The Android tablet market is getting decidedly crowded, with dozens of different offerings from big and small companies alike, in sizes from 5” to 13.3”. How do you make your device stand out from the crows when most tablets are running the same OS and variants of the same hardware? Sony hopes to garner increased consumer interest by incorporating remote control and macro functionality with their new Tablet S. Let’s start with the specs first:
The core specs are nothing out of the ordinary; Sony uses the ubiquitous NVIDIA Tegra 3 SoC clocked at 1.3/1.4GHz with a 1280x800 LCD and 16 to 64GB of storage. Pricing is certainly higher than many competing tablets, and the margins on the 32GB and 64GB models are frankly obscene ($5 to $10 of flash memory bumps the price up $100 to $200), but we’ve seen that elsewhere. The Tablet S also has a non-uniform thickness, with a somewhat unusual rounded top edge where the IR remote is located. We pretty much know what to expect from the hardware side of the equation (other than the IR remote), but the software package is where Sony hopes to differentiate.
The IR remote is designed to allow control of most home theater devices, including Blu-ray players, HDTVs, stereos, and cable boxes. Macro functionality allows you to program sequences so that a single button can power on the appropriate devices, select the correct input, and you can quickly “Watch TV” or “Play Blu-ray”. I can’t imagine most people are interested in spending $400+ on a glorified remote, but if you’re already looking to buy a tablet then the extra functionality could be enough to sway you.
Going along with the remote/living room device concept, Sony has a “Watch Now” application that provides an interactive, visual program guide. It will pull information from your personal preferences along with real-time trends from social media feeds, potentially allowing you to discover new shows or learn more about shows you already watch. And of course, Watch Now can integrate with the universal remote to allow you to quickly change the channel to a new show. The Tablet S also supports DLNA for use with compatible PCs, TVs, speakers, etc.
Another software feature Sony touts is their Guest Mode, where you can manage multiple users. Besides allowing different wallpaper for each user, you can customize the applications and widgets available. Such a setup is going to be particularly beneficial for people that want to use the Tablet S as a remote as well as a personal tablet—you wouldn’t want your friends (or you kids’ friends) to start snooping around your email while watching TV, after all.
Rounding out the features are two last items. First, Sony has a “Small Apps” function that allows you to use one application in a small screen while continuing to use another main application. The Small Apps include a calculator, web browser, voice recorder, timer, and the IR remote—we’d like to see some sort of chat or email added to that list. Second, Sony includes a redemption code for three movies via the Google Play movie library (out of a selection of 15 movies), worth up to $45. These are Sony films and are subject to change without notice, but right now it looks like Men In Black II, Moneyball, Anonymous, Battle: Los Angeles, and Friends with Benefits are some of the offerings.
The Sony Tablet S is available for pre-order right now, with shipping scheduled for September 7. Pricing starts at $399 for the 16GB model, though we might see lower retail prices once the tablet shows up in stores. Sony also has several peripherals available for the Tablet S, including a case with keyboard, HDMI adapter, charging cradle, a variety of other cases (sans keyboard), several variations of docking stand, a screen protector, and a slipcase.