The Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet is an immaculate specimen of engineering that’s rare outside of the Apple camp. Other tablets are sufficiently designed, sure. But this: you pick it up and your mind struggles to comprehend how so much technology can be stuffed into such a small chassis. The thinness, the lightness; it almost feels like Sony forgot to add the internal components, as though you’re holding an early prototype that got plucked from the factory. It’s not flashy, but the minimal approach works to perfection, giving users an incredible vehicle to consume content.Sony has always produced very capable hardware, and we’ve recognized this fact in the past. I’ve been using this particular device for the past several days and every time I pick it up I’m still genuinely impressed. At just 15.5 ounces and 6.4mm thick, the Z2 Tablet is light and durable, weightless and impressively built.
And the whole thing is rated IP58, which means you’ll be able to lug this thing to the river (and into the water) without doing any damage.Compared to its predecessor, the Z2 Tablet largely looks the same. That is: this is a black rectangle with rounded corners and flat edges, which is all kept together by an aluminum border and tempered glass on the front. The backside is a nice matted soft touch that’s not slippery, though greasy fingertips will definitely smudge the heck out of it. And good luck wiping those little splotches away completely; they will refuse to go away. Not a huge deal, just something to take note of.On the tablet’s left side is a lovely chrome power button, which is a signature of Sony’s mobile products. Below that is a rather forgettable volume rocker—and that’s about it as far as physical buttons go. There’s a headphone jack on the tablet’s bottom left side, and the microUSB and microSD slots sit on the tablet’s head, both of which are covered by flaps. On the back there’s an 8-megapixel camera, and a Sony connection on the bottom for accessories if you’re into that kind of thing. Additionally there’s an IR blaster up top for controlling your TV, which is actually pretty handy on such a wide canvas.Up front the device frames a 10.1-inch Full HD (1920×1200) TRILUMINOS display with Live Color LED and X-Reality for mobile, ensuring the sharpest possible image. The screen looks fairly nice; colors are relatively vibrant, though the blacks could definitely be deeper. It lags behind an AMOLED screen, that’s for sure, but by no means is the Z2’s display awful. Pictures look wonderful, movies are crisp, and Web browsing is enjoyable. Out in the bright sun you can mostly see what you’re reading, but you might struggle to work your way through a lengthy article or book. Best leave this one for indoor viewing.Finally, and really important for a tablet: Sony equipped the device with S-Force Front Surround, which is basically a fancy way of saying the Z2 Tablet now has front-facing speakers. That means you won’t be muffling the audio when you grip the device with both hands, which tends to happen when the speakers are placed around back.
Combine all the best bits of the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet that we’ve discussed so far – the rich Live Color 10-inch display, the front-facing stereo speakers, the top-notch Snapdragon 801 CPU (backed by ample RAM), and a light and grippy body that’s kind to your wrists, and you have one fine media player.You also get Sony’s customary media-focused apps, which are a lot stronger than most home-brewed efforts from other manufacturers. But you’d expect that, given that Sony has its fingers in a number of media pies.Music Unlimited, which is accessible through Sony’s Walkman-branded music app, is Sony’s own music-on-demand subscription service. It’s got a decent library of some 15 million tracks on offer, which makes it competitive with the likes of Spotify and Google Play Music in terms of sheer range.For others, Sony includes the Google Play Music app, which offers a similar range of music on a monthly subscription.Of course, Google Play Music also lets you upload your existing music collection to the cloud and stream it back, as well as to purchase MP3 tracks outright, so it’s probably preferable for new users.There’s also a Video Unlimited store that works more like a traditional rental service for movies and TV programs. Here you can buy or rent titles for the kind of prices you’ll have become familiar with in other services. New films tend to be £11.99 (Around $20, AU$22) to purchase and £3.49 or £3.99 (around $5.90, AU$6.30) to rent (both in SD). Sony has given the Xperia Z2 Tablet its customary half-hearted gaming push. The Z2 tablet is PlayStation Certified, which means that, as well as all the games available through the Google Play Store, you can get a bunch of titles through the PlayStation Mobile Store.
