If Android tablets are to have a shot at taking on the iPad, Sony's new challenger is exactly what they need.
The tablet market is a very different place since Sony last launched a 10-inch tablet. Where then the Xperia Z2 Tablet was a credible threat to the iPad in a new and exciting arena, the Xperia Z4 Tablet has landed in a very different place.
Right now there isn't really any Android device standing up against the almighty iPad Air 2 with the Nexus 9 not proving all that popular and Samsung stopping its flood of the market with a huge range of slates.
Sony now has a chance to smash and grab with a fantastic Android tablet and it comes at a good point in its cycle as well, as due to the Sony Xperia Tablet Z3 Compact coming through in the latter half of last year we've not had a full blown 10-inch slate from the company for over a year either.
Design and display
Sony's design is as polarising as you can get – you really do either love it or hate it.
If you can see what the brand is trying to do, then the first thing you notice when picking up the Xperia Z4 Tablet is the weight. It's lighter than ever before and it's very noticeable coming in at 392g.
The back of the Xperia Z4 Tablet isn't as cheap feeling, or looking, as it has been on previous iterations. This time around it's a high-end polycarbonate material that, while not feeling as nice as the iPad's brushed metal, does still look great and also feels easy and comfortable to grip.
Sony has managed to make the slate even thinner this time around without giving it a flimsy feel. It's only 6.1mm thick, the same as the iPad Air 2, but there is a sense it would blow away a little easier than Apple's slate would.
At one point I was taking some photos of the sky with the Xperia Z4 Tablet (for reviewing purposes - I'm not into clouds or anything) and did have to tighten my grip at one stage due to a slight gust. If you're not concentrating a heavy wind could easily blow this tabletfrom your hands.
Sony's infamous flaps are once again in play, there to keep the tablet water and dust resistant to a high degree of IP65 and IP68 but they don't protrude as much as previous models and are a lot less obvious on first glance.
The Z4 tablet is sturdier too, despite being thinner: when reviewing the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet I managed to break off one of the flaps by mistake. It just snapped off in my fingers when trying to open it up ready for charging.
This time around Sony has taken the criticism of the flap system on board and whilst not replacing them entirely, it has just refined them to make them a little sturdier and much easier to pop in and out again without risking them coming off.
Waterproofing the slate is a big bonus making it a lot more useful around the house. Take it into the bath to read a book or watch a video and you haven't got any concerns of it breaking when it slips under the surface.
I find the feature useful whilst cooking – it doesn't matter if you manage to slather your slate in flour and grease whilst using your grimy finger on a recipe app, it'll just wash off afterward.
Although the feature does arguably make it one of the most robust tablets on the market the rest of the design does make it feel like it'd snap on the slightest drop.
Along the left hand side you'll find the power button with the volume rocker sat just underneath. Each is difficult to reach but it's not clear where it'd be easier to put those on a 10-inch slate. You just have to deal with the fact you'll be using two hands whenever changing the volume or turning the screen on and off.
That isn't a big problem with a 10-inch tablet though; when you sign up to use one you pretty much know you'll be using both hands in most situations.
A big design change is the lack of a dock connector at the bottom – it makes the tablet that little bit thinner.
Round the front is a 10.1-inch stunning 2K display with a pixel resolution of 2560 x 1600. It looks great with really sharp images, a real step up compared to the 1200 x 1920 setup we saw on the Xperia Z2 Tablet.
Watching video is a real treat here – you're getting 299 pixels per inch sharpness, better than the 264ppi on the iPad Air 2, as well as the screen itself being significantly bigger than Apple's alternative.
Like in the past Sony has chucked some pretty hefty bezels surrounding the tablet. Those have been whittled down a little further than on the Xperia Z2 Tablet but they're still quite cumbersome.
I like them though – I've got some pretty thick thumbs to fit in those bezels and it means I'm not tapping the tablet when I'm focusing on a different area, like I sometimes find myself doing with a caseless iPad.
It's not to everyone's taste and Sony could do with shaving them down a little more and making the slate a little smaller overall.
The actual display itself shows colour beautifully. Whether it's through apps, video or just browsing the web the slate's colour was very impressive.
Brightness on the Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet left a little to be desired though; while using the tablet outside I sometimes struggled to see the picture clearly and got a lot of glare off the front.
I didn't have any issues whilst using it in our bright office though, but you're going to need it on full brightness in any other time using it out and about.
Key features and laptop dock
Sony has a few unique selling points up its sleeve – and one of them may even tempt others away from the Apple tablet most seem to go for.
