Sony’s Xperia Z4 Tablet is the Japanese firm’s best yet, with small bezels, a bright screen and a waterproof body – but it’s when you add a full keyboard that things start to get interesting.
Sony has a solid heritage in tablets with two excellent entries into the Z series before now. While they have failed to sell particularly well, they have been some of the best Android tablets available. In fact, they have only really been let down by the poor amount of tablet-optimised software for Android. That app-gap between Android tablets and Apple’s iPad no longer exists.
The Xperia Z4 Tablet will be familiar to anyone who has laid eyes on a Sony smartphone or tablet made in the last couple of years: a thin, waterproof body, black bezels and a brilliant LCD screen.
The big change for the Z4 is the size of the housing. The screen is the same 10.1in, now quad HD with a pixel density of 299 pixels per inch, but the bezels around the screen have shrunk – the tablet is 12mm shorter and 5mm narrower, making it one of the smallest 10in tablets available.
The body is thin with a thickness of 6.1mm, light at 393g, and discrete with hard-wearing black plastic back and nylon corners, which are meant to absorb the energy of an impact and stop the screen shattering if dropped. It’s a really understated design and the thinnest and lightest large tablet yet.
The 2K screen is great: it’s pin sharp, very bright and with very wide viewing angles. It’s not quite as fantastic as Samsung’s OLED screen on the Galaxy Tab S but in line with the subtle colours of LCD screens such as Apple’s iPad Air 2.
The screen is not covered by Gorilla Glass – the scratch-resistant glass used in most smartphones and tablets – but instead with Sony’s own scratch-resistant glass. In the past Sony’s own glass has proved to not be as scratch resistant as rivals. A screen protector might be wise.
The Z4 Tablet is fast and snappy throughout, running Qualcomm’s latest top-of-the-line processor the octacore Snapdragon 810 with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, plus a microSD card slot.
The Snapdragon 810 has allegedly been plagued by overheating issues. The Z4 Tablet does get warm during heavy use such as installing a bunch of applications at the same time, but quickly cools and the performance is not noticeably affected in general use.
Overall the Z4 Tablet is not quite the fastest Android device I have used this year –that would be the Samsung Galaxy S6 – but is considerably faster than last year’s best Android tablet the Samsung Galaxy Tab S.
Battery life is a mixed bag. It is excellent for less demanding jobs – giving a full working day of over nine hours when word processing (more on that later) – but not spectacular when playing games or anything that requires more processing power. That’s likely to do with the difference between the lower-power quad-core chip and the higher-performance, more power-hungry chip that it switches to when needed.
Sony’s excellent power-saving modes can extend battery life by days, including modes that barely limit capabilities but dramatically prolong standby life.
As with the outside of the tablet, the inside should also be familiar to anyone who’s used a Sony product in the last five years, including a Sony TV or a PlayStation 4.
The Z4 Tablet runs Google’s Android 5.0.2 Lollipop but with a custom look. It’s not radical, and looks mostly like Android with only small visual tweaks. The main additions have been the integration of a task-bar like additional menu of icons in the bottom left of the screen and a start menu with recent apps and other settings that’s triggered when a keyboard is connected.
Sony also bundles a load of its own apps, including the solid Walkman app and a decent photo editor. A Navigon satnav and AVG antivirus app come pre-installed but can be deleted.
Sony’s big push for its new tablet is taking it into the crossover space between PCs and tablets. The firm has made a new Bluetooth keyboard into which the tablet slots. It has a fully angle-adjustable hinge and when docked in the thin and light keyboard the machine behaves like a laptop.
It’s one of the best tablet keyboards I’ve ever used. The keys are quite short, but are almost full width with good travel and feel. It has a trackpad at the bottom, which invokes a traditional mouse cursor on screen, responds to multi-touch gestures and is responsive making it useful for fine-grain control.
The keyboard has a separate battery and is changed by microUSB. When closed it protects the screen and creates a very thin and light PC replacement. The keyboard weighs 365g, which makes the overall package with the tablet weigh just 758g, which is around 200g lighter than any laptop.
The keyboard was good enough to use to write the whole of this review and many other articles sat at a desk or on my lap while on the train. My only real niggle was that the right-hand shift key is placed to the right of the directional arrows meaning I kept hitting backslash while touch typing.
Sony makes some of the best cameras in the mobile business – the iPhone and OnePlus One use Sony’s cameras for instance. The 8.1-megapixel camera on the back of the Z4 Tablet is decent, if not exceptional, and is probably one of the best fitted to a tablet. The front-facing 5.1-megapixel camera takes decent selfies and makes for an excellent video-chat camera.
The Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet is available for pre-order costing £499 for the Wi-Fi only version with the a keyboard shipping at the end of May. A version with 4G mobile data will be available at a later date, with a higher price tag.
For a comparison, Samsung’s 10.5in Galaxy Tab S costed £399 at launch and Apple’s iPad Air 2 costs £399, both without keyboard accessories.
Sony’s tablets have always been excellent, but have failed to stand out from the pack. The Xperia Z4 Tablet is the best yet and is thinner and lighter than most, with a great screen and solid battery life.
It’s also waterproof without any fiddly doors covering the charging or headphones ports, which means there’s basically no downside to being waterproof.
But the best bit is when the tablet is combined with the keyboard, making a very capable and simple laptop replacement that is thinner, lighter and lasts longer on battery than most.