The Tablet S sports what Sony calls a folding design, and we really like it. When held in portrait mode, the left side of the tablet has a thicker rounded edge that's meant to mimic the look and feel of a magazine. The design tapers from a beefy 0.75 inches all the way down to 0.3 inches on the right side. We like how Sony distributed the weight to the thicker edge so that the Tablet S feels even lighter than its official 1.3-pound weight.
We also appreciated the raised dots on the back and rounded edge, which make the device easier to grip. When placed on a table or in your lap in landscape mode, the Tablet S has a slight incline, which makes it easier to type.
Sony placed the ports and buttons on the Tablet S inside tear-shaped grooves on either side. Because these areas are sunken in, accessing the power button and volume buttons on top (when held in portrait mode) was difficult to do without looking. Accessing these buttons wasn't much easier in landscape mode.
The bottom side of the Tablet S (the left side in portrait mode) houses the headphone jack and a tethered cover for the microUSB port and SD card slot. This felt flimsy and just got in the way.
Another awkward design element is the power jack, which sits on the bottom of the tablet (in landscape mode). We found connecting the dual-pronged AC adapter harder than it should be.
Another strike against the design is that Sony didn't include an HDMI port, which would have been ideal for streaming content to a larger display or TV. The underlying Nvidia Tegra technology certainly supports it.
At 9.4 inches, the Sony Tablet S has a smaller screen than the iPad (9.7 inches) and the Galaxy Tab 10.1. However, this 1280 x 800-pixel panel packs a serious punch, thanks to TruBlack technology. Because Sony minimized the refraction of light between the LCD and the screen, we enjoyed very vibrant colors and deeper blacks when viewing the Contagion trailer in HD. We could easily make out the scary blotches on Gwyeneth Paltrow's skin, and text really popped.
When we loaded websites such as Laptopmag.com, the Sony Tablet S offered bright pictures and generous viewing angles both horizontally and vertically. However, glare became more of an issue when we watched videos and other content with darker backgrounds. Like most tablets, fingerprint smudges accumulated quickly, but they weren't that distracting.
The two stereo speakers that sit on either side of the Tablet S (in landscape mode) produced loud and crisp audio in our tests. When we played the game Galaxy on Fire 2, the dialogue was clear and the soundtrack immersive. We also listened to some music using Sony's Music Player app. Pete Yorn's "Life on a Chain" was loud enough to fill a kitchen, though distortion started to set in on the max setting.
The keyboard on the VAIO Tablet S reminds us of the HP TouchPad--in a good way. If you select "Show number keys" under Settings, the layout will show a number pad to the right of the letters in landscape mode, and in portrait mode they sit above the keyboard. (By default these numbers only show up when the cursor is in certain places, such as a password field.) Engaging this setting saves time.
Overall, the large white letters were easy to activate and responsive, though we occasionally noticed lag, such as when e-mails popped up in the notification area. We also wish Sony included dedicated keys for @ and .com. There's certainly plenty of room here.
We encountered one very serious bug during our testing. When we were trying to correct typos in a sentence, our changes would show up at the end of the line instead of where we placed the cursor. Sony suggested that we turned off word prediction, which fixed the issue, but we sincerely hope there's a true fix coming
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