Review: Sony Tablet P

A dual-screened Android tablet
Sony Tablet P

Sony Tablet P

Sony's Tablet P offers something different in the tablet market, opting for a design with dual-screens that fold onto each other when closed.

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New Sony Tablet S runs Android, joins Tablet P in competing with Apple's iPad

Design and dual displays

The Sony Tablet P's dual-screen design certainly has its advantages. It's small enough to fit into any handbag and should also slide into a large suit jacket pocket. All in all, this is an extremely portable device that weighs less than 400g. We feel it may find a niche with frequent travellers who want to carry around something smaller than an iPad.

Despite its size the Sony Tablet P feels like a solid piece of hardware. It has sturdy, gloss black hinges that definitely feel well constructed, and the matte silver finish on the top and bottom of the tablet is a nice touch. You can open the hinge to any angle you wish and the Tablet P won't topple over. However, the pointy corners of the device dig into your hands after only a few minutes of use which makes it uncomfortable to hold.

You'll find all the controls and ports on the right side of the Tablet P — a power button, charging port, a micro-USB port and volume controls. Both the power and volume controls aren't raised enough and therefore require a real firm press to activate.

The removable battery of the Tablet P is a nice touch, but we don't like having to take off the bottom cover to access the microSD card slot. A SIM card slot for 3G connectivity lies beneath the top cover but we found it quite flimsy and accidentally damaged one of the plastic locks while trying to force it back on. The Tablet P is impossible to open single-handedly.

Once you do open the Tablet P you are be greeted with two 5in displays, both with a resolution of 1024x480. A glossy black bezel matching the hinges surrounds both screens and quickly becomes a grubby fingerprint magnet. The bezel is also too large for our liking. The screens themselves are bright and clear with good viewing angles and vibrant colours. Text is sharp with no visible aberrations, though the relatively high resolution does mean icons and text can appear rather small.

Using the Tablet P

Do the dual-displays work? The answer is both yes and no, depending on what applications you use. Most of Sony's default and pre-loaded apps make perfect use of the display. The Gmail and e-mail apps show your e-mails on the top screen and the keyboard on the bottom. The default calendar app can show a view of the full month even when viewing by day or week. The calculator shows the keys on the bottom screen and your results on the top. The reader app, Sony's e-book reading solution, acts as a real book with one page on the left screen and the next page on the right.

Next page: Software, performance, cameras and battery life

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The problem with the dual screens is that most third party apps simply haven't been designed for such hardware. Some apps use a single screen only, while other start in one screen and end up displaying on the other for no apparent reason. Sony's solution when an app isn't compatible with the dual-screens is a zoom button that gives users the option of using a single screen or attempting to stretch the app across both screens. It sometimes works and other times doesn't, depending on the app you are using. Some apps rotate using the built-in accelerometer, others don't. Some apps fill a whole single screen while others leave thick black borders around the screen. What you are left with is a completely inconsistent user experience.

The hinged design of the Tablet P does make it easy to type on, acting somewhat like a mini laptop. Four tiny feet on the bottom means the Tablet P sits firmly on a desk or table. The on-screen keyboard is spacious and easy to type on, though inconsistency also rears its ugly head here too: in some apps, a row of numbers appears on the top row of the keyboard, while in others you need to tap a button to show these numbers.

Software and performance

The Sony Tablet P may runs the outdated 3.2 "Honeycomb" version of Google's Android platform (Sony ensures us it will be updated to the latest 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich" version of Android in the coming months) but the good news is that performance is fast and relatively smooth. Like the Tablet S, Sony has made plenty of changes to the standard Android user interface. On the home screen you'll find a favourites button next to the apps menu, and there are four shortcuts placed next to the voice actions icon: the Browser, e-mail, Sony's social feed reader, and video gallery can quickly be accessed from here. You can also long press on the home screen to bring up a selection of apps, widgets, wallpapers and shortcuts to customise your home screens, and separate the app drawer into customisable groups if you wish.

Sony bundles the Tablet P with its music streaming service, Music Unlimited, and its video streaming services, Video Unlimited and Crackle. Music Unlimited ($12.99 per month) allows subscribers full access to the catalogue, which currently boasts over 10 million licensed songs from major record labels including Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group and EMI Music. Video Unlimited is is priced on a per program basis, with most movies costing around $24.99 to buy and $5.99 to "rent" for 48 hours after first playback. Crackle is a free service which streams a limited range of movies and TV shows filled with ads.

The Sony Tablet P is also PlayStation certified, which means it plays first generation PlayStation games. The experience is fairly intuitive with on-screen PlayStation buttons displayed on the lower screen and the game running on the top one. Crash Bandicoot comes pre-loaded on the device, but more games can be downloaded from the PlayStation Store app for a hefty $8.45 each. The list remains thin and overpriced, with Driver, Destruction Derby and Rayman the most notable titles on offer.

Cameras and battery life

We've never understood the appeal of a rear camera on a tablet, but the Sony Tablet P's pocket size means that it may be more relevant. Sadly the 5-megapixel rear camera is poor. It produces shots with mediocre colour reproduction, heavy image noise and poor exposure. The front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera is fine for basic video apps, but the quality of photos is predictably lacklustre.

A photo taken with the Sony Tablet P's 5-megapixel rear camera.

Sony says the Tablet P's battery will last for seven hours, but we only managed less than five in our video rundown test. Considering the size of this unit, its battery life is comparatively poor compared to most other tablets and is likely to run out of juice before a full day. Further, it doesn't charge via its standard micro-USB connector, instead using a chunky, proprietary Sony charger.

Even more disappointing than the Sony Tablet P's inconsistent user experience is its price. It retails for a hefty $729 through Sony Centre stores nation-wide and through Sony's Web site. That's an incredibly high price to pay for a device that will be quickly forgotten.