We review the new Xperia Z4 Tablet to see whether it continues the trend of stellar slates from Sony.
Design: On the edge
To look at the aesthetic choices Sony has made are, like almost everything else that’s launched recently, evolutionary, rather than revolutionary. You still get the fibreglass back plate, the flashless rear camera and an ever-so-slightly narrower bezel than the Z2 Tablet to play with. That said, despite looking like its 2014 precursor, the Z4’s body is insanely thin, on par with the iPad Air 2, and it’s notably lightweight too; lighter in fact than any other 10-inch tablet out there right now, making it ideal from prolonged handheld usage.
Sony’s penchant for IP68-certified waterproofing is present and correct, and unless you want to add in a microSD card or SIM card, those fiddly covers from older Xperias are long gone. As we recently saw from the new mid-range M4 Aqua smartphone, Sony’s now figured out how to add an exposed microUSB port on the device, without compromising on its submersible skills.
The more established exposed headphone jack is also located on the slate’s corner and supports Sony’s noise-cancelling headphones for a more refined media experience.
Screen and media: Eye popper, show stopper
Movie fans will appreciate the ridiculously bright 10.1-inch screen, which thanks to what Sony calls Live colour LEDs, pushes incredibly vivid imagery. It falls a little short of the mark as it lacks the deepest blacks in the business, despite packing solid IPS LCD technology, but throw in its killer WQXGA (2560×1600) resolution and you know you’re onto a winner overall.
Audiophiles can enjoy the aforementioned noise-cancelling headphone support and the inclusion of the company’s own DSEE HX (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine) technology, which whilst we haven’t tested to the end of the earth, does appear to produce cleaner audio through your average headphones than on other mobile devices.
OS: Tweaked and tightened
On the software side the company’s become increasingly cautious with the changes it makes to the underlying Android experience, but the Z4 Tab features some nice Sony-flavoured tweaks on top of version 5.0 Lollipop – some new offerings and some existing signature experiences.
Small apps like a timer and a floating web browser window are great for lightweight multitasking, whilst the Sketch and Movie Creator apps give you creative tools for image and video work out the box. There’s also a crossover with Sony’s gaming arm, letting you access and even stream content from your PlayStation 3 or PS4 (provided you’re on the same WiFi network) and if you’re really serious about gaming, you can connect a PS4 controller to the Z4 Tablet via Bluetooth for enhanced manual control.
Depending on the package you opt for, you’ll either nab a Z4 Tablet with or without the additional physical keyboard (around £140 when sold separately) which alongside bringing convenience to the slate’s hardware credentials, adds a customisable set of app shortcuts that appear in the bottom left – upping the overall productivity capabilities of this slate immensely.
Performance: Hot bonnet
On the inside it’s Qualcomm’s infamous octa-core Snapdragon 810 running the show and despite claims of overheating we found it comfortable with everything we threw at it.
The exception came when using a handful of Sony’s more specialist camera features which throw up a warning about overheating ahead of time. That said, such warnings have been a trait of Xperias for generations now, irrespective of whatever processor has laid at their core.
Storage wise you get 32GB built in – double that of last year’s Z2 Tablet, and of course there’s microSD support up to 128GBs under the tablet’s solitary remaining port, giving you plenty of room to store high resolution movies and other rich media.
At launch Sony made some big claims over the 17 hours of video playback that the Xperia Z4 Tablet can allegedly dole out, and whilst we’re hoping to test such claims in a standalone battery trial (à la Galaxy S6), regular usage should keep things ticking over for just under two days of steady use, with gaming, video streaming, web browsing and general swiping all under your belt within that time.
Camera: FeatuAR packed
We’re always going to ward you away from taking snaps on your slates, but it has to be said there’s a lot on offer from the cameras in Z4 Tablet.
You get decent sensor sizes with an 8-meg rear snapper and a 5-meg front facer, both of which retain a decent amount of detail in their output using Superior Auto mode. Low light results from the rear camera are also pretty impressive, especially as there’s no flash to brighten things up, even if you wanted to. Macro snaps also work well with the available optics and Superior Auto mode has a range of tools to tweak the outcome to best suit the situation.
Manual control is also an option, but it’s not as deep as Microsoft’s Lumia camera experience; giving you the ability to change image resolution, white balance and scene settings. HDR is a must in bright environments as the Z4’s camera appears to struggle with strong contrast scenarios.
Videographers won’t appreciate the lack of 4K video recording, despite the top tier processor onboard, but the tablet’s digital image stabilisation abilities on Full HD recordings is undoubtedly impressive.
Verdict: Top of the 10-inchers
Sony’s produced yet another great 10-inch device in the Xperia Z4 Tablet and we hope it doesn’t get overlooked amidst new talk of new iPads, the Surface 3 and rumoured Samsung Galaxy tablets.
It boasts one of Sony’s most refined user experiences to date, a fantastic display for media, a number of great standout features like PlayStation Remote Play and offers fantastic tools for media and productivity, especially with the addition of the aforementioned hardware keyboard.
There’s a lot more to love than at worst, dislike about the Xperia Z4 tablet. Sure, the interface might feel a tad soulless and the £500 starting price has the potential to put you off, but make a serious commitment to this purchase and there’s little doubt that you’ll be pleased with the decision for the long haul.