Introduction, design and display
The tablet market has become a very different place since Sony last launched a 10-inch tablet. Where then the Xperia Z2 Tablet was a credible threat to the iPad in a new and exciting arena, the Xperia Z4 Tablet has landed in a very different world.
Right now there isn’t really any Android device standing up against the almighty iPad Air 2, with the Nexus 9 not proving all that popular and Samsung having stopped flooding of the market with a huge range of slates.
Sony now has a chance to smash and grab with a fantastic Android tablet and it comes at a good point in its launch cycle as well, as due to the Sony Xperia Tablet Z3 Compact coming through in the latter half of last year we’ve not had a full blown 10-inch slate from the company for over a year either.
Design and display
Sony’s design is as polarising as you can get – you really do either love it or hate it.
If you can see what the brand is trying to do, then the first thing you notice when picking up the Xperia Z4 Tablet is the weight. It’s lighter than ever before at 392g, and the difference is noticeable.
The back of the Xperia Z4 Tablet isn’t as cheap-feeling, or looking, as on previous iterations. This time around it’s a high-end polycarbonate material that, while not feeling as nice as the iPad’s brushed metal, looks great and feels easy and comfortable to grip.
Sony has managed to make the slate even thinner this time around, without giving it a flimsy feel. It’s only 6.1mm thick, the same as the iPad Air 2, but you get the feeling it would blow away a little more easily than Apple’s slate would.
At one point I was taking some photos of the sky with the Xperia Z4 Tablet (for reviewing purposes –I’m not into clouds or anything), and I did have to tighten my grip at one stage due to a slight gust – if you weren’t paying attention this tablet could easily be blown from your hands.
Sony’s infamous flaps are once again in play, there to keep the tablet water- and dust-resistant to a high degree of IP65 and IP68, but they don’t protrude as much as on previous models, and are a lot less obtrusive at first glance.
The Z4 tablet is sturdier too, despite being thinner. When reviewing the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet I managed to break off one of the flaps by mistake – it just snapped off in my fingers when I was trying to open it to charge the tablet.
This time around Sony has taken the criticism of the flap system on board, and while not replacing them entirely, it has refined them to make them a little sturdier, and much easier to pop in and out without the risk of them coming off.
The waterproofing is a big bonus, and makes the tablet a lot more useable around the house – take it into the bath to read a book or watch a video and you won’t have to worry about it slipping from your grasp.
I find the feature particularly welcome when I’m cooking – it doesn’t matter if you manage to slather your slate in flour and grease while using your grimy finger on a recipe app, as you can just wipe it clean.
Although the waterproofing arguably makes the Z4 one of the most robust tablets on the market, the rest of the design does give you the feeling that it would snap on the slightest drop.
The power button is on the left-hand side, with the volume rocker just underneath. Both are difficult to reach, but it’s not clear where they could be better located on a 10-inch slate – you’ll just have to deal with the fact that you’ll be using two hands when changing the volume or turning the screen on and off.
A big design change is the lack of a dock connector at the bottom, which enables the tablet to be made that little bit thinner.
The display is a 10.1-inch stunning 2K job with a pixel resolution of 2560 x 1600. It looks great, delivering really sharp images, and is a real step up compared to the 1200 x 1920 setup we saw on the Xperia Z2 Tablet.
Watching video is a real treat here – you’re getting 299 pixels per inch sharpness, better than the 264ppi on the iPad Air 2, in addition to the screen itself being significantly bigger than Apple’s alternative.
As with previous models, Sony has surrounded the tablet with pretty hefty bezels. These have been whittled down a little further than on the Xperia Z2 Tablet, but they’re still quite cumbersome.
I like them though – I’ve got some pretty thick thumbs to fit in those bezels and it means I’m not tapping the tablet when I’m focusing on a different area, as I sometimes find myself doing with a caseless iPad.
They’re not to everyone’s taste, though, and Sony could do with shaving them down a little more and making the slate a little smaller overall.
The display reproduces colours beautifully. Whether you’re using apps,watching video or just browsing the web the image quality is very impressive.
The screen brightness leaves a little to be desired though; while using the tablet outside I sometimes struggled to see the picture clearly, and got a lot of glare off the front.
I didn’t have any issues while using it in our brightly lit office, but you’re likely to need to set the brightness to maximum when you’re out and about.
Key features and laptop dock
Sony has a few unique selling points up its sleeve, including one which may even tempt gamers away from Apple’s tablets. PlayStation Remote Play support enables those with a PS4 to connect over the same Wi-Fi network as the tablet and use it as a second screen.
