With its eye-catching clamshell design and twin screen configuration, the Sony Tablet P sets itself apart from other Android tablets. It boasts a 1GHz dual-core CPU, 4GB of internal storage and Android 3.2 -- better known as Honeycomb. It also has 3G connectivity to make it a truly mobile device.
The Tablet P is on sale now for around £499.
Should I buy the Sony Tablet P?
With so many different tablets on the market all offering a similar experience, it's heartening to see a company present something a little unusual. The Tablet P is most certainly that -- the clamshell design and twin displays ensure it looks unlike any other tablet on sale right now -- but sadly, these same features prevent it from fulfilling its full potential.
With so many Android applications designed to work on traditional tablet screens, it's unsurprising that most don't make full use of the Tablet P's screens. Some are even reduced to running on just one of the 5.5-inch displays, which does much to dent the device's appeal -- especially when you consider that phones like the Galaxy Note have screens almost the same size.
The problems don't end there, either. The Tablet P has poor battery life, low internal memory and can only be charged using its proprietary power supply. If you're a fan of odd-ball technology, the Tablet P deserves a place in your museum. But when placed alongside the best tablets the market has to offer right now, it's hard to justify spending £500 on such a confused and ill-focused machine.
The Tablet P's design is unmistakable -- this is one Android tablet which isn't going to be accused of slavishly following the iPad blueprint, that's for sure. The unique folding design calls to mind Nintendo's 3DS console, and the dual screens make the Tablet P quite an oddity.
When the Tablet P is closed, it's small enough to slip into your bag with ease. If you've borrowed a clown's trousers for the night, you may even be able to pop it in your pocket. This is a truly portable tablet, and feels like the natural successor to the Psion Organiser.
At 370g, the Tablet P is lightweight, too -- thanks largely to the entirely plastic casing. Another neat touch is the thin notification light that runs along the middle of the tablet, and gently glows when you have an unread email.
Although the design is eye-catching, it's a real shame that the silver casing looks so cheap and nasty -- not to mention prone to scratches and marks. Despite the Tablet P's portable properties, you'd still be well advised to invest in some kind of protective pouch.
Those twin 5.5-inch touchscreens really do make the Tablet P stand out from the crowd. Each has a resolution of 1,024x480 pixels, and their brightness and clarity is impressive. Viewing angles are also great, with detail and colour remaining solid no matter how you hold the device.
Many of the applications Sony has pre-installed on the Tablet P make use of the dual-screen setup in useful and inventive ways. In the Gallery app, for example, images are displayed on the top screen while thumbnails are shown on the bottom, allowing you to quickly skim through your snaps without having to constantly switch views. And when you're typing, the bottom screen becomes a keyboard -- another cool feature.
We also like Sony's music player, which scatters your albums across the lower screen during playback. To select a new track, all you need to do is pick out an album by tapping it. You can even move the albums around to find the one you want. It's not exactly useful, but it's a neat aesthetic touch all the same.
The Tablet P's unique display arrangement causes serious hiccups elsewhere, however. The Movie Viewer app confines moving footage to the top screen, with the bottom display reserved entirely for playback controls. If you're used to viewing films on a traditional tablet screen, having to watch them on a much smaller display is going to be something of a disappointment.
Another glaring oversight is that the Android Market app only runs on the top screen, with the bottom display left completely blank. There doesn't seem to be any valid reason for this, aside from basic incompatibility -- and it serves as a stark reminder that the Tablet P's two-screen configuration makes it an outsider in the world of Android. Unless it sells like hot cakes, don't expect compatibility to improve over time.
With Android 4.0 currently exclusive to Google's Galaxy Nexus and Nexus S, the Tablet P instead uses the last iteration of the tablet-specific Honeycomb OS: version 3.2. Sony has discreetly skinned the interface with a few of its own visual touches, but the basic Honeycomb look still shines through.
Sony has already confirmed that both the Tablet P and Tablet S will be upgraded to Ice Cream Sandwich in 2012, so this device will benefit from the very latest version of Android in the not too distant future.
Processing power and storage
With a 1GHz dual-core processor on board, the Tablet P is reasonably nippy. We didn't notice any lag when moving around the menu system, and applications are quick to load up. The only complaint we could level is that for the £499 price tag, we'd have expected a slightly faster chip -- especially when you consider that the Asus Transformer Prime is available for around the same price and comes with a fearsome quad-core CPU.
Internal storage is limited to 4GB, which unsurprisingly fills up pretty swiftly. You can expand the Tablet P's memory with microSD cards, but with rival Android tablets offering 16 or even 32GB of storage as standard, it's hard not to feel a little aggrieved that you have to lay down additional cash to ensure that the Tablet P is on a level playing field.