Performance and Android
The Z2 Tablet is powered by a quad-core 2.3GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 (MSM8974AB) processor with 3GB RAM. This isn’t exactly the same chip we’re seeing in recent flagship phones like the Samsung Galaxy S5 which use the newer MSM8974AC chip with slightly higher CPU and GPU clock speeds. As such, the Z2 Tablet benchmarks marginally lower than the S5 and HTC One (M8), but not by much, and there’s no way you’ll feel any real difference. Graphically intensive games like Asphalt 8, Need For Speed Most Wanted, and Riptide GP 2 played flawlessly. Web browsing is speedy and things rarely ever stutter during normal use. The Z2 Tablet is among the fastest Android devices you can get, breezing through basically anything you can throw at it. Sony’s Android skin, here running atop Android 4.4 KitKat, is more restrained than Samsung’s TouchWiz or HTC’s Sense, but it’s still a complete visual overhaul on virtually every level. The software aesthetics mirror Sony’s minimalist physical design sensibilities, and the added features are generally useful. If you don’t like the look and feel, Sony also supports third-party themes available in the Google Play store, but only those written for Xperia devices. The navigation and notification bars on the top and bottom are transparent, like stock Android, but there’s no persistent dock for apps along the bottom. As a result, the app drawer icon has moved to the top right corner. I prefer having a persistent dock, but it’s not a big loss here.Sony’s small apps are still here, offering basic multitasking in the form of resizable floating windows for apps like a Web browser, remote control, and notepad. There are a good deal of third-party small apps available in Google Play, including Twitter clients and camera apps, and you can turn any widget into a floating app as well. The Tablet Z easily handled five or more small apps at a time without stuttering. I still prefer Samsung’s multi-windows multitasking, though, as it supports more full apps like YouTube, Gmail, and Chrome. There are some useful custom features here that you won’t find in stock Android. Sony added a double-tap-to-wake gesture, much like LG’s KnockOn, which I think is really useful and makes even more sense on a large screen tablet. Under the settings, you’ll find a page devoted to Xperia Connectivity, which includes things like screen mirroring and DualShock 3 controller support. You’ll need a separate USB adapter for the latter feature, and we didn’t have one on hand to test. Sony’s Stamina and Low Battery modes return here, allowing you to white-list certain apps and reduce other background processes to reduce battery drain.Inside is a 6,000mAh battery, which is the same size as last year’s Tablet Z. Unfortunately, battery life is largely unchanged—in our rundown test, which loops a video with screen brightness set to max and Wi-Fi on, the Z2 Tablet turned in 5 hours of continuous playback. Last year’s Tablet Z managed 4 hours, 41 minutes, while large screen tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 lasted for 7 hours, 31 minutes, and that tablet has an even higher resolution display, which is a bigger battery hog.
Sony doesn’t appear to have improved the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet’s photographic capabilities significantly over last year’s model.It still pairs a flashless 8-megapixel rear camera with a 2.2-megapixel front-facing variant, and it still takes solid but decidedly unspectacular snaps.Sony has fitted the Xperia Z2 Tablet’s cameras with an Exmor RS backside illuminated image sensor, but don’t expect anything but grainy, murky results when shooting in less than optimal shooting conditions. It’s no different to any other tablet camera in that regard.Shooting in decent natural light yielded better results, but still nothing to trouble even the better smartphone cameras out there.Having said that, I found that the default Superior auto mode picked up on the precise nature of the shot and selected the appropriate settings for my snaps quickly and accurately.There’s something reassuring about moving in for an extreme close-up and having the camera display quickly tell you that it’s flipped to Macro mode, or focusing on a magazine article or a piece of text and having ‘Document’ flash up on the screen.Into the camera app itself, and tapping on the mode dial in the bottom right hand corner brings up eight basic modes. Besides Superior auto you get Manual, which adds a number of slider settings for things like white balance and exposure, as well as a scene menu containing all the usual suspects.Background focused is a mode that applies a custom piece of processing to create exaggerated depth of field effects.
It’s a nice idea, but the results are unconvincing.While you certainly get that deep contrast between a sharp close-up object and a blurred out background, the effect is heavy-handed and imprecise. In fact, you can often see the join between the foreground object and the rest of the picture, lending it a decidedly fake appearance.It also took me a little while to get the mode to work. All in all, it’s simply not worth the effort.Other shooting modes include panorama, creative effect filters, time shift bursts, and gimmicky AR scenes for those moments when you absolutely have to have a 3D dinosaur stomping across your holiday snaps.Of course, with full-sized tablets, the front camera is arguably more important than the rear. On this front, the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet is perfectly fine, offering a reasonably crisp and sharp image for your video calls and – if you must – selfies.Video recording on the main camera is 1080p at 30fps, and the results are reasonably smooth and crisp. There’s even Sony’s SteadyShot image stabilization to help reduce some of those shakes, but we’d recommend keeping fairly still nonetheless.
Sony has included a much smaller battery than we’ve seen from most recent high-end tablets. In fact, it’s the same 6,000mAh unit that can be found in last year’s Sony Xperia Tablet Z, which might surprise some given the newer tablet’s more powerful processor.The Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet’s battery is also much smaller than most of its Android rivals. The latest 10-inch Samsung tablets, such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1 and the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014, have 8,220mAh batteries – that’s 37% bigger than the Z2 Tablet’s.All of this might make you think that the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet’s stamina levels are destined to suffer by comparison. But it actually holds its own pretty well. It achieves parity, and even outstrips its rivals in some respects.The reason behind this is very simple, and goes back to our chief complaint for the tablet – its lower resolution display. Pushing pixels around a large display places by far the biggest strain on a tablet’s battery, so the fact that the Xperia Z2 tablet has a lot less work to do on this front allows for a smaller battery – and, in turn, that super-slim body.
The Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet is surely among the fastest, most impressively designed Android tablets around, but it’s somewhat unimaginative and lacks a distinctive feature to justify its $500 price tag. The display is good, but not spectacular; performance is good, but not industry-leading; the design is remarkably thin and attractive, but feels delicate. The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 debuted at $549.99, but can be had for the same $500 price these days. It’s got a sharper display, longer battery life, and built-in stylus support that is unrivaled in Android and iOS counterparts. The iPad Air, meanwhile, has a more durable design, sharper display, and better tablet-optimized app selection for the same price as the Z2 Tablet. Sony’s latest play for the hearts and minds of tablet users is a good one, and might win folks over with its design, but it fails to distinguish itself in any other meaningful way.