It’s been a while since we’ve seen a 10in Android tablet that could really be a convincing alternative to Apple’s iPad.
While the iPad mini has had its fair share of competition, the iPad Air has stood relatively unshaken for some time, with only Samsung’s four-star Tab S 10.5 coming anywhere close in our tests.
Having delivered an excellent tablet at the smaller screen size in the Z3 Tablet Compact, Sony has now thrown its hat into the ring for the 10in screen size. Bundled with a Bluetooth keyboard to make it quite the proposition for Android fans, all of a sudden the iPad’s throne is looking distinctly unsteady.
Sony’s Z4 Tablet has the bragging rights of being the world’s slimmest, lightest 10in tablet on the market, with a slender 6.1mm frame and weighing just 389g (393g for the LTE version).
It has taken some design influences from Sony’s Z3 range, with a much-improved look and feel to its Z2 Tablet predecessor. Curved edges give it a much softer, more appealing design, and make it more comfortable in the hand too.
Bezels are thinner this time round, giving it a slicker, more desirable look, and its slim design is sturdier, without the worrying flex of the Tablet Z2.
It’s still largely plastic though, with a matte-touch back that makes it easy to hold, and metal capped edges to help guard it against drops and knocks.
Its lightweight plastic finish means it’s not the most premium feeling tablet on the market, particularly when compared to the iPad Air 2. If this is important to you, it’s a definite consideration – the iPad feels far more luxurious.
Of course its build comes into its own during use. Holding it for long periods of time isn’t as tiring on the wrists as the heavier iPad.
It is evident from the positioning of its buttons that the Z4 is designed for use in the landscape position. The power button and volume rocker are on the left hand side of the screen, with the headphone jack and microSD card slot along the top edge and the micro USB charging port along the bottom.
The Z4 Tablet is waterproof, one of Sony’s big USPs, and its IP68 rating means it can be used in depths of up to 1.5m for up to 30 minutes.
As always, it’s fresh water only, meaning you won’t be able to use it in the sea, but it’s all set for poolside hi-jinks, not to mention a Netflix session in the bath.
A first for this tablet, though, is the uncapped charging port, which has been waterproofed so it doesn’t require a protective cover. This means no more fiddling with covers to charge it up making it much more convenient.
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The Z4 Tablet’s screen is 10.1 inches and packs a 2K, 2560 x 1600 display with 299ppi – a touch better than the iPad Air 2’s 264ppi.
It’s Sony’s first 2K screen on a tablet and it’s a beauty, offering crisp, detailed pictures that are vibrant but well balanced.
Skin tones are judged perfectly and though its colour palette leans towards the warm side of neutral, colours never look false or oversaturated. Viewing angles on the IPS screen are great too, so colours stay punchy no matter where you view them.
Contrast is strong, with dark, detailed blacks sitting happily alongside bright, if occasionally slightly bluey, whites.
There are manual white balance controls that you can play with to try to improve this, though we found it hard to find a better overall balance than the default.
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If we’re being picky, there could be a touch more control and subtlety to the Z4’s white levels in the darkest scenes. Stars and bright lights can struggle to maintain their outline in the same way as you’ll see on the iPad.
This is a bright screen – the brightest 2K screen on the market no less – and even at half brightness, it’s considerably brighter than the iPad. This makes it great for use outside, but it also contributes to these slightly overblown whites.
As always, Sony has packed the Z4 Tablet with plenty of display technology garnered from its TVs. Most works to its credit, but we’d certainly recommend switching off X-Reality Pro in display settings as a matter of course. With it switched on, images are over sharpened and lines over etched, delivering a certain amount of unwelcome picture noise as a result.
When it comes to audio, Sony’s commitment to high-resolution continues with the Z4 Tablet, with support for file playback up to 24-bit/192khz.
Its DSEE HX technology returns too, promising to upscale the audio fidelity of lesser quality tracks to near hi-res. We’re still a little sceptical, but its performance is a strong one all the same.
Listening to our playlist of test tracks, the Z4 offers a rich, engaging sound, with a clean, uncluttered midrange. It pips the iPad Air 2 for fine detail too, which now sounds a little closed in by comparison.
