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Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet review

Further refining what was a great tablet in the Xperia Tablet Z, Sony brings a lot to the table with its latest flagship. Here's a closer look at the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet!
May 4, 2014

The smartphone market is not the only one Sony is hoping to make an impact in, with the company introducing what its vision of a high-end Android tablet is with the Xperia Tablet Z at last year’s MWC. The first iteration was something that was very appreciated, and was deemed one of the best of 2013, and, much like it has done with its smartphone lineup, Sony has further refined its vision and introduced a tablet this year which is even better than its predecessor.

We got our first look at the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet at MWC 2014, and we were certainly impressed by the latest version of the tablet. Once again, Sony manages to keep everything as sleek as ever, while also continuing the refinement and evolution that we’ve come to expect from the high-end Xperia smartphone range with its latest tablet offering as well. We’ve already seen the unboxing and given our first impressions about this device, and now, here’s a more comprehensive review of the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet!

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As the name suggests, the Xperia Z2 Tablet is supposed to be much like the its smartphone namesake, but of course, it’s a tablet. Before we dive in to its other features, let’s first take a look at the design.

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A staple of the Sony design language, the black slate design is in full view here, with glass on the front and a plastic matte back. A sizeable bezel around the display gives the tablet the look of a picture frame of sorts, but considering the power it packs, it’s more like a small Sony television. In a world where we’re increasingly hoping for very thin bezels on our devices, the large bezels around the display of the Z2 Tablet could be disappointing for some, but, in this case, they really help with the handling of the tablet, allowing for an easier grip by letting you rest your thumb in this space without hitting the screen. You’ll find the dual front-facing speaker set up on the sides on the tablet, in the lower third of the screen.

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Moving the tablet around, the first thing you’ll notice is how thin it is. At only 6.4 mm thick, it really makes you wonder how Sony was able to pack so much power in to a device that is sleek and compact by 10-inch tablet standards. The signature silver power button and volume rocker are on the left, and require a bit more force to push than we’d like, but this is but a minor complaint. You’ll find a headphone jack at the bottom, while the top houses an IR blaster, along with the microSD card slot and the microUSB charging port, both covered by flaps. The inclusion of the flap also means that the Xperia Z2 Tablet also comes with protection against dust and water, something that has become a staple feature of Sony’s high-end devices over the past year.

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Users of the previous Xperia Tablet Z will notice and welcome a better feel all around, helped primarily by the fact that the skeleton has been smoothed out on the corners by the same plastic material that you’ll find on the back, resulting in a pleasant improvement over the more rigid feel of the original, providing that much more comfort in usage.

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Finally, on the back is a polycarbonate plastic material that is somewhere between a hard and soft touch. While it has a little more to it than the soft touch found in the likes of the Nexus 7, it does retain its propensity for smudges.

Handling is overall what you’d expect from a 10-inch tablet, but the experience afforded is perhaps the best we’ve yet seen with the Z2 Tablet. Not only does that oversized bezel help with any grip you’re looking for with one or two hands, the thinness and lightness of the device make it really nimble and light, allowing you to carry and move the tablet around with ease.

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The display of the Xperia Z2 Tablet gets the same change as its smartphone counterpart, with a move to an IPS matrix that helped the Xperia Z2 get even better display quality and vastly improved viewing angles. You get the same advantages in this case as well, with a resolution of 1920 x 1200, resulting in a respectable pixel density of 224 ppi.

Sony’s own enhancements of the Live Colour LED, that adds extra colours to the already established LCD colour gamut, along with Triluminos and X-Reality Engine for media work in concert to afford you a display with very deep contrasts and great colour production, resulting in an experience that is quite cinematic in nature, and brings to the fore what Sony’s interpretation of a media viewing device is.

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Watching Netflix, looking at pictures, and anything along those lines go off without a hitch, making this a great media consumption device. Though the pixel density might be lower than found on certain competitors, I found no reason to fault the reading experience here, with text still being quite sharp and not at all hard to read. Ultimately, you’ll have a great time with this display regardless of what you’re doing, be it reading e-books or magazines, playing games, or watching movies.

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All the fun that you’ll get from the great display is accomplished with the help of the best processing package currently available, which is of course, nothing short of what you’d expect from a tablet flagship.

The quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor, clocked at 2.3 GHz, is backed by the Adreno 330 GPU and 3 GB of RAM, provide the sheer power you’ll need to perform basically anything that the Android ecosystem has to offer.

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That said, I did see a slight stutter from time to time when moving between apps, and even during basic tasks like swiping between the homescreens, albeit more rarely. However, these occasional stutters were nothing that affected my overall experience, and definitely didn’t make it tough to get what I needed done. I saw no issues with games, whether they were Sprite-based or 3D, and while multi-tasking takes on a pretty simplistic motif with the Recent Apps button and Small Apps, the main takeaway is that all of it works just about as well as it should, with no major hiccups.

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As is now common with the current lineup of Xperia devices, the marquee feature of the Xperia Z2 Tablet is its IP 58 certification, that allows for almost complete protection from dust, and water resistance up to a depth of 1 meter for as long as 30 minutes, without affecting response or performance. If you really need to watch that movie while enjoying a relaxing bath, you can, and you don’t have to worry at all about being clumsy with your beverages around the tablet.

The bits and pieces within the thin housing including a number of connectivity tools like NFC, another mainstay of Sony devices. You can even set up your Xperia Z2 smartphone with the tablet to make it a real companion with screen mirroring possible, along with the built-in network tethering, the feature that I found myself using the most. An IR blaster allows you to control your TV with the remote control app found on the tablet. You do get other general connectivity options as well, including an LTE version, even though this particular review unit is Wi-Fi only.

