Sony's Tablet S was yet another mobile device from the company that, despite a look-at-me design, failed to generate any interest from anyone. It was too expensive, had a dim screen and worst of all, ran on Android Honeycomb, which was ancient even last year.
Chastened, Sony has gone back to the drawing board and returned with something much more promising, the Xperia Tablet S. The folded-over-magazine look has been pared back to a much thinner, more generic slate, but its innards seem much more powerful and it's running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.
This preview is based on the Xperia Tablet S's specs and the first impressions of our colleague Eric Franklin, who had hands-on time with a US version of the tablet. UK prices and availability have not yet been released, but I'll update this article when they are.
The old Tablet S may have played last year's 3D Android games just fine, but its dual-core processor didn't impress anyone -- and fair enough, if you're spending hundreds of pounds on a gadget you want it to run next year's games too. To that end, Sony has pulled out all the stops and plumped for a quad-core Tegra 3 processor of the kind that's pushed polygons on some of our favourite Android tablets.
There's 1GB of RAM too, and storage comes in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB flavours, depending on how much you pay. There's no 3G option -- you need Wi-Fi to get online with this -- but it does have a proper SD card slot (really handy for viewing photos) and an HDMI out.
The screen is the same 9.4-inch size and 1,280x800-pixel resolution as last year's model, which we weren't impressed with. Sony says this one has TruBlack and IPS tech to make it less reflective and more contrasty, but we'll have to really see it in action to make any judgement.
The Xperia Tablet S thankfully ditches the proprietary connector that annoyed Andy when he reviewed the original. Three cheers for common sense.
Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich was on the device Eric played with in the US, but Sony is desperate to point out that the latest version, Jelly Bean, will be coming in the near future. Perhaps by the time it reaches the UK? We can only hope -- Jelly Bean is a lovely aesthetic upgrade, and has the marvellous Google Now feature too.
Typically of Sony, the Xperia Tablet S is dripping with preloaded apps and services, from its Video and Music Unlimited stores to the new PlayMemories photo-sharing gubbins, to the PlayStation Mobile gaming oeuvre. With all that processing grunt, this device should be well set to show off games, photo editing and movies, but I can't help but find having all this stuff on top of all the stores and services Google offers rather confusing. Why should we have to browse through more than one app store to find something to watch or play?
On top of that there's an app called Watch Now, which scans your Twitter and Facebook feeds for stuff your friends are watching and lets you know if there's something
appalling good on. You can then use the Xperia's remote control software and infrared sensor to turn on your TV and get watching. I don't know if all this will work in the UK, but the original Tablet S had the remote control feature, which Andy found "handy".
Eric says the software 'skin' -- the interface tweaks added by the manufacturer to standard Android -- is less "oppressive" than on the original Tablet S. Again, giving people what they want is no bad thing.
The fold on the original Tablet S was very pronounced, almost like a hand grip. Here it's so played down it's practically vestigial, an Android appendix. That means apart from the slightly exaggerated curve at the top, it's virtually identical to any other tablet, with curved corners and a wide black bezel so you can hold it up.
That seems like an admission of defeat from Sony -- no one wants a unique looking tablet, so it's giving us what we want. At least it means it's thinner and feels lighter, Eric reports, than its predecessor.
There's a bevy of accessories to go with it, including a keyboard that doubles (triples?) as a cover and a stand, and a separate docking stand that makes the slate look like an abstract table lamp. They'll both set you back $99 (£70ish).
This looks a much better effort from Sony than the previous Tablet S, and a million miles on from the abysmal Tablet P. If you're happy to delegate all your TV, movie and gaming decisions to Sony's capable hands, it could well be a cool centrepiece to your living room -- a controller as well as a second screen.
But if you're comparing it to other tablets, price will be absolutely key, with Google's smaller Nexus 7 coming in at an undeniably tempting £199 for the 16GB model. Sony hasn't released UK prices for the Xperia Tablet S just yet, but in the US it starts at $399 (£250) for the 16GB. Plop VAT on that and you're looking at £300 -- £100 less than an iPad. If the screen is up to scratch, that could be a good buy. We'll see.