way over to its high-end tablet offerings as well. Sony took the wraps off of the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact a few months ago at IFA 2014, and as the name suggest, brings the best features of the Xperia Z3 to a larger tablet form factor. So what does the latest Sony tablet have to offer? We find out, in this comprehensive review of the Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet!
Sony has always been known for their signature design elements and fantastic build quality, and that returns with the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact as well. It’s all in the name with this tablet, with the device looking quite like a stretched out version of its smartphone namesake, with the Compact appending likely used to signify the smaller form factor, when compared to previous iterations of the Xperia Tablet line. This change does bring into question whether Sony is just reacting to a market that currently favors tablets with a smaller footprint, or whether a “non-compact” version will be on its way soon.
Like every other high-end Sony tablet, the Xperia Z3 Tablet is also incredibly thin at just 6.4 mm, and weighs 210 grams, giving most smartphones a run for their money. This allows for a remarkable feeling in the hand, and is something that is really appreciated in a tablet of this, or any, size.
The signature silver power button returns, with the volume rocker just underneath it, and the headphone jack is also found at the top along the same side, which also the only exposed port on this tablet. On the left is the magnetic port, that can be used to charge the device, or with other third-party accessories. The microSD card slot on the left side, and the microUSB port at the bottom, are both covered by flaps, that have a more refined look to them, and contribute to the another staple feature of Sony devices, resistance to dust and water.
While you don’t get the all glass design of its smartphone counterpart, the soft touch plastic material on the back feels great in the hand. The Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact offers a dark, sleek look, and once again, Sony has found the perfect balance between functionality and design.
The Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact features an 8-inch TFT LCD display with a resolution of 1920 x 1200, resulting in a pixel density of 283 ppi. This resolution is quite common with a lot of devices nowadays, and there are definitely tablets with higher resolutions out there. That said, this screen looks great, with good viewing angles and color reproduction.
Various Sony display technologies make their way to this screen, including the Triluminos display technology that enhances the color gamut, this is mainly in the reds and greens, and the X-Reality Engine that enhances sharpness and contrast. Of course, you can cater the experience exactly to your liking, with the ability to adjust the three-point white balance. This is a great addition and something we rarely see on devices.
Adding even more to the display experience is an ambient light sensor which adjusts the brightness depending on external lighting conditions, and a backlight control, that prevents the screen from sleeping if you’re looking at it. You also get a “glove mode,” that seems to raise the sensitivity of the panel to a point where you could almost hover above the screen to register your presses. Finally, there is double tap to wake, which means you won’t find yourself needing to reach for the power button very often.
Under the hood is a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor (Krait 400), clocked at 2.5 GHz, along with the Adreno 330 GPU and 3 GB of RAM. This may not be the latest and greatest processing package anymore, but is typical of what you get with most high-end devices released this year. As such, the performance is as incredibly smooth as ever, with Sony’s minimalistic take on Android also a contributing factor. Playing games was a joy, with no sign of a stutter or lag, and multi-tasking was a breeze. A full suite of connectivity options are available with this tablet, along with the ability to add up to 128GB of microSD card storage to the onboard 16GB.
The Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact comes with dual front-facing speakers which is a great move. It is still quite surprising that all manufacturers haven’t opted for front facing speakers which makes sense especially on a tablet, considering it’ll largely be used as a media consumption device. The speakers sound good and can be pumped up to a fairly loud volume. Sony have included various modes built-in to enhance the sound. These are S-Force Front Surround and Clear Audio+, along with other options such as an equalizer and Surround profiles for headphones to set the sound exactly to your liking. You also have to ability to adjust microphone sensitivity, which makes a big difference if you’re recording anything in a noisy environment. This is something we don’t see often.
Keeping everything protected from the elements, and a marquee feature of high-end Sony devices, including the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact, is its IP65/68 rating for resistance against dust and water. This means that you can submerge the tablet in up to 1.5 meters of water, for as long as 30 minutes, without a negative impact on performance. Keep in mind though that this is specifically with fresh water, so no salt water!
On the battery front, the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact packs a respectable 4,500 mAh unit, which is comparable to other tablets in this size segment, but is impressive in this case, considering how thin the device actually is. The tablet also comes with some useful battery saving modes, such as Reserve Mode and Stamina Mode, both allowing for a big improvement in the battery life. You should comfortably get as much as 2 days of use out of this device, if not more.
The camera on the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact is a downgrade from its flagship smartphone counterpart, but that isn’t unexpected from a tablet. The 8 MP rear shooter, with an Exmor RS sensor, is perfectly capable for general photography and video recording in a pinch, but isn’t going to replace any primary mobile photography device that you may have. The tablet also comes with a 2.2 MP front-facing camera.
The camera application, while minimalistic on the surface, does come with quite a few enhancements and modes available, including AR effect, Creative Effect, and an Auto Mode, along with numerous more available for download. The image quality isn’t particularly great, with the high amounts of digital noise in low light conditions. The camera is unremarkable, but perfectly adequate for a point and shoot type of device.
One gripe with regards to the camera is its placement. It is positioned ideally for capturing shots in a portrait orientation, and if you do end up using it in landscape mode, as most people prefer to do, you may find yourself covering up the camera more often than not.
Finally, when it comes to software, you get Android 4.4.2 KitKat out of the box, with a planned upgrade to Android 5.0 Lollipop, along with Sony’s Xperia UI on top. As we’ve seen with other current Sony devices, the Xperia UI offers a minimalistic, almost stock-like Android experience, along with a handful of animations and options to give the interface a sense of polish.
Notable additions include various Sony services and applications, including Music Unlimited, Walkman, Movies, Gallery, and more. The Small Apps are also available, this time tucked away in the Recent Apps screen. The design language is consistent, and does not change anything drastically, which is perfectly ok in my book.
One area there was a small issue with was with the OEM keyboard. While there aren’t any problems with the layout or the response to your typing, the predictive text was slightly delayed, making the whole experience feel slightly slower than it actually is. That said, you always have the option to switch to a third-party keyboard, and if you own another Android device, you probably already have a favorite.
Being a gamer, I was most looking forward to the PlayStation suite of apps. The PlayStation app lists your console if it is on the same network, with you having the option to launch remote play or second screen functionality. Second Screen allows you to to use the tablet as a controller to navigate menus, and where applicable, to use it as a second screen. Remote Play on the other hand, lets you stream your PS4 straight to your tablet. There are on-screen controls with haptic feedback, but its use will be best suited to navigation and slower paced games. I don’t see twitch shooters holding up.
The best part is that you can also pair your DualShock 4 controller to the tablet via Bluetooth, and it works really well. In trying out a few games, it worked as well as you’d expect it to. There were a few instances of stutter though, mostly when I was getting a little too far away from my router. Overall, the response is great, and certainly opens up a whole other aspect of this tablet. The PS4 controller can also be used to navigate around the UI of the tablet and for other games with gamepad support.
The Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact starts at $499.99 directly from Sony or Amazon in the USA, £329 in the UK and €379 in the EU. This makes for an interesting competition from some other great tablet choices out there, including Samsung’s flagship tablet, the Galaxy Tab S 8.4, the Nexus 9 and the Nvidia Shield Tablet.
So there you have it – the Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact! Sony once again has a winner on their hands with this device. The tablet just looks stunning, feels great in the hand, and is extremely portable. While past generations have featured larger displays, the benefits of this comparatively smaller form factor do outweigh the negatives. Sony’s enhancements on the hardware and software side of things, including the front-facing speakers, and its resistance to the elements, make the Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact a compelling choice for anyone.