It’s an easy listen, but one with a good sense of timing and plenty of weight to give it a warm, full-bodied character. There’s plenty of dynamic know-how that shows the Z4 to be just as at home with classical music as it is with hip-hop.
Sony has made the good decision of continuing with the stereo speakers we saw on the Z3 Tablet Compact, which result in a much more direct sound when listening to movies or music out loud.
They lack a little weight in the low end and sound a little thin at volume, but are more usable than most, should you find yourself needing to listen without a pair of headphones.
The Z4 features the newest, most powerful processor from Qualcomm – the 64-bit octo-core Snapdragon 810.
This processor hasn’t had the best reviews, with reports of overheating rife among devices that feature it. Though you get a heat warning the first time you fire up the camera, we didn’t find that to be the case with the Z4.
Instead it offers a solid performance that never shows any lag or stutters – multitasking works like a breeze and 3D games play happily without a misstep.
Speaking of gaming, as with previous Sony devices, the Z4 Tablet offers the same ability to play PlayStation 4 games on your tablet via PS4 Remote Play.
All you need is your PS4 and tablet on the same wi-fi network – you can even use your DualShock 4 wireless controller if you wish.
On-board storage is 32GB with 3GB of RAM, but the built-in microSD card slot allows you to boost this up to an extra 128GB. This works out much cheaper than buying a bigger storage iPad.
As for battery life, the Z4 Tablet claims to offer 17 hours of use from its 6000mAh battery, and it’s certainly shown an impressive performance from our time with it.
During testing, we were losing around 20 per cent during a working day filled with sporadic music listening, game playing, web browsing and video watching, easily allowing us time for more at home without needing to charge it in between.
Sony’s Stamina battery saving modes are at your disposal, should you be caught short, but even power users would struggle to drain this from a full charge in a day.
The only problem is that it’s a slow battery to charge – at 60 per cent full, the on-screen menu suggests we still have four hours left until full charge.
If there’s one thing that holds the Z4 back, it’s Sony’s operating system. While it’s clean and functional, it lacks any sense of real thought or innovative flair to make it stand out. It’s just a little dull.
It’s also too full of bloatware, most of which you are unable to delete. Sony could learn a few things from Samsung’s retreat on that front, and allow users to download the apps they really want to use, without apps being forced upon them.
Cameras on tablets are often a contentious issue, but Sony has tried to make the Z4’s a worthwhile endeavour, keeping the main camera at 8MP, with an improved 5.1MP wide-angle snapper on the front.
Unfortunately, while you have the full suite of Sony’s camera features at your disposal, the results are variable.
Good light snaps are largely fine, but autofocus is slow, the HDR mode can be inconsistent and images lack fine detail. It’ll do for quick snaps, but the cameras on Sony phones will easily outperform it.
Something that makes Sony’s Z4 Tablet stand out from the Android crowd is the accompanying BKB50 Bluetooth keyboard, which comes bundled with the Z4 as standard.
With a dedicated slot for the Z4 Tablet to sit, the BKB50 allows the tilt of the tablet to be adjusted to suit, with the convenience of a full keyboard and touchpad for greater functionality.
This does make the 32GB Xperia Z4 Tablet a little pricey compared with its competitors at £499, but this accessory transforms the tablet from entertainment device to a real work companion.
The keys and trackpad seem a little small to begin with, but after a few minutes, our fingers get used to the placing of keys and we’re happily tapping away in the Microsoft Office software included.
This could easily be a more lightweight replacement for your laptop for simple on-the-go tasks, and really opens up the use of the Z4 Tablet.
Sony has produced some excellent products of late and the Z4 Tablet is just the most recent in a series of home runs.
At this money, we’d like the build quality to feel a little more premium, and the operating system to be a little more inspiring, but these are small upsets for an otherwise great product.
With an excellent screen, superb sound quality and some excellently thought out features and inclusions, the Z4 Tablet is a great 10in option for Android fans and, at last, a real competitor for the iPad.
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