It’s been available on Sony’s other flagship products before, and this isn’t the first time a tablet has been compatible, but the display on the Z4 Tablet is another level compared to previous Sony devices, and it just makes me want to use it to play games on.
Connecting up your PS4 here allows for a second 2K screen – you really can’t fault that. I hooked the Z4 tablet up with my PS4 at home and, believe me, you’re not going to want to clip it onto your controller. The weight isn’t an issue, but it’s just too big to wield.
Instead I found myself just leaning it up against something on a table, connecting up my controller and playing games in beautiful 2K.
The Wi-Fi signal dropped out once when first connecting, but from there I managed to fit in a full 30 minute GTA V session without any issues. I’ve even managed to connect it up and play a couple of games of Rocket League in my kitchen while someone else uses the TV in the living room.
You can play games without a controller and use the display instead, but I really don’t recommend it unless you’re just playing some puzzle games; it’s too unwieldy. You’ve likely already got a PS4 controller if you have the console, so just connect that up and get the full experience.
It’s a big selling point though – and will become more so as Sony begins to expand its Remote Play service so that it can run off different Wi-Fi signals. It’ll be possible for you to play PS4 games running in your living room at home on the train, or in another country when you’re on holiday.
Some might not like the idea of their PlayStation still running at home as you play it on a second screen, but it’s arguably the future of mobile gaming, and it’s a feature many are clamoring for.
Keyboard and docking
Sony has never really been one for accessories in the past, but it has decided to buck the trend with the Xperia Z4 Tablet and offer a Bluetooth keyboard alongside it.
I had one to test alongside the review tablet, and I loved it. I’ve always found Sony’s slates to be a little difficult to prop up, so having a Bluetooth keyboard to dock it into so it doesn’t fall over works a treat.
Sadly the dock only goes to one position. This is certainly not the Surface Pro 3, with countless options for propping it up, but it does give you a good view when you’re typing and for watching movies.
The keyboard connects via Bluetooth – the tablet automatically recognises the keyboard and notifies you to turn on Bluetooth, which is a nifty feature, giving you a quick kick under the table to warn you why nothing’s happening when you type.
I found that the keyboard connected quickly without any issues. The keys are well placed but they take some getting used to – but then again so does every new keyboard.
The trackpad is a little on the small side, and I found myself ditching it in favour of the touch functionality on the main screen. Some users will prefer the trackpad, but I found it a little slow as well.
Another smart feature is that the Xperia Z4 Tablet automatically opens up a little taskbar along the left-hand corner of the screen with key apps you’re likely be using when the keyboard is connected.
These kick off with Google apps such as Chrome, YouTube and Gmail, but you can easily swap in other apps by pressing the two dots to the right to open up a menu.
The slate also snaps down onto the keyboard to give it that little bit of extra protection when it’s in your bag. Be warned, though, that while the tablet is waterproof and dustproof, the keyboard isn’t.
Everything just kind of works with the new Bluetooth keyboard, but the main sticking point could be the price. If you could pick it up alongside the Xperia Z4 Tablet for under £100/$120 it would be a great accessory, but my inkling is that Sony may want a little more for it; pricing hasn’t been announced at the time of writing.
Battery life and interface
The Xperia Z4 Tablet has a 6,000mAh non-removable battery inside, a hefty unit for any tablet, but it hasn’t changed since the same cell was included in the original Tablet Z many moons ago.
Considering that Sony has upped the display – the biggest battery drainer – it begs the question as to whether the battery should have been improved as well.
The Xperia Z4 Tablet has a similar battery life to the 17-18 hours of video Sony was stating at the Z2 Tablet launch.
Sony should be praised for delivering that kind of battery life considering the sharpness of the Z4’s display – you’ll be able to get through a long-haul flight’s worth of movies and not have to worry about the tablet dying on you.
We ran the Nyan Gareth video – our traditional battery test of a 90-minute straight video at 100% brightness – and managed to get a score of 79%.
Considering that the Xperia Z2 Tablet scored 72% this is quite impressive, and Sony has clearly made some improvements under the hood to obtain this level of performance.
I then ran the test again at 60% brightness, as personally I’m willing to sacrifice a little screen brightness for an extra film’s worth of battery life, but I only managed to get a score of 81%, so it’s not really worth dropping the brightness when watching video, as you won’t see a big difference in battery life.
General battery life proved impressive as well. I had the Z4 idle in my bag idle over a weekend and I didn’t see more than 20% of the battery drain, even though the tablet was connecting to Wi-Fi and receiving notifications.
