Android tablets, for the most part, all look the same. Sony is a bit of an outlier, with the wedge shaped Tablet S ($399, 3 stars) and now the clamshell Tablet P. With its Playstation certification and Nintendo DS-like form factor it’s clearly aimed at the gaming crowd, but the two small screens and lack of physical controls make it harder to use than it should be. The Tablet P’s dual-screen design just doesn’t click.
Physical Design, Features, and Dual-Screens
The Sony Tablet P uses a dual-screen, rounded clamshell design. It resembles the equally audacious Kyocera Echo (3 stars) smartphone, but in a larger form. When open flat, the Tablet P measures 6.2 by 7.1 by 0.5 inches (HWD) and weighs 13.12 ounces. There are two removable plastic shells on either side, with the top covering the SIM card slot and the bottom covering the removable battery and microSD card slot. Both of these plastic covers are flimsy and the top one popped off several times during testing. When closed the Tablet P can fit into some roomier pockets, but I would hardly call it pocket-friendly.
The Power and Volume buttons are on right edge of the bottom half of the tablet, along with a microUSB port and a proprietary power port. The Tablet P connects to computers via included microUSB cable, but doesn’t charge over USB—for that you’ll need the included AC adapter. Along the left side is a tiny hole for a weak built-in speaker, which was easy to cover accidentally. A 3.5mm headphone jack sits on the bottom edge.
Each of the 5.5-inch LCD screens has 1024-by-480-pixel resolution. But the whole is less than the sum of its parts: together, the two screens form a 7-inch, square screen with a notable seam between the two halves. Both 1024-by-480 and 1024-by-960 are nonstandard Android resolutions, which could cause trouble for third-party apps. The whole thing is surrounded by an inch-wide bezel, which made it difficult to reach the middle of the screens with my thumbs. The screens are bright, with vivid colors and deep blacks, and text appears particularly sharp. But the clamshell design makes it hard to get both at an optimal angle unless laid completely flat. The hinge is sturdy and stays put at any angle.
There is a 5-megapixel camera on the back of the top half of the Tablet P, while a VGA front-facing camera is positioned inside, on the right. The rear-facing camera suffers from the same problems as most tablet cameras—soft pictures, dull color and detail, and too much image noise. There is also a long delay between shots. Don’t count on the Tablet P to replace even your smartphone camera.
The Sony Tablet P is available through ATT and connects to its HSPA+42 network, but not to 4G LTE. The Tablet P costs $399.99 with a two-year contract or $549.99 without. Off contract, that’s more than the superior Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime ($499, 4 stars) and the new iPad ($499-$829). There are two contract data plans, either $35 a month for 3GB or $50 for 5GB. Off-contract data can be bought in three flavors: $14.99 for 250MB, $30 for 3GB, or $50 for 5GB.