The iPad no longer has the tablet market to itself. As 7in Androids such as theNexus 7 andTesco Hudl offer cheaper but acceptable alternatives to the iPad mini, market share declines even as tablet sales go up. But the iPad Air remains the king of the 10in tablet in the premium space... until now. Sony's Xperia Z2 Tablet changes things.
This is a premium tablet priced to match the iPad Air. And it doesn't look out of place in such rarified company. the Xperia Z2 Tablet is thinner and lighter than the iPad Air, appears to be a better performer, and is waterproof and dustproof. So should you choose the Xperia Z2 Tablet over the iPad Air? Read our iPad Air vs Xperia Z2 Tablet comparison to find out.
The Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet and the iPad Air both retail with a starting price of £399 for the 16GB WiFi-only model. In the case of the Xperia Z2 Tablet this scales up to £449 for the 32GB WiFi only model, and £499 for the 16GB LTE model. There's no 32GB tablet with cellular connectivity, or anything with bigger storage.
The 32GB Wi-Fi iPad Air costs £30 more at £479. The 16GB LTE Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet costs the same as Apple's equivalent iPad. Apple does offer a 32GB cellular model, at £579. Other options include 64GB and 128GB Wi-Fi only- and cellular iPad Airs. These range from £559 for the 64GB Wi-Fi iPad, up to £739 for a 128GB Wi-Fi and cellular iPad Air.
So there is more variety in the iPad Air range, but if you want a 32GB Wi-Fi-only tablet the Xperia Z2 Tablet is cheaper. One other thing to consider: a quick online search suggests that if you shop around you can get the Xperia Z2 Tablet cheaper than you can the iPad Air. But it's marginal. Price is not a key differential when considering whether to buy the iPad air or Xperia Z2 Tablet. (See also: best Android tablets of 2014.)
iPad Air vs Xperia Z2 Tablet comparison: build quality, design
Let's look at the Sony, first. Straight out of the box we are smitten by the Xperia Z2 Tablet. It is the thinnest and lightest 10in tablet you can buy - noticably thinner and lighter than the iPad Air, which is itself famously easy to hold and carry. The Wi-Fi Xperia Z2 Tablet weighs just 426g - or 439g if you opt for the LTE version.
It's exceptionally thin, too, at just 6.4mm. Again, that's thinner than the iPad Air (and any other 7in or 10in tablet you can name).
And it matters, not just for reasons of tablet oneupmanship. Holding the Xperia Z2 Tablet feels great, despite the large, 10.1in display, and for lengthy periods of time in standing, sitting and lying positions. Previously we have preferred 7in tablets such as the Nexus 7 or iPad mini, simply because the bigger tablets feel to bulky to hold when watching movies or reading books. But you could spend hours using the Xperia Z2 Tablet without wrist-strain, even when reading in bed. That's a big win.
It doesn't, of course, solve the problem of having to carry your 10in tab in a bag where a Kindle-sized 7-incher can slip into a coat pocket - but the trade off of larger screen to weight and bulk feels like a deal worth making with the Xperia Z2.
And you can just sling this tablet into a bag, too. The Xperia Z2 Tablet is waterproof and dust resistant. It's built to last and feels so, constructed principally of metal and glass, but with a rubbery outer coat around the back and on the corners. That rear cover provides grip but does get grubby with fingerprints, though.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and your views may differ, but we think the Xperia 2 Tablet is a good-looking device, too. It's a simple, stylish device. A slice of black or white tech sharing the same rounded corners and metal frame as the Sony Xperia Z2 smartphone but - to our eyes at least - looking somewhat smarter for larger scale. Our complaint is functional rather than stylistic, in that the bezel is a little larger than we would like. We presume that this is a trade-off in return for the incredible thinness (not a phrase ever used about your author). (See also: 10 best tablets for children.)
It's available in black or white. We tested - and prefer - the black Xperia Tablet Z2.
The iPad Air seems much smaller than previous full-sized iPads, despite having a similar-sized screen. The iPad Air styling follows exactly the original iPad mini, with the same thinned bezel side edges with broader borders top and bottom.
The iPad Air is primarily a portrait-mode tablet in 3:4 aspect ratio, yet one that works well on its side in landscape. Contrast this with successive Google Android tablets that take a 16:9 widescreen, a shape that's better for video but when used for reading webpages or ebooks in portrait you get an overly tall narrow window.
When we first tried the new iPad Air we though it quite widescreen in appearance, not unlike a 16:9 device. The proportions didn't look right any more – by slimming the edges but not the sides, the tablet looked too tall, not so aesthetically 'right'.
Foremost, the iPad Air is about lightness. We tried a 128GB iPad with 4G modem and on the scales this – the heaviest possible version of the iPad Air – does weigh just 478g, and is only 7.5mm thick. If you've used any previous full-size iPad, you'll notice immediately the transformation from that circa-650g weight. But pick up the Xperia Z2 Tablet and you'll notice further lightness.
