Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet review

Pros

  • Thin and light
  • Waterproof
  • Sharp display
  • Speedy Snapdragon 801 processor

Cons

  • Mediocre battery life
  • Feels delicate

Sony's doubling down on design. The Xperia Z2 Tablet is nearly identical to its predecessor, inheriting the minimalist, flat-rectangle design language that has come to define Sony's mobile portfolio. It's exquisitely slim and exudes refinement, but aside from obligatory performance upgrades, this is an encore, not an exciting new instalment. Second verse, same as the first: The Z2 Tablet is big on style, but simply sufficient on substance.

And the trouble is these days, for the asking price of £399 (for the basic 16GB Wi-Fi version), we expect a little more. The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition) only costs a bit more (at £450 currently), has a sharper display, and bundles best-in-class stylus support, while the Apple iPad Air bests the Z2 on design and ecosystem for the exact same price.

Design

The Z2 Tablet perfectly embodies Sony's OmniBalance design language, which puts an emphasis on restraint and attention to detail. It's an understated slab of glass and soft-touch plastic that some will find wonderfully minimalist, but others might find a bit boring. At 172 x 6 x 266mm (WxDxH), and weighing just 440 grams, the Z2 tablet is incredibly thin and light, but more or less physically identical to the original Xperia Tablet Z.

It's effortless to handle, but you can still feel some flex in the frame, which gives it an unfortunately delicate feel. The microUSB port and microSD card slot are covered by small flaps, which are necessary for the IP58 waterproof and dust-resistant rating. The Z2 can survive being submerged for 30 minutes in up to 5 feet of water, but you won't be able to use the touchscreen when fully submerged. The flaps blend seamlessly into the flat edges, but they can be hard to locate, and the small indent can make them difficult to open if you keep your fingernails short.

The 10.1in, 1,920 x 1,200-pixel IPS LCD is framed by an oversized bezel. The nearly 1in margins all around leave plenty to grip onto, but look a bit dated, as if the Z2 could have been more compact. The display itself looks sharp (224 ppi), but other high-end Android tablets are moving to the sharper 2,560 x 1,600 resolution.

Contrast is excellent, with deep blacks for an LCD panel, and colours appear natural. Viewing angles are wide, but screen brightness isn't all that impressive – bright outdoor light easily overpowers the Z2 Tablet.

Slim, front-facing speaker slits are embedded in the bottom left and right corners of the Z2 Tablet. They get surprisingly loud and punchy, though they lack bass and richness. The position makes them easy to cover with your palms, but that's easily solved by just holding the tablet upside down. There's a 3.5mm headphone jack on the left edge, and thankfully there is no waterproof flap to fuss with.

The Wi-Fi-only 16GB tablet we reviewed connects to 802.11b/g/n/ac networks on the 2.4 and 5GHz bands. I noticed that Wi-Fi range on the 5GHz band was a bit more fickle with the Z2 than an iPad Air at my desk, and often an adjustment of just a few feet could mean the difference between a connection and no connection. Also on board are NFC and Bluetooth 4.0 radios, both of which worked fine in my tests.

Sony offers the Z2 Tablet in black or white and in 16GB or 32GB Wi-Fi configurations, the latter of which ups the price to £449. There’s also a 16GB LTE version which tips the scales at £499.

Performance

The Z2 Tablet is powered by a quad-core 2.3GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 (MSM8974AB) processor with 3GB of RAM. This isn't exactly the same chip we're seeing in recent flagship phones like the Samsung Galaxy S5, though, 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 the likes of Samsung's TouchWiz, 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, as with 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-window 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 whitelist certain apps and cut 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 and 41 minutes, while large screen tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 lasted for 7 hours and 31 minutes, and that tablet has an even higher resolution display, which is a bigger battery hog.

Multimedia and cameras

Of the 11.2GB of total storage, 9.66GB is available to users out of the box. The Z2 Tablet had no issue with any of our media test formats, playing back H.264, DivX, and Xvid videos without issue. FLAC, OGG, and WAV audio files worked fine here as well. Sony includes its Walkman, Album, and Movies media apps, which look pretty slick. They also tie heavily into Sony's Music and Video Unlimited services, which will be useful for some, but likely a bit obtrusive for most. Music Unlimited has a decent selection and a good interface, but Video Unlimited is sorely lacking, offering only standard definition content at high prices. There's a bit of bloatware here, too, like McAfee Security and Garmin Navigation, but luckily Sony lets you easily uninstall them.

There's a built-in IR emitter and Sony's TV SideView app, which acts as a graphical program guide and universal remote for your home cinema system. SideView shows tiles of current programming, with extra info like cast names and episode summaries. You can record the show you're watching, but you can't access your DVR or set up recordings for another time.

Around back is an 8-megapixel backside illuminated sensor, but no LED flash. Pictures are actually pretty good as far as tablets go, but that's not saying much. Outdoors and in good lighting, details are crisp and colours appear vivid. Indoors and under low lighting, image noise smudges away details and focus tends to be soft. Video resolution tops out at 1080p and has the same basic qualities as still images, while the lack of stabilisation and rolling shutter effects are additionally problematic. The 2-megapixel front-facing camera is sufficient for selfies and video calls, but not much more.

Verdict

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 £400 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 (2014) is only £50 more, and it's got a sharper display, longer battery life, and built-in stylus support that is unrivalled in Android and iOS counterparts. The iPad Air, meanwhile (pictured above next to Sony's slate), has a more durable design, sharper display, and a better tablet-optimised 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.

Specifications

Manufacturer and Model

Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet

Screen Resolution

1920 x 1200 pixels

Operating System

Android 4.4

Dimensions

172 x 6 x 266mm (WxDxH)

Weight

440g

Screen Type

IPS LCD

Battery Size

6000 mAh

GPS

Yes

RAM

3GB

Camera Resolution

8 MP Rear

Storage Capacity

16GB SSD

Battery Life

5 hours

Screen Pixels Per Inch

224 ppi

Additional Storage

MicroSD

Video Camera Resolution

1080p

Processor Speed

2.3GHz

Bluetooth Version

4.0

Screen Size

10.1in

CPU

Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 Quad-Core

Ports

microUSB

Wi-Fi Compatibility

802.11b/g/n/ac; 2.4GHz/5GHz