It just proves that the big battery drainer here is the display – although it’s worth it for such a beautiful-looking screen.
I did find charging an almighty task though. Tablets usually take quite a while to get up to full charge, but using my normal phone charger made for a particularly slow process. Fast charging technology would be a nice touch here.
Also it’s worth noting that there’s no wireless charging option, which would have been a welcome addition for those who don’t want to be restricted by a cable.
The Xperia Z4 Tablet comes with Android 5.0 Lollipop, and you get to use all of Google’s freshly implemented features.
However, Sony’s UI is as prevalent as ever, which will disappoint some. It doesn’t really add much to the Android experience, and I can see how it may confuse new users. Sony isn’t likely to drop it though, so it seems that we’re stuck with it.
Sony has taken inspiration from Google’s Material Design, but the new design language isn’t fully implemented; I like the new minimalist design Google is offering with stock Android, but Sony changes all the icons to its standard look, which puts a dampener on the user experience for me.
One of the big new features of Android Lollipop is lock screen notifications, and these come in very useful. Instead of having to swipe down to read your latest goings on you can just hit the power button on the left-hand side and everything is there.
Tap and unlock to view the notifications in more detail, or just swipe them away if you’re not that interested. It’s smart, and it’s one of the nicest Android additions we’ve seen in a few years.
With Samsung dropping a lot of its bloatware apps from the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge, Sony is becoming potentially the biggest culprit for filling its devices with largely useless services.
Some of the pre-installed apps are useful of course, such as the PlayStation app – having this installed ready and waiting makes sense, especially with the Remote Play feature on the new tablet.
But there are also the likes of Sketch, Xperia Lounge, SocialLife and Lifelog, which I find utterly useless and which take up precious storage space – and the worst part is that none of them can be deleted.
Sony really needs to understand that people don’t want to waste their precious storage space on apps they’re never going to use, and filling its devices full of these will make people look toward stock versions in the future.
The slate also comes with a few third-party services pre-installed, including some useful ones such as Facebook, Spotify and Skype.
The addition of the Android Lollipop features is welcome, but Sony has some real work to do before I want to shout from the rooftops about its tablet software. It’s a bland, functional interface that harks back to darker days of tablet design – although it should be said that it is thoroughly usable.
Performance and the essentials
Sony’s tablet range has been criticised heavily in the past for all manner of things, but one thing that can’t be said is that its devices don’t lack power. Sony has always opted for the biggest and best chipset, and the Xperia Z4 Tablet is no exception.
Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 810 64-bit octa-core processor, clocked at 2GHz, is present here, accompanied by 3GB of RAM.
It makes processor-intensive tasks on the tablet a breeze, and compared to most Android tablets it’s quite an impressive setup.
To really push the tablet to its limits I played Real Racing 3, an extremely graphics-intensive game, and I didn’t experience any of the lag I’ve seen on other slates. In fact, the frame rate was more impressive than on the Xperia Z2 Tablet from a little over a year ago.
I found that on the first play-through the game crashed on me, but after that I played through five different levels and experienced no problems, suggesting that the issue was down to it just booting up.
When it comes to storage you only have one, 32GB, option. That’ll be enough for many users, but I’d appreciate a little more space, as I like to stuff my devices full of apps and video.
Sony does allows for 128GB of storage through microSD, which is a nice touch, but software and core apps take up almost 11GB of the default storage, so if you’re not planning to shell out on a microSD card you’re going to be restricted to 21GB.
Throw in a 128GB card, though, and you’ve got 149GB of space to fill – even with my big movie collection I’d struggle to fill all of that.
There’s a micro USB slot on the right-hand edge of the tablet. It’s uncovered this time around but it’s still waterproof, which raises the question why other connections can’t benefit from this design.
It’s there for charging and data transfer, and it enables easy use of the tablet whilst it’s charging – you can stick it in the dock or lean it against something, so you won’t have to worry about the battery dying while you’re working.
On the extreme top-left corner of the slate is a 3.5mm headphone jack, which again is open but waterproof.
It’s right on the very edge this time, which is an interesting design choice, but it does mean that the tablet can be placed in its Bluetooth keyboard dock while you’re listening to music without any issues.
Talking of music, the Xperia Z4’s speakers aren’t the best you’re going to find – there’s no BoomSound-like technology here, but they’re decent enough.
High-res audio and noise-cancelling technology make for an impressive audio setup though – I keep finding myself plugging my headphones into the tablet when it’s Spotify time, even when my phone is closer to hand.
