Sony’s latest is lighter than rivals and has a standout screen. Is this the tablet to beat the iPad?

Unlike mobile phones, where Android handsets dominate the market compared to other operating systems, there has yet to be a killer tablet to rival the iPad. Partly that’s because Apple has always managed to stay several steps ahead, not least by constantly improving its dazzling industrial design and slimming its hardware to miniscule proportions.

Apple has also made much of the fact that the iPad offers hundreds of thousands of apps designed specifically for large screens rather than simply enlarged from phone screens, making them richer.

Then there’s price. Almost without exception, tablets with decent specs have clocked in at the same price as the iPad, or higher, so why wouldn’t you choose the market-leading Apple product? The main exception, by the way, is Tesco’s brilliant Hudl2 which offers a very strong experience for a tiny price.

The latest tablet is Sony’s and it’s a real winner – it’s not out yet but I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks now and it’s highly impressive. The screen, at 10.1 inches is a little bigger than the iPad Air 2 and like Apple’s beauty, this is wafer-thin (6.1mm). But because the Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet is clad in polycarbonate as against Apple’s aluminium jacket, this is a much lighter gadget. It weighs 393g against 437g or so for the iPad Air 2.

This weight difference is very noticeable. And since one of the factors which determines how much a tablet is used outside the house is how portable it feels, this is a big deal.

Mind you, the Z4 Tablet is significantly bigger than an iPad Air 2, thanks to that slightly larger screen and a wider frame around it, so that may affect portability adversely. Earlier Xperia tablets have had even bigger bezels, so this is an improvement, though nowhere near the svelte look of the iPad range. That’s because Apple uses a clever system called Touch Rejection. This knows when a finger is resting on the display but which the touchscreen should ignore. In turn, that means you don’t need a wide bezel.

Sony’s top-end phones and tablets have a unique extra: they’re waterproof. The ingress protection rating, if you’re interested, is IP68. The first figure refers to dust protection and six is the highest rating, signifying it is dust-tight. The second digit defines water resistance and eight is as high as it goes, so this a gadget you can immerse in water. Handy if you plan to watch movies in the bath, send emails by the pool or use the iPad as a recipe guide during cooking. It’ll just rinse clean after you’ve finished.

Note that you can’t actually use it underwater: capacitive screens work by a weak electrical field on the display which interacts with another electrical field, that is, you finger. So the water gets in the way of all that.

The display is very high resolution and looks spiffing. At 299 pixels per inch, it’s way higher than on an iPad and almost every other tablet. The Samsung Google Nexus 10 matched it for size and resolution but this display looks better and the tablet itself is much better designed. Poolside use will ideally need a bit of shade – this is a very bright screen but still not brilliant enough to be easily visible in bright sunshine.

Sony has given its tablet a fast chip and plenty of RAM (3GB) so this tablet is a real performer: quick and responsive. The latest version of Android operating system, codenamed Lollipop, is the most elegant-looking and attractive, by a country mile. It makes using the tablet much more enjoyable than previous Android devices and looks beautiful with its bright colours and clean, sharp lines, especially on this hi-res screen.


Sony has also created a keyboard for the Z4 Tablet that clips on securely, making it a decent super-light laptop substitute, providing you can cope with the limited multi-tasking capabilities tablets offer. The keyboard isn’t great-looking, especially when closed, but it works well.

Battery life is excellent on the Z4 Tablet, despite the thinness of the gadget. Recharging took quite some time so it’s worth plugging it in overnight when it’s running low. Fast-charge batteries, likely to be one of the big topics in tech over coming months, would have been ideal here.

But that’s one of few disappointments in this really tremendous tablet. Great screen, astonishing lightness and thinness, strong performance and a long-lasting battery are among the bonuses. It is an iPad beater? Apple still leads for design and the range of tablet-specific apps. Plus, the Apple system is hard to beat for ease of use. But this is a highly attractive machine and is the best Android tablet yet. If the price is right, which will be revealed in coming weeks when it goes on sale, this could give Apple a real challenge.