That one feature is PlayStation Remote Play support. The service allows those with a PS4 to connect up over the same Wi-Fi network as the tablet and use it as a second screen.
It's been available on Sony's other flagship products before and this isn't the first time a tablet has been compatible but the display on the Z4 Tablet is another level compared to previous Sony devices and just makes me want to use it to play games on.
Connecting up your PS4 here allows for a second 2K screen – you really can't fault that.
I hooked the Z4 tablet up with my PS4 at home and, believe me, you're not going to want to clip it onto your controller. The weight isn't an issue here but it's just too big to try and wield it.
Instead I found myself just leaning it up against something on a table, connecting up my controller and playing games in beautiful 2K.
As for the Wi-Fi signal it dropped out once when first connecting up but from there I managed to fit in a full 30 minute GTA V session without any issues at all. I've even managed to connect it up and play a couple of games of Rocket League in my kitchen whilst someone else uses the TV in the living room.
You can play games without a controller and use the display instead but I really don't recommend it unless you're just playing some puzzle games - it's too unwieldy. You've likely already got a PS4 controller if you have the console so just connect that up and get the full experience.
It's a big selling point though – as Sony begins to expand its Remote Play service so it can run off different Wi-Fi signals this will only become more and more obvious as a key feature.
When Sony finally adapts that in it'll mean you can be on the other side of the world playing your PS4 games running in your living room at home. It means you'll be able to play PS4 games on the train or in another country whilst away on holiday.
Some might not like the idea of their PlayStation still running at home as you play it on a second screen but it's arguably the future of mobile gaming and is a feature many are clamoring for.
Sony has never really been one for accessories in the past but has decided to buck the trend with the Xperia Z4 Tablet and offer a Bluetooth keyboard alongside it.
I had one to test alongside the review and I have to confess that I loved it. I've always found Sony's slates to be a little difficult to prop up so having a Bluetooth keyboard to dock it into so it doesn't fall over worked a treat.
Sadly the dock only goes to one position. This is certainly not the Surface Pro 3 with its countless available ways to prop it up, but it does give a good view whilst typing and makes it easy to stand when watching movies.
The keyboard connects up via Bluetooth and a nifty feature is the tablet automatically recognises it's there and notifies you to turn on Bluetooth.
It is a smart feature and gives you a quick kick under the table to warn you why typing isn't working.
I found it connected up quickly without any issues and threw me straight into the action. The keys are well placed but take some getting used to, but then again so does every keyboard you're going to use.
The trackpad is a little on the small side and I found myself ditching it in favour of the touch functionality on the main screen. Some may prefer to use the trackpad but I found it a little slow as well.
Another smart feature is the Xperia Z4 Tablet automatically opens up a little taskbar along the left hand corner of the screen with key apps you'll be using when on the keyboard.
These kick off with Google apps such as Chrome, YouTube and Gmail but you can easily swap in more useful apps by pressing the two dots to the right and opening up the little menu.
The slate also snaps down onto the keyboard to give it that little extra bit of protection when in your bag, it makes it feel like a mini laptop when you're carrying it around.
Be warned even though the tablet is water and dustproof the keyboard isn't so don't forget that.
Everything just kind of works with the new Bluetooth keyboard but the main subject will be the price. If you could pick this up alongside the Xperia Z4 Tablet for less than £100 / $120 it'd be a great accessory to come with it but my thinking is Sony may want a little more for it.
Pricing hasn't been announced at this stage so we'll have to keep our eyes peeled and see whether it's worth your while picking one up as soon as it's out.
Battery life and interface
Sony's Xperia Z4 Tablet has a 6,000mAh non-removable battery inside, a hefty size for any tablet, but it's not changed since the same cell was included in the original Tablet Z many moons ago.
Considering Sony has upped the display – the biggest battery drainer – it begs the question of whether the battery should have been increased as well.
The Xperia Z4 Tablet has a similar battery life to the 17-18 hours of video Sony was stating at the Z2 Tablet launch.
Sony should be praised for creating that kind of life considering the sharpness of the display here. You're going to be able to get through a full long haul flight watching quite a few films and not have to worry about your it dying off.
We ran the Nyan Gareth video – our traditional battery test of a 90 minute straight video at 100% brightness – and managed to get a score 79%.
Considering the Xperia Z2 Tablet came out with 72% at the end of the test this is quite impressive and Sony has clearly made some impressive improvements under the hood to make this work.