In general handling, the iPad Air is very light none the less. Yet we found the shape and feel much less tactile than the shape of the iPad 2, 3 and 4, with their gently curved radiuses at the rear and smooth snag-free edges around the front. The iPad Air has harder, less well finished edges which may add more purchase to the fingers but make it less satisfying to handle.
You will decide which you prefer to look at based on subjective critera. But we prefer the Sony based on comfort when holding it, and it is dust- and waterproof. (See also: 10 best budget tablets of 2014.)
iPad Air vs Xperia Z2 Tablet comparison: display
The design of both of these tablets is of course built around a 10in display. It's the bit you'll be looking at, so let's take a closer look right now.
The Xperia Z2 Tablet in fact sports a full HD 10.1in display. This packs a whopping 1920x1200-pixel resolution, giving it a pixel density of 224ppi. That's up there with some pretty decent smartphones, but not quite as sharp as the market-leading iPad Air. It's an IPS display and the aspect ratio is 16:10, so viewing angles are good but there is a little screen space under utilised when watching movies.
Sony tells us that the Xperia Z2's display has been given a colour boost thanks to TRILUMINOS and Live Colour LED – designed to increase the colour accuracy, depth and gradation. Which is nice.
Of course, all that is so much window dressing. What matters is that we found the Xperia Z2 Tablet's display to be simply stunning. It displays crisp, vivid colours. Watching TV and movies is great. Photos are faithfully reproduced with great clarity but not too much colour as you sometimes find with OLED displays on smartphones. And text documents are sharp, even when you zoom in.
The Xperia Z2 Tablet's touchscreen responsive in use, bar the almost imperceptible lag that is found on all Android devices when compared directly with their iOS equivalents. And from our initial roughhouse tests at least it seems reasonably immune to scratching. Our only complaint was that the display was all but impossible to see in natural daylight.
The iPad Air is primarily a portrait-mode tablet in 3:4 aspect ratio, yet one that works well on its side in landscape. When we first tried the new iPad Air we thought it quite widescreen in appearance, not unlike a 16:9 device. The proportions didn't look right any more – by slimming the edges but not the sides, the tablet looked too tall, not so aesthetically 'right'.
The iPad Air screen is in essence unchanged since the first iPad with Retina display – a 9.7in capacitive touchscreen using IPS technology which delivers rich, faithful colours and clear viewing from any angle.
Strictly speaking it is a 9.7-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit MultiTouch display. And that IPS display is blessed with fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating.
That 2048x1536 resolution makes for a pixel density of 264 pixels per inch (ppi). You may find the odd tablet that is sharper, and certainly a few smartphones, but when you look at the iPad Air's display you see only a vibrant and sharp display. And it is sharper than the Xperia Z2 Tablet's screen, although both displays show even detailed text in fine detail.
We're going to call this a draw. The iPad is sharper but smaller, and we prefer the aspect ratio of the Sony tablet. But both are great displays.
iPad Air vs Xperia Z2 Tablet comparison: specification, performance
As you would expect at the premium end of the market the Xperia Z2 Tablet is blessed with a strong specification. It has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad-core processor clocked at 2.3GHz - the same chip as the superfast Xperia Z2 smartphone. This is a Krait 400 CPU with which you get Adreno 320 graphics. It's paired with 3GB RAM.
Other key specs include a massive 6000mAh battery, and a MicroSD slot so you can add up to 64GB of storage. Our 16GB model had 11.2GB available to use out of the box.
It all adds up to a beast of a tablet. Despite the thin and light shell the Xperia Z2 Tablet is a snappy performer. We'll get into synthetic benchmarks in a moment, but the most important thing to say is that you will find the Z2 Tablet fast and responsive. As fast and responsive as any Android device we have used, even when placed under load.
Benchmarks are fun because they give you an idea of where a tablet or smartphone ranks against its rival, but take them with a pinch of salt. They are synthetic test designed to give you a number, not hard-and-fast rankings. None the less, the Xperia Z2 Tablet's benchmark performance backs up our subjective experience of a superfast tablet - mostly.
We ran a GFXBench test to benchmark graphics performance. In the T-Rex (onscreen) test we got our best ever tablet result of 1,530 frames at 27fps (averaged over three runs). The Xperia Z2 Tablet will chew up and spit out even the most demanding Android games, and beats out the iPad Air which averaged 1,187 and 21fps.
And then there is GeekBench 3. This is a somewhat controversial all-round benchmark as some Android manufacturers have been accused of designing their devices to perform abnormally well in this test. (Allegations they almost all deny, by the way.) So make of this what you will, but the Xperia Z2 Tablet smashed GeekBench 3 to bits in our tests. It returned an average single-core result of 967, a more important multi-core score of 2719. That's the fastest multi-core result we've ever got from a 10in tablet, comparing well with the iPad Air's 2703 points in multi-core mode; and 1487 points for a single core.
All you can really take from this is the fact that the Xperia Z2 Tablet is a fast and responsive tablet. It really is. But then so is the iPad Air as can be seen by those excellent synthetic benchmark results. It runs an A7 processor clocked at 1.39GHz, paired with 1GB RAM.
