Sony Xperia Tablet S review

Thinner, lighter and splashproof

Sony Xperia Tablet S review
The Tablet S has gone on a diet and earned a new interface design

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With their investments in TVs, music and video games, Sony has always been a company that values media, and that is evident in the Sony Xperia Tablet S.

For one thing, it supports a decent amount of different file types, specifically MP3, WAV, eAAC+, MP4, H.264 and H.263, with plug-ins available from Google Play for most unsupported files.

Sony Xperia Tablet S review

Almost every Android tablet comes with access to Google Play, which in itself is easy to use and home to thousands of movies and books, as well as media player apps, but Sony has packed its tablet with a few extras to make media consumption even easier.

There are a selection of pre-loaded movie and video apps on the Sony Xperia Tablet S. First up there's Crackle, which has a selection of streaming movies and shows.

Sony Xperia Tablet S review

It requires an internet connection to use and most of the movies are either quite old or things you probably won't have heard of - while many of the shows are actually web series, rather than TV shows. But there are some gems on there, and it's all free.

Crackle is available from Google Play anyway, so it's not really a selling point, but it's a decent app so it's nice to have it on there when you first start the tablet up.

Next up there's Movies, which is Sony's video player. It displays thumbnails for all your videos and also has options for wirelessly streaming videos to other devices or accessing media stored on other devices.

Sony Xperia Tablet S review

Tapping on a video brings up information on it (assuming the player can find any), while playing it gives you the standard pause, jump forward and jump backwards controls.

There's also a drop-down menu that enables you to share the video to Facebook and the like or send it to other devices on your network.

Finally there are a few sound settings, including xLOUD, which boosts the volume through the internal speaker, and a toggle that attempts to imitate surround sound.

xLOUD works well, getting the tablet up to a decent volume for watching movies on. We're not quite so convinced by the imitation surround sound - it seemed to sort of work, but obviously it's never going to come close to a genuine surround sound setup.

Sony Xperia Tablet S review

The Sony Xperia Tablet S also comes with Video Unlimited, which is Sony's own video store, enabling you to both rent and purchase films and TV shows.

It's got an OK selection, with some quite recent stuff on there and prices that are fairly comparable to those on Google Play. It does a good job of bulking up the total selection of films you have access to as well, though Google Play will still likely be your first stop.

Sony Xperia Tablet S review

Additionally there are a trio of Google video apps. Specifically, these are YouTube - which gives you easy access to YouTube's entire library - and Play Movies and TV, which will play any video files saved to the tablet, and is also where you access any titles that you've rented or bought from Google Play.

It's a very straightforward player with minimal settings to tweak. It doesn't seem to have direct access to xLOUD, but you can toggle it on or off from the main tablet settings screen.

The third Google video app is Movie Studio, which enables you to create and edit video projects, using the camera to film footage, then editing it together and adding music and images.

Sony Xperia Tablet S review

As video editors go it's very basic, and not really as easy to use as a desktop application, but for simple things such as adding music to a video, it gets the job done.

Outside of apps you can also connect the Sony Xperia Tablet S to TVs and monitors via HDMI, enabling you to watch things on a bigger screen. But you will need to get a multi-port adaptor, since it doesn't have a dedicated HDMI port.

The Sony Xperia Tablet S has an almost overwhelming amount of video apps and options, and the end result is that it's a very competent player.

The screen is a good size for watching things, the tablet is comfortable to hold for long periods and there's plenty of storage capacity since you can buy up to a 64GB version and also supplement that with an SD card.

The only real failing is in the resolution, which just isn't great, and the contrast between colours isn't that deep either. Things are still perfectly watchable on it, and after a while you may not even really notice - as long as you avoid using a tablet with a better screen - but it still detracts from an otherwise impressive package.

Sony Xperia Tablet S review

Music, on the other hand, is handled almost perfectly. The screen of course isn't an issue here, and the large storage capacity is still a boon. As with video, there is a selection of music apps installed out of the box.