It’s just a more enjoyable experience, and the noise-cancelling technology is a big bonus, although you do need dedicated Sony headphones for it to work.
Connectivity-wise you’ve got Wi-Fi 802.11 for fast internet. I used the slate at home, at work and in a coffee shop and didn’t experience any problems getting online. My home Wi-Fi was a little temperamental for a while, but I suspect that was down to the poor connection, and I didn’t have any issues whilst using the tablet with super-fast connections.
Bluetooth 4.1 is also present, and comes in useful for connecting accessories like the keyboard.
NFC support is also on hand for fast connections with compatible devices – although you’re not likely to need to use it that much, and I only used it with a speaker just to test it out.
I find NFC a little redundant on tablets, as it’s rare that you’ll be using it for payments or the like when you’re out and about, or for connecting accessories.
Sony at least has the courtesy to point out where the NFC connector is, with a small logo on the back of the tablet. Some manufacturers don’t bother to do this, meaning that you can’t tell where you need to tap – I’m looking at you HTC.
The logo isn’t easy to spot initially, but once you know where it is you’ll find that it’s quick and easy to get connected.
The Xperia Z4 Tablet doesn’t really need a new kick-ass camera, and Sony knows it. No one walks around taking photos with a 10-inch camera (and if you do, you shouldn’t); we all have phones that take much better images.
As such, the rear camera on the Xperia Z4 Tablet doesn’t seem to be anything special. It has an 8.1MP sensor that can capture images of 3264 x 2448 pixels, but it never seems to really make those specs work. A slight zoom with the camera causes a noticeable drop in clarity in images, which is a shame.
It also has a strange position on the slate. Where most manufacturers would place it slap bang in the middle, so that when you hold the tablet up you have a rough idea of the image you’re going to get, Sony has placed it on the far right, in the top corner.
When I was composing a shot I found myself instinctively using the middle of the tablet, and I had to keep reorientating it after reminding myself where the camera actually was.
This means that when you’re taking photos of family and friends you’re likely to end up doing the ‘mum and dad photography’ thing, waving the tablet around for while before you actually take the picture.
Colours seem to be reproduced quite well, but on the whole I’ve not been impressed with the rear camera at all.
There’s more to be said for the front-facing camera, which has a 5.1MP sensor and features a wide-angle lens that enables you to squeeze more into the frame than you might expect.
While the colours may not be as good as those from the rear camera, I found the clarity of images to be much better.
This means that the video call image is quite clear as well, as long as you’re on a fast enough connection to keep up with the high-res image.
A quick note about the camera UI, which generally hasn’t changed much since last time: it’s a pain in the posterior to take a selfie.
I tried to take this image with my pet squirrel one-handed and it just wasn’t possible – this is when you really miss having a dedicated camera button, so that you don’t have to reach your thumb over the bezel and onto the button on the UI.
Sony has an entire app store to bring new features to its cameras as and when it wishes. This time around you’re kicking off with Superior Auto, Manual, AR Mask, Face in Picture, Sound Photo, AR Fun, Multi Camera, AR Effect, Creative Effect and Sweep Panorama.
Sony has been supplying the AR apps for some time now, and I never cease to be entertained by adding a roaming dinosaur to my photos and videos.
I find that AR apps entertain kids for at least twenty minutes, and love to show them off to my niece and nephew whenever I have a new device hanging around.
This time Sony has added in AR Mask, an app that sounds like it’s going to be lots of fun, with popular masks like Darth Vader or V for Vendetta. But no, the effects are actually terrifying.
Here are some of the results of my experiments with AR Mask…
Instead of throwing a mask on top of your face it throws someone else’s face on top, and it’s horrible. So, so horrible.
It’s not just for selfies though – you can also do it to your friends using the rear camera.
The rest of the apps are either good fun to play around with or offer up some real functionality, and Sony has incorporated some interesting features here.
As for video recording you’re restricted to 1080p at 30fps; there’s no 4K video recording as there has been in the past.
Some may miss this feature, but considering that the Xperia Z4 doesn’t have a 4K screen I don’t see it as a big omission. However, it would have been nice to double up the resolution and get 2K video on such a good screen, and I don’t really understand why Sony didn’t go for it.
All in all though video recording looks great, and I didn’t find any issues with it.
iPad Air 2
Apple’s latest tablet is the lightest, thinnest and best-looking iPad we’ve ever seen – we gave it five out of five in our full review. On the front is a 9.7-inch display with a pixel resolution of 1536 x 2048, equaling 265ppi.