We're a little troubled by the sometimes unsmooth interface. This is a general criticism of iOS 7 but one we didn't expect to see on the latest iPad with bestest-yet graphics processor.
Most apparent with app zooming, when you open or close an app and return to the home screen, we saw jittery animations. It's not always apparent, and we suspect many people will probably not notice, let alone be troubled by it. Elsewhere in text scrolling and pinch-to-zoom actions there were no such issues, as free and fluid as ever.
If you trust benchmarks you will say the Xperia Z2 Tablet is the faster performer in most but not all respects. If not, we are happy to report that both the iPad Air and the Xperia Z2 Tablet are at the pinnacle of tablet performance. Both are great in use with only occasional lag.
iPad Air vs Xperia Z2 Tablet comparison: camera
Both also have pretty good cameras, particularly for tablets. Pick up the Xperia Z2 Tablet and you'll find an 8.1Mp camera around the back. This has autofocus and captures 3264 x 2448 pixel images which look good on the Xperia Z2 Tablet's display. Additional features include Exmor RS for mobile, which is designed to help users take good-looking shots in any light, as well as geo-tagging, touch focus, face- and smile detection, HDR and a panorama. The rear-facing camera captures 1080p video at 30fps.
Up front there is a 2Mp webcam for selfies and video chat.
The iPad Air has a rear-facing 5Mp iSight camera, with f2.4 aperture. On the front is a 1.2Mp HD webcam. The former takes full-HD video. The front-facing camera is a 720p video camera for FaceTime and Skype. We found night-time Skype calls were more clearly lit than before.
This is the classic iOS vs Android battle: in this case iOS7 for the iPad Air vs Android KitKat for the Xperia Z2 Tablet.
Sony's Xperia Z2 Tablet runs Android 4.4 KitKat, with relatively little customisation. It does have Sony's user interface over the top of vanilla Android. It's a stylish customisation that thankfully doesn't take over the OS in the way that Samsung's and HTC's do.
KitKat is Google's best ever tablet OS. Feature rich, easy to use and good to look at. It offers full access to the Google Play app- and media stores, as well as Sony's own stores and apps.
You can simply mount the Xperia Z2 Tablet as external storage on your PC, but Sony also provides software to make pairing and synching a little easier.
Flip over to the iPad Air and iOS looks fresh and modern, with features that help keep it on a par with (if not ahead of) Android.
However, iOS 7 still lacks customisation, so anyone hoping for Android-style widgets, or merely the ability to change the default keyboard, will be disappointed.
Apple's walled-garden approach hasn't changed, and that's largely a good thing. You can't install apps except through the App Store, which means tight security and less piracy.
It's interesting that Microsoft ditched transparency in Windows 8, since this is a major part of iOS 7. Apple says it helps to orient you, and we can't help but agree. Overall, iOS 7 is a success.
So should you choose it and the iPad Air rather than the Android-toting Xperia Z2 Tablet? It really is impossible to say. Both are stable and fast, feature-rich operating systems.
You can argue the toss over which offers access to the most tablet-specific apps (it's iOS), but it is unlikely you will find any major apps missing in either. And although the iTunes media stores are brilliantly easy to use and stocked with the latest tablets, Android offers you access to multiple stores so you can shop around for the best deal.
The choise is Apple's walled-garden security with lack of customisation, or the relative freedom of Android with the attendent exposure to risk. Or, Apple tends to be more expensive, but Google is capturing your data for advertising purposes.
iPad Air vs Xperia Z2 Tablet comparison: battery life
We haven't yet had time to properly test the Xperia Z2 Tablet's battery life and will update this review when we do. Our early experience of using the Z2 Tablet suggest that it won't be a problem, despite the killer power specs. That 6000mAh battery cell should help. And, according to the company, there's also the Battery STAMINA mode, designed to prolong battery life. We'll test it and get back to you.
But the Xperia Z2 Tablet is unlikely to beat out the iPad Air. Battery life here is exemplary, with Apple assuring around 10 hours continuous use, while we found that occasional but steady use meant it could last the best part of a week between charges.
With the caveat that it may change, for now we give the battery life nod to the iPad Air.
iPad Air vs Xperia Z2 Tablet comparison: which should you buy?
Ultimately it is a matter of personal preference. Both these tablets stand head and shoulders above the rest of the 10in tablet world. They are thin and light, well made, designed and built. They offer great displays and excellent performance, decent cameras and so on. and they are priced the same. The main difference is that the iPad Air runs iOS7 and the Xperia Z2 Tablet runs Google's Android OS. Both have their supporters - which one are you? Find out more about which tablet to buy in our tablets buying advice.
Buying Advice Ultimately it is a matter of personal preference. Both these tablets stand head and shoulders above the rest of the 10in tablet world. They are thin and light, well made, designed and built. They offer great displays and excellent performance, decent cameras and so on. and they are priced the same. The main difference is that the iPad Air runs iOS7 and the Xperia Z2 Tablet runs Google's Android OS. Both have their supporters - which one are you?