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The front-facing dual speakers are also akin to the speakers found on the Xperia Z2 smartphone. They do get pretty loud, and are a great addition to the media viewing or listening experience. The sound experience can be catered to your liking with quite a few enhancements built into the Sound Settings menu, allowing you to increase the sheer loudness or the clarity of the audio quality. I did like that the tablet is able to perform the same noise cancelling as the smartphone, but the review unit did come with the headphones that are needed for that to happen. But, if you do have a pair of the MDX earbuds that were included with the Z2 smartphone, you’ll get a wonderful audio experience.

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When it comes to the battery, the 6,000 mAh unit of the Xperia Z2 Tablet is certainly a very capable performer, helped along by a lot of the power saving features baked in. What is most striking is its incredible standby time. I used the tablet for a while before going to Beijing for the launch of the OnePlus One, leaving it with the battery at around 30%. Returning 5 days later, I was pleasantly surprised to find the battery capacity to still be at 20%.

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I opted for a classic battery life test here, by watching a couple of episodes of Top Gear, which resulted in a drop from 90% to 72%, which is pretty good. You’ll be able to comfortably watch a couple of movies, and still have plenty of battery life left for browsing the web and getting any other tasks you need done.

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It’s always difficult to recommend a tablet because of its camera prowess, primarily because it’s fairly obvious that you won’t be buying a tablet because of the capabilities of the camera. The lack of an LED flash diode somewhat tell the story of the camera experience, and is an indication that the optics are more of a required addition as opposed to being a defining feature.

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Sony has to be commended for outfitting the camera application with quite a few of the features that you’d find in the Z2 smartphone, like Background Defocus and Augmented Reality effects, without the quality to back them up, they’re just novelty inclusions and not particularly useful. The 8 MP optics area also plagued by a similar issue found on the Xperia smartphones, and that is the inability to use the full resolution if you want to shoot at 16:9, at which point you’re stuck using 5 megapixels instead.

As expected, picture quality is passable at best, and you won’t be getting anything out of this camera that rivals the smartphone you might have, especially if its the Xperia Z2.

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Once again, the software experience is largely what you may already be used to from the Xperia smartphones, just blown up to tablet size. What has always been a success when it comes to the Xperia UI is that it retains much of what makes stock Android so accessible. As I’ve been repeating in a lot of previous reviews, when you keep it simple, you keep it fast, and that is certainly the case here.

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Sony’s very stylized take on Android 4.4 KitKat retains the rather simple homescreen experience, with the app drawer accessible from the top right corner of the screen, leaving a large canvas that you can fill with icons and widgets galore. Going into the app drawer, you’ll find a quick pullover menu from the left that gives you easy access to a few shortcuts and customization options.

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As is the case with most Android tablet interfaces, pulling down from the top left of the screen gives you a view of the notifications, while doing so from the right opens a quick settings menu that is editable, allowing you to change what toggles you may or may not want.

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The Recent Apps screen houses the main addition of the Small Apps, overlays that go over your workspace for quick-multitasking, which proves to be quite useful. Under the Settings areas, you are able to personalize the user interface using a number of different downloadable themes. Of course, even though the background and the number of system areas are changed, the icons remain the same, so there’s a lot more you’ll have to do manually to get a completely customized look and feel.

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And finally, you get the slew of apps that are standard part of the Sony software experience. The Walkman is still one of my favourite looking local music players, and I would use it all the time if my music wasn’t all in the cloud. The Album and Movie applications allow for a nice looking interface to manage your pictures and videos. Sony’s own media market, called Unlimited, has a stage along with PlayStation Mobile, but to be honest, they don’t offer anything more than a stylized way of looking at content that is already available all over the Google Play Store.

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Overall, I always enjoy the Xperia UI, mostly because it doesn’t try too hard. While the few additions Sony has put in end up being not as useful as I’d have hoped, they still don’t add bloat to an already good core experience, and that is what makes this total package a good one.

Display10.1-inch Full HD (1920 x 1200) TRILUMINOS display
X-Reality and Live Color LED technology
2.3GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 CPU, Adreno 330 GPU
3 GB
16 GB, expandable
8.1MP Exmor RS rear camera, 2.2MP from camera
6,000 mAh
Android 4.4 Kitkat
266 x 172 x 6.4 mm, 426 grams (Wi-Fi only, 439 grams (3G/LTE)
Wi-Fi only, 3G/4G LTE versions available

Priced currently at $520~, the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet is certainly a premium device, and luckily, that is as true as much in the experience as it is with the price. While its main competitor, the Samsung Galaxy TabPRO 10.1, does include Samsung’s flavour of Android, and course, there is also the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014, that has the S-Pen functionality to boast, all on a screen with an even higher resolution, ultimately you’re looking at whether or not Sony’s style and thinner, nimbler tablet is more suited to your needs. In a lot of ways, the Sony style is hard to deny, and the Xperia Z2 tablet does feel premium enough in a number of respects to justify its higher cost.

And so, there you have it, a detailed look at the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet. Keeping the same system Sony employed with its flagship smartphone lineup, we’re glad to see that Sony kept the best of the Xperia Tablet Z, and brought even more to the table with the second iteration. As far as media consumption goes, you can’t really get any better than the Xperia Z2 Tablet, especially if you put down a little extra money for the noise cancelling headphones. When you hold what feels like a small Sony TV in your hand with all the power of the Xperia Z2 smartphone, you have something special, and that is exactly what the Xperia Z2 Tablet is.