I then ran the test again later at 60% brightness as personally I'm willing to sacrifice a little screen light for an extra film of battery life and managed to get a score of 81%. It's kind of not worth dropping the brightness down when watching video as you won't get a big difference in battery life.
General battery life proved impressive as well; I had the tablet in my bag idle over a weekend and I didn't see more than 20% of the battery die off even though it was connecting up to Wi-Fi and receiving notifications.
It just proves the big battery drainer on here is the display – but it's worth it for such a beautiful looking screen.
I did find charging an almighty task though. Tablets do usually take quite a while to jump up to full charge but using my normal phone charger meant for a real slow process. Fast charging technology would have been a much nicer touch here and it's a shame Sony didn't implement it.
Also it's worth noting there's no wireless charging option here either, that would have been a lovely addition for those who don't want to be restricted by a cable going in the side of their tablet.
Android 5.0 Lollipop is on the slate from day one and you get to use all of Google's freshly implemented features.
Sony's UI is as prevalent as ever, which will disappoint some. It's a little bland in that it doesn't offer a massive amount of differentiation and can be a little bit overbearing in the style.
It doesn't really add much to the Android experience and I can see how it may confuse new users. Sony won't ever want to drop it though so it seems we're stuck with it.
Sony has taken inspiration from Google's new Material Design but the full effect isn't present - I like the new minimalist design Google is offering with stock Android but Sony changing all the icons to its standard look just puts a dampener on it for me.
One of the big new features from Android Lollipop is lock screen notifications and these really come in useful. Instead of having to swipe down to read your latest goings on you can just hit the power button on the left hand side and everything is waiting there.
Tap and unlock to view the notification in more detail or just swipe it away if you're not all that interested. It's smart and it's one of the nicest Android additions we've seen in a few years.
With Samsung dropping a lot of its bloatware apps from the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge it now makes Sony potentially the biggest culprit for filling its devices with largely useless services.
Some of the pre-installed apps are appreciated; the PlayStation app, for example. Being installed ready and waiting makes sense especially with the Remote Play feature on the new tablet.
But there is also stuff like Sketch, Xperia Lounge, SocialLife and Lifelog that I find just useless and taking up precious storage space. The worst part is none of them can be deleted either.
Sony really needs to understand that people don't want to waste their precious storage spent on apps they're never going to use and filling it full of these will make people look toward stock versions in the future.
The slate also comes pre-installed with a few third-party services some will like such as Facebook, Spotify and Skype.
The addition of the Android Lollipop features is appreciated but Sony has some real work to do before I want to shout from the rooftops about its tablet software - it's a bland, functional interface that harks back to darker days of tablet design, although it is thoroughly usable.
Performance and the essentials
Sony's tablet range has been criticised heavily in the past for all manner of things, but one thing that can't be said: it sure doesn't lack power. Every time Sony opts for the biggest and best chipset, and this time is no exception.
Qualcomm's Snapdragon 810 64-bit octa-core processor clocked at 2GHz is present here accompanied by 3GB of RAM.
It makes all your processing needs on a tablet a breeze and compared to most Android tablets this is quite an impressive set up.
To really push it to its limits I played Real Racing 3, a very graphically intensive game, and didn't experience any of the lag I've seen on other slates.
In fact, this time around the frame rate was more impressive than on the Xperia Z2 Tablet from a little over a year ago.
I found upon the first play through the game crashed out on me - after that I played through five different levels and experienced no problems at all suggesting this was down to it just booting up.
As for storage you've only got one 32GB option. That's enough for some but if I've got a tablet I'd enjoy a little more space as I stuff it full of apps and video.
However, there's good news: Sony allows for 128GB of storage through microSD, a lovely touch and one I really appreciate.
Software and core apps take up almost 11GB of the space already on the Xperia Z4 Tablet so if you're not planning to shell out on a microSD card you're going to be restricted to 21GB of space.
Throw in a 128GB card and you've got 149GB of space to fill – I know even with my big movie collection I'd struggle to fill all of that.
Sony has a microUSB slot in the middle of the right hand edge of the tablet. It's uncovered this time around and it's still waterproof, which raises the question of why the rest of the connections can't be given this technology.
It's there for charging and data transfer and it still allows for easy use of the tablet whilst it's on charge. It means you can stick it in your dock or lean it up against something whilst on charge and don't have to worry about the battery dying off.
On the very top left of the slate you've got a 3.5mm headphone jack, once again waterproof whilst being left open.
It's right on the very edge this time, an interesting design choice but it allows the tablet to be placed in its Bluetooth keyboard dock while listening to music and doesn't cause any issues.
