For products which still haven’t been officially announced, Sony’s upcoming Android tablets sure haven’t been publicity-shy. Sony first teased us about them back in April. And on Wednesday, it held press events in New York and San Francisco at which it showed them off and released more details, such as the fact that the smaller S1 will be available exclusively in a version for AT&T’s HSPA+ network–although not full specs, or pricing, or a shipping timeframe other than “later this year.”
I attended the west-coast edition of the sneak peek. When I see new tablets these days, I’m continuing to reflexively ask the question “Why should somebody buy this instead of an iPad?” It’s too early to come to any firm conclusions about the Sonys, but both pass the obvious-differences-from-Apple’s-tablet test.
The S1 is a 9.4″ model with a wedge shape that angles te screen for comfy typing and feels like a folded magazine. (It’s a major departure from every other current tablet–but it does remind me of the original 2007 version of Amazon’s Kindle.)
The smaller S2, meanwhile, stretches the definition of “tablet” a bit. It’s a clamshell device with two 5.5″ displays which, in unfolded mode, can operate independently or as one big screen. It’s reminiscent of Acer’s Iconia and Toshiba’s experimental Portege, but the hinge makes more sense on the S2: the screens are small enough that a folded-shut unit will fit in a pocket. (Try that with your iPad.)
On the software side, Sony is going through a fair amount of effort to make these tablets stand apart from the Android herd. They both have a feature called Quick View which is designed to load Web pages much faster than the standard Android browser. (For what it’s worth, it worked in Sony’s demo.) They’re also designed for extra-responsive scrolling, and are PlayStation-certified devices that can play some older PlayStation games, and will come with Sony’s Reader e-book store and Qriocity movie and music services. The S1 includes a universal remote feature (which leverages the built-in IR port) and Sony is working with Adobe to help developers build Adobe AIR apps that make good use of the S2′s twin screens.
The Sony models will suffer from some issues that are endemic to Android tablets, such as a selection of tablet-friendly apps that’s still skimpy. And while I’d like Adobe’s AIR to work well, its close technical kinship with Flash worries me: I’ve yet to use mobile Flash on a device where it wasn’t pretty darn terrible. But I don’t think the fact that these tablets aren’t here yet is a problem. Heck, given the generally disappointing state of the non-iPad tablet market to date, I think that tablets that haven’t shipped are in better shape to do well than those that have arrived–at least if their makers use the extra time to make them rock-solid. Here’s hoping that the S1 and S2 end up feeling finished in a way that the original Galaxy Tab, the Xoom, the PlayBook, and the TouchPad do not.