There's Walkman, which is Sony's music player, and is fairly comprehensive. You can sort your music by track, album or artist and create playlists.

There's also an option called SensMe, which creates playlists around a mood or style of your choice, for example you can ask for 'energetic' or 'emotional' music.

Sony Xperia Tablet S review

There are also a bunch of sound options. xLOUD makes an appearance, boosting the volume without distorting it, and as with the video player, you can also ask it to imitate surround sound (with similarly mixed results).

Plus there's a built-in equaliser, which you can tweak to your hearts' content or just set to a number of presets, such as 'rock' or 'pop'. With all these options, it's one of the better players we've come across on a mobile device.

Sony Xperia Tablet S review

Sony has also included its Music Unlimited service. Unlike Video Unlimited this isn't a store so much as a subscription-based music streaming service along the lines of Spotify. It has a similar number of tracks and a similar price tag, but you can't use it without a subscription, so it won't be useful for everyone.

The only other music app on the Sony Xperia Tablet S is Google's Play Music. This is a fairly basic player in most ways, and is available on most Android devices. But it's still worth a mention, because it enables you to upload 20,000 tracks to the cloud and then stream them through the app (or on a PC or Mac) absolutely free of charge.

Sony Xperia Tablet S review

Obviously you need an internet connection for this, but it's incredibly useful, particularly if you want to save space on your tablet.

As with videos, there are also plenty of other music players available to download from Google Play.

Thanks to Sony's comprehensive Walkman player, the decent internal speakers, streaming music from Play Music and the potentially large amount of internal storage available, the Sony Xperia Tablet S is brilliant as a music player.

Sony Xperia Tablet S review

There's not quite so much to talk about for books. A tablet will never be as good for reading as a dedicated e-reader, but that hasn't stopped Sony from trying to make it as compelling as possible by putting its own Reader app on it.

It's a standard e-reader, with built-in access to Sony's own bookstore and a library of any books you've purchased from there available to read. As with most such things, it doesn't seem to want to play nice with e-books purchased elsewhere, though.

Sony Xperia Tablet S review

The Sony Xperia Tablet S also comes with Google's Play Books app. It's a similar idea, with an attractive layout and pleasing page turn animations when reading.

Additionally, Zinio has been included, which gives you access to a magazine store. There's quite a lot on there, including things from other countries, so there's a good amount to choose from.

The prices are also generally lower than a physical magazine, and you can either buy individual issues or subscriptions.

Sony Xperia Tablet S review

While books generally fare better on proper e-readers, thanks to their e-ink screens and longer battery lives, the larger, colour screen of a tablet works a lot better for magazines, so Zinio is an app that might get a lot of use - even if you already have a Kindle or other e-reader.

You can also get apps for Kindle and other e-readers from Google Play, but again they'll never be as good as the real thing. That's highlighted even more on the Sony Xperia Tablet S, where the fairly low resolution screen means that text is not as sharp as we'd like.

Though there are a lot of books and readers available for it we wouldn't fancy using it to read for a long stretch of time.

Ultimately the Sony Xperia Tablet S is superb for music. In fact we really have no complaints at all in that area. Expandable storage and Sony's Walkman app combine to make it better than the Google Nexus 10, or most other Android tablets. We'd even give it the edge over the iPad 4 as a music player.

It's pretty good for video too, with a load of apps and options, good speakers and expandable storage.

The screen could be better, which holds it back from being in quite the same league as the iPad 4 for video, though it still holds its own against many Android tablets. The screen again becomes a problem for books and magazines, and aside from Sony's own Reader app, it does little to stand out from the crowd in that area.

James Rogerson

James is a freelance phones, tablets and wearables writer and sub-editor at TechRadar. He has a love for everything ‘smart’, from watches to lights, and can often be found arguing with AI assistants or drowning in the latest apps. James also contributes to, and and has written for T3, Digital Camera World, Clarity Media and others, with work on the web, in print and on TV.