As for music the speakers on here aren't the best you're going to find – there's no BoomSound like technology on the Xperia Z4 Tablet, but they're still sufficient enough.
High-res audio and noise cancelling technology make for an impressive audio set up though. I keep finding myself plugging my headphones into the tablet for time with Spotify even though my phone is sat even closer on the desk.
It's just a more enjoyable experience and noise cancelling is a big bonus to cut out the environment around me, although you do need dedicated Sony headphones to make it work.
Connectivity wise you've got Wi-Fi 802.11 for fast internet connections. I used the slate at home, at work and in a coffee shop and never experienced any problems connecting up to the network. My home Wi-Fi was a little temperamental for a while but that's down to the poor connection I expect and it never caused any issues whilst using it on super-fast connections.
Bluetooth 4.1 is here to use on the slate and comes in useful for connecting up accessories like the new keyboard.
NFC support is here to connect up quickly to compatible devices – you're not really going to be using that feature all that much and I only found myself using it with a speaker just to test it out.
I find NFC a little redundant on tablets as it's very rare you're going to be using it for payments or anything when out and about, nor really connecting up accessories.
Sony also has the courtesy to point out where the NFC connector is with a little logo on the back, which I find some manufacturers can't really be bothered to do meaning I can't tell where to tap. I'm looking at you HTC.
The logo isn't easy to spot at first but when you know it's there you'll find it really quick to get the connection.
Sony's Xperia Z4 Tablet doesn't really have a need for a new kickass camera on the back of this slate and Sony knows it. No-one walks around with a 10-inch camera on the back taking shots of stuff (and if you do, you shouldn't) – we all have phones that take much better images than that.
As such the rear camera on the Xperia Z4 Tablet doesn't seem to be anything special. It has an 8.1MP sensor taking images of 3264 x 2448 pixels but it never seems to really make those specs work.
A slight zoom with the camera loses quite a bit of clarity in an image and it's a real shame.
It also has a strange position on the slate. When most manufacturers would place it slap bang in the middle so when you hold it up that's the image you get, Sony has placed it on the far right in the top corner.
Whenever you're lining up an image I found myself instinctively using the middle of the Z4 Tablet but instead I had to keep moving it around a little after remembering where the snapper really was.
It means when you're taking photos of loved ones and others you're bound to be doing the 'Mum and Dad' thing of waving it around for a few minutes before you actually get that snap.
That means video calling is quite clear as well, as long as you're on some good quality internet to keep up with the high res image.
A quick note on the camera UI, which generally hasn't changed much since last time, is it's a pain in the posterior to take a selfie.
When taking this image with my pet squirrel I tried to do it one handed and it just wasn't possible – this is when you really miss a dedicated camera button instead of having to throw your thumb over the bezel and onto the button inside the UI.
Sony has an entire app store to bring new features to its camera as when it wishes. This time around you're kicking off with Superior Auto, Manual, AR Mask, Face in Picture, Sound Photo, AR Fun, Multi Camera, AR Effect, Creative Effect and Sweep Panorama.
Sony has been supplying the AR apps for quite some time now but I never cease to be entertained by adding a roaming dinosaur into my photos and videos.
I always find AR apps entertain kids for at least twenty minutes and love to show them off to my niece and nephew whenever I have a new device hanging around.
This time Sony has added in AR Mask, an app that sounds like it's going to be lots of fun with popular masks like Vader, V for Vendetta or Jim Carrey's. But no, it's actually terrifying.
Here are some of the results from my experiments with AR Mask.
All the rest of the apps are good fun to play around with or offer up some real functionality and Sony has some interesting features within – especially when it's not trying to scare the pants off me.
As for video recording we're restricted to 1080p@30fps, there's no 4K video recording like there has been in the past.
Some may miss this feature but considering it doesn't have a 4K screen I don't see it as a big mistake. It would have been nice to double up the resolution and get a 2K video recording to use on such a good screen, I don't really understand why Sony didn't pay the extra and go for it.
All in all video recording looks great and I didn't find any key issues with it – I'd rate it up there with some of the other best options of the market.
iPad Air 2
Apple's latest tablet is the lightest, thinnest and best looking iPad we've ever seen – we gave it five out of five in our full review. On the front is a 9.7-inch display with a pixel resolution of 1536 x 2048 equalling 265ppi.
TouchID has been brought over to the tablet range now so you know you've got a secure way to unlock the iPad whilst it runs the latest in iOS 8 software as well.