TouchID has been brought over to Apple’s tablet range, so you’ve got a secure way to unlock the iPad, and it runs the latest iOS 8 software.
The brushed metal back panel makes for a premium feel, making the iPad Air 2 arguably the best slate on the market. You pay for the privilege though, with prices starting at £399 ($499, AUS$619), and rising if you want more storage.
Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact
Sony’s last foray into the tablet market saw it drop down to an 8-inch display with a pixel resolution of 1200 x 1920.
Design-wise it’s pretty similar to the Xperia Z4 Tablet – it’s shrunk down a little but still features IP68 waterproofing and the glass-fronted look. Under the hood is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor clocked at 2.5GHz, accompanied by 3GB of RAM. Storage is a little on the miserly side at 16GB, but there’s microSD support up to 128GB.
We quite liked the Z3 Tablet Compact, giving it four out five stars and praising it for its impressive battery life, thin design and PS4 Remote Play features.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S
Samsung’s latest tablet is designed to be the ‘iPad killer’, and comes in two sizes: a 8.4-inch display and a 10.5-inch display. And those are two stunning high-res displays, offering pixel resolutions of 1600 x 2560 and 359ppi, and 1600 x 2560 and 288ppi respectively.
It’s pretty powerful under the bonnet too, with a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor clocked at 2.3GHz, and 3GB of RAM. Storage-wise you’re limited to either 16GB or 32GB options, but microSD can take this up to 128GB.
We gave it four and a half stars out of five, highlighting the strong battery life and great-looking display.
HTC Nexus 9
The Nexus 9 tries to take everything people loved about the Nexus 7 and Nexus 10, stick an 8.9-inch display on it and call it the best tablet on the market. And to be fair it does a pretty good job.
HTC has taken the 4:3 aspect ratio from the iPad, installed Android Lollipop and added a cracking pair of speakers.
Design wise it may feel a little low-end compared to the Sony or Apple tablets, and there’s no microSD support, so you’re stuck with either the 16GB or 32GB version you buy.
The price has also been bumped up from previous Nexus tablets, to £319 (about $500, AUS$626) for the 16GB version and £379 (about $600, AUS$725) for the 32GB.
The Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet is a great alternative to the iPad. It’s set to breeze into second place in the race for best tablet, and top the league table of best Android tablets.
It’s got a lovely screen, lightweight design, all the Sony elements you’d look for and the right power combination to keep it at the forefront of slate technology for a few years.
The waterproof design is one of the nicest features, and makes it a much more attractive proposition than less robust slates on the market.
The new optional keyboard is potentially a welcome addition, although it’s hard to judge whether it’ll be worth adding it until we know the price.
The ‘under the hood’ mechanics are impressive too, and you’ll struggle to make them work flat out, while the battery life is better than ever before.
Although the addition of Android Lollipop is welcome, Sony’s UI is still a big problem for many; it restricts what you can do with the platform, and, most importantly, how it looks.
The storage options aren’t overly generous, and it would be nice if Sony offered a 64GB version; microSD storage is handy, but files on there don’t perform as well as on the main memory.
The camera setup won’t be good enough for some, with the rear camera in particular disappointing – it’s not a big issue for me, but lots of people like to use their slates to take snapshots.
The main issue the Xperia Z4 has to overcome – and there’s not a lot Sony can do about this – is that Android still trails iOS for dedicated tablet apps.
The ecosystem for the iPad is such that no matter how much you can do with the Android version, unless there’s something very specific you’re looking for the Apple tablet is generally the better choice.
The Xperia Z4 is a great tablet, and it’s the one genuine alternative to the iPad. Android is still not the perfect ecosystem for tablets, but with a 2K display on the front and such a nice-looking design this is the best way of implementing it in a tablet yet.
There are still issues with the camera and the UI setup, but overall it’s a much more enjoyable experience than we’ve seen from a Sony tablet before.
Another big problem for some will be the price. If you’re opting for the 4G version it’s going to cost £579.99 (about $910, AUS$1135), while the Wi-Fi version will cost £499.99 (about $785, AUS$980). Pricing for both the US and Australia has yet to be announced.
It’s expensive, but compared to Apple’s pricing, which is at a very similar level, it’s not all that much of a surprise for a high-end, top-quality tablet experience.
If you want something a little bit different to the iPad, then give the Xperia Z4 Tablet a go. It’s the best slate from the company yet, and in my opinion it’s the best Android option out there, although you’re going to have to part with a bit of cash to experience it.
First reviewed: May 2015
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