Camera and video recording
The Tablet P has two cameras -- a 5-megapixel one on the outside of the case and a 640x480-pixel snapper on the inside. Tablet devices have never really lent themselves to photography, thanks mainly to the fact that you look incredibly silly trying to take a family portrait with a large slab of plastic in your hands, but the Tablet P's clamshell design makes things a little less embarrassing.
Image quality is reasonable, although the camera struggles in low-light conditions as it lacks an LED flash. Sadly, it seems that the amazing Exmor R for Mobile tech that was featured in Sony Ericsson's Xperia Neo and Xperia Arc S hasn't made the cut here.
Video recording is also included, with 720p HD the maximum resolution you can shoot in. Again, the results are average at best -- you certainly won't be ditching your traditional camcorder in favour of this. We noticed that during recording, the Tablet P's camera experienced focusing issues when moving from dark areas to light ones.
One of Sony's boldest boasts for its Tablet S and Tablet P devices is that they have access to the PlayStation Suite application. This allows you to enjoy vintage PlayStation games from yesteryear, such as Crash Bandicoot (which comes pre-installed), WipEout and Destruction Derby.
Unlike the gaming-focused Xperia Play, the Tablet P lacks physical buttons, so you're forced to make use of the touchscreens when it comes to controlling these esteemed classics. The games themselves run on the top screen, with most of the controls mapped to the lower screen. We say most, because the L and R shoulder buttons are inexplicably located on the upper display, which makes them all but impossible to hit during gameplay.
Another shocking letdown is the fact that Sony PlayStation games previously purchased via the Android Market on the Xperia Play cannot be installed on the Tablet P. Instead, Sony expects you to sign into the device using your PlayStation Network account and pay for the games all over again -- a real slap in the face for loyal consumers who picked up the Xperia Play at launch and dutifully downloaded all of the available PlayStation classics only a few months ago.
For traditional Android games, the Tablet P feels totally unsuitable. Although it's possible to make some games stretch across both screens, the fact that there's a gap between them makes slashing targets in Fruit Ninja difficult and guiding planes in Flight Control a complete nightmare.
The issue is that you often have to draw a line from one screen to the other, and when your finger passes over the gap between them, touchscreen response vanishes. In short, it's impossible to draw a complete line from one screen to the other, and that renders many games unplayable -- at least in full-screen mode, anyway.
As a result, you're better off playing games on the top screen alone -- which means that unfortunately you're not getting the full tablet experience. The dual-screen concept behind the Tablet P might appeal to seasoned players who are looking to upgrade from their dusty DS consoles, but in all honesty you're better off with the forthcoming Sony PS Vita -- which will cost you less than this device.
The Tablet P covers all the usual bases, offering Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and USB connectivity. You can also share images, music and video with your DLNA-compatible TV, thanks to Sony's pre-loaded application.
Surprisingly, the Tablet P also supports 3G, thanks to its SIM-card slot, which is located under the top section of the external casing. Unless you purchase the tablet with a contract, you'll need to source a 3G-ready SIM card before you can exploit this feature, as there isn't one bundled as standard.
We were a little disappointed with the staying power of the Tablet P's 3,080mAh power cell. Battery life is obviously dictated by what kind of activities you're indulging in, but a mixture of web surfing, music playing and video viewing will see the juice go from full to empty in around 5 hours.
Annoyingly, you can only charge the Tablet P using the bundled power supply -- the USB port is only used for data transfer. Motorola made the same mistake with the original Xoom, and it's just as irksome here. Having to carry around a bulky power supply is a real hindrance for a device this portable.
On the positive side, the Tablet P features a user-replaceable battery, which is accessed by removing the bottom section of the casing. This means you could potentially double the tablet's stamina by purchasing a second battery. It also ensures that if the battery fails for some reason in the next few years, you can buy another and save your expensive device from the scrap heap.
The Tablet P is a really odd device -- we're not entirely sure if we should love or loathe it. When the twin-screen setup is used effectively it's a real revelation, and reminds us of the first time we ever experienced a dual-monitor arrangement on a PC.
Few apps support those screens fully, however, and when Sony itself can't be bothered to ensure complete compatibility with its own pre-loaded programs, you know the long-term omens aren't good.
Take into account the high price, low internal storage and sub-par battery life, and you've got a device that's very difficult to recommend -- especially when set against the likes of the iPad 2 and Asus Transformer Prime.
The Sony Tablet P is a curious oddity and we're pleased to see such a big company experimenting with different approaches to the tablet concept, but as it stands, it's a noble failure rather than a rousing success.