Friday, January 6, 2012

Sony's second Android tablet intrigued us. We're always willing to give another form factor a try and in the Tablet P (£500), we certainly had that. While the Tablet S's wedge profile stood it out a little from the rest of the prone slabs, the P piqued our interest with an unusual clamshell form factor. Once the two 5.5-inch screens are folded together, the tablet has a pretty tiny footprint and just about fits into a jacket pocket. It's the third PlayStation-certified device, arriving proudly emblazoned with the four symbol trademark, and a second screen capable of doubling-up as both a controller for games or as a laptop-style keyboard.

However, those twin screens require some not-so cosmetic adjustments to the Honeycomb experience we're used to and this is where we're most interested in seeing how Sony fared. Is the unique design implemented well enough? How does it fare as a games machine? Can a clamshell pull potential tablet buyers away from the iPad and a legion of sameish Android tablets? Crack open our review to find the answer to those questions and much more.

Even from a distance, the Tablet P isn't going to be confused for another Android gadget. Removable silver plastic sheets cover the front and back -- a shame that Sony's design team didn't decide to follow on with the glossy black finish found on the ends and the hinge. Although the matte finish copes better with fingerprints, scratches still easily break the surface.

The body itself is feels solid, largely thanks to its chunky profile, although those covers do creak a little. The Tablet P weighs in at 0.37kgs (0.82 pounds), making it slightly lighter than comparable 7-inch tablets, with its unusual form factor distributing the weight in a way that never felt unwieldy. It also helps that the folding design means you can prop it up on any flat surface.

Along the narrow right edge, there is a micro-USB socket and a dedicated AC port, which worked fine with our PSP adapter. A fiddly volume rocker's also made its home here, next to the mic, with a single speaker located on the opposite edge. Yes, a single speaker. Unfortunately, the sound quality is hugely disappointing -- especially given how impressed we were with the PlayStation Vita's audio prowess. The Tablet P gives out some of the weediest, tinniest sound we've heard on a tablet; if you're looking give your media a public showing, then you'll have to crank up the rocker to the max. The removable plastic shell gives access to the SIM card on the top, and the battery and microSD card below. Yes, it's microSD, not the full-sized card we were told to expect.

 The hinges protrude from the back, but are designed in a way to bring the two halves as close together as possible once the device is opened for use. After doing so, you'lll find two two sheer black surfaces reflecting back at you. The only undulations here are the front-facing VGA camera and a slight nub on the lower edge -- something for your fingers to grip at to open and also the placement of the notification light, which acts similarly to the Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray. It will emit a green hue when emails and social network notifications arrive, while a troubled red-orange hue appears when the device is getting short on battery life.

The pair of 5.5-inch screens are identical. Both of the 1,024 x 480 screens have Sony's TruBlack LCD technology, promising deeper darks and brighter whites, and it gives a respectable performance. Dual AMOLED would have been nicer, and if the 5.3-inch Galaxy Note can manage it, what's in an extra 0.2 inches? Viewing angles are passable, although in comparison to the PlayStation Vita, possibly the pinnacle of Sony's portable screen technology so far, they're certainly not the greatest. There's a blueish hue given off by the screens at indirect angles. Fortunately, by the sheer virtue of it the clamshell, you don't have to fear that the (non-Gorilla Glass) screen will come to much harm, unlike its sister, the Tablet S. The P also differs from its sibling in that it comes without an IR emitter, which is a shame, given its portable size. We also found that our UK review unit had a lot of issues maintaining WiFi reception -- typically one or two bars less than other nearby wireless devices -- although we didn't seem to have the same problems with a Japanese retail model.