A brushed metal back panel makes for a premium feel design making the iPad Air 2 arguably the best slate on the market. Just remember it's going to cost you quite a bit compared to others with prices starting at £399 ($499, AUS$619) and jumping up as you ask for more storage space.
Sony's last attempt at the tablet market saw them drop the 10-inch gauntlet and drop down to an 8-inch display with a pixel resolution of 1200 x 1920.
Design wise it's pretty similar to the Xperia Z4 Tablet, it's just shrunk down a little but still features IP68 waterproofing and the glass fronted look. Under the hood is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor clocked at 2.5GHz accompanied by 3GB of RAM whilst storage is a little on the low side with only 16GB to play with but there's microSD support up to 128GB.
We quite liked the Z3 Tablet Compact giving it four out five stars praising it for some impressive battery life, a thin design and PS4 Remote Play features.
Samsung's latest tablet is designed to be the iPad killer and comes in two different sizes: one with an 8.4-inch screen and another with a 10.5-inch display.
Those are some stunning high-res displays as well offering a pixel resolution of 1600 x 2560 and 359ppi on the smaller version and 1600 x 2560 with 288ppi on the larger one.
It's pretty powerful under the bonnet as well with a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor clocked at 2.3GHz and 3GB of RAM. Storage wise you're limited to either 16GB or 32GB options but microSD is there for up to 128GB to make up for that.
Our review gave it four and a half stars out of five with focus on the strong battery life and great looking display.
The Nexus 9 tries to take everything people loved about the Nexus 7 and Nexus 10, throw an 8.9-inch display on it and call it the best tablet on the market. And to be fair it does a pretty good job.
HTC has taken on the 4:3 aspect ratio from the iPad and applied it to the new tablet thrown Android Lollipop inside and stuck on a cracking pair of speakers.
Design wise it may feel a little low-end to some and not inspire as much as the Sony or Apple tablets whilst there is also no microSD support meaning you're stuck with either the 16GB or 32GB version you buy.
The price has also made a big jump up from previous Nexus tablets costing £319 (about $500, AUS$626) for the 16GB version and £379 (about $600, AUS$725) for the 32GB one.
The Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet is a great alternative to the iPad. It's easily going to scream into second place in the race for best tablet, and will be streets ahead in the league table of best Android tablets.
It's got a lovely screen, lightweight design, all the Sony elements you'd look for and the right power combination to keep it at the forefront of slate technology for a few years, which is how long users will have it for.
A waterproof design is one of the nicest features on the tablet and makes it a much more attractive proposition rather than less robust slates on the market.
The new keyboard alongside it is also a welcome addition but it's hard to judge whether it'll be worth it until we know the official price.
The 'under the hood' mechanics are impressive too and you'll struggle to make that work at a full capacity while the battery life proves better than ever before.
Although adding in Android Lollipop is great, Sony's UI is still a big problem for many and it does restrict what you can do with the platform - and most importantly how it looks.
Storage on the Xperia Z4 Tablet is also questionable and it would be nice if Sony offered a 64GB version - microSD storage is good, but files on there don't perform as well as on the main memory.
The camera set up won't be enough for some either with the rear camera encountering some real problems – it's not a big thing for me but some do love to use their slates when taking snapshots.
The issue that it has to overcome - and there's not a lot Sony can do about this - is that Android still trails iOS for dedicated tablet apps.
The ecosystem for the iPad is such that no matter how much stuff you can do with the Android version, unless there's something very specific you're looking for the Apple tablet is generally the better choice.
I think the Xperia Z4 Tablet is great and I do believe it's the one true alternative to the iPad. Android is still not the perfect ecosystem for tablets but with a 2K display on the front and such a nice looking design this is the best way to do it yet.
It does still have its issues in the camera and the UI set up but overall it's a much more enjoyable experience than we've seen from a Sony tablet before.
Another big problem for some is the price though – if you're opting for the 4G version it's going to cost £579.99 (about $910, AUS$1135) whilst the Wi-Fi version will cost £499.99 (about $785, AUS$980). Pricing for both the US and Australia has yet to be announced by Sony.
It's expensive but when you compare that to Apple's pricing, which is at a very similar level, it's not all that much of a surprise for a high-end top quality tablet experience.
As for a release date there's still quite a wait as it won't be launching until June 2015 - you can pre-order it here – but that is a worldwide date so there's not much waiting around in certain markets.
If you want to avoid Apple's slate or want something just a little bit different to the iPad then give the Xperia Z4 Tablet a go. It's the best slate from the company yet and in my opinion it's the best Android option out there, but you're going to have to part with a bit of cash to experience it.