Good, but could be better

For a tablet that's entered the market late, the Sony Tablet S makes up with stunning design, an intuitive interface, and Playstation compatibility that makes gaming a joy. But will it be able to keep up with the speed and functionality of the Apple iPad or measure up to the range of apps available in the Android marketplace?

Sony has a history of great design; not quite in the same league as Apple or Bang and Olufsen, but in terms of pure practicality and ease of use, there was not much at which you could beat the Japanese electronics giant. Therefore, it is not surprising that the sleek tablet it recently introduced is not only sexy, it is functional and could work as a good alternative to Apple's iPad.

The Sony Tablet S has an elegant UI, but takes time
to switch from landscape mode to portrait

My initial reaction to the Sony Tablet S design was, "Wow, someone at Sony has really thought through the design." Working on it for four days did not dampen my enthusiasm. Its curved edge, which makes it look more like a notepad with its pages folded, is unique in every sense. Admittedly, the iPad is still top of the charts when it comes to design, but Sony definitely beats the more humdrum Samsung Galaxy design.

But the thing is, a tablet is not just about design (although it matters a lot because it is, after all, a mobile device). And in several aspects of pure functionality, there are still issues with the Sony Tablet. For starters, it is sluggish compared to the iPad (and even though comparisons are often odious, in this case it is not because the iPad still has close to 90 per cent of the tablet market) and the Samsung Galaxy Tab, Sony's two biggest competitors. This is surprising because speed, one would have guessed, is possibly the first thing a product designer would worry about.

The other big problem, and to me this was possibly its biggest annoyance, is that the tablet does not go smoothly from portrait to landscape and back. Certainly not as smooth as, well, the iPad and the Galaxy Tab. In fact, it is so slow, that it I stopped rotating it, and fixed the position to just landscape. This is seemingly ridiculous for a tablet, but there you are.

Having said that, however, the home screen interface is elegant and the navigation across the various screens is quite intuitive. More intuitive than the Samsung Galaxy Tab, but not as easy as an iPad 2 with iOS 5. And yes, Sony's designers have made the Honeycomb operating system come alive, and the screen resolution is sharp and just about bright. When I typed using the on-screen keyboard, a wave of joy swept through my mind. The keyboard is by far the best in the business, better than iPad's and Galaxy Tab's by a long margin. It even has a numeric keypad while in landscape mode. Pretty nifty, I'd say.

Clearly, the brains-bench at Sony has made the product count despite being late in the market by close to two years.

Another example of Sony's foresight: it is PlayStation3 certified. Which makes this a phenomenal gaming device. And even though there is only limited choice of games, it won't be long before Sony offers more. But the screen resolution is so good that playing games on the Sony Tablet S is a pleasure. It does not have the same native audio quality as the iPad 2, and you'd need good headphones to listen to music, watch movies or play games.
But the scene is not all rosy. Sony's tablet has entered the market really late, and it possibly may pay the price for its lethargy. And it is mostly in the software end of the battle.

The Android Marketplace is littered with great apps, but Apple's apps are simply too far ahead in terms of quality and  sheer innovation. Plus, iTunes, which connects to movies and music as easily as it does to apps, puts it way ahead of the competition even though there are online services for Android that give access to music and movies. I'm not sure of its Indian usage, but international users of Sony's Movies Unlimited service can choose from more than 1,000 movies. That is just too meagre a choice.

Which is really the problem Sony will face in the initial months. If it has to breach the iPad's market share in terms of sales numbers, it would have to do something extraordinary. That extraordinary is not evident in the first version of the Tablet S.

Rs 29,990 (16 GB Wi-Fi).
16 GB Wi-Fi + 3G to be launched in January 2012 for Rs 33,990.

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