The Sony Tablet S is a long awaited new entry into the Android based tablet market. So we have waited with considerable eagerness to discover what Sony has to offer. Thanks to CNET for this opportunity.
Our household has a number of Sony based products. We have a relatively old, 16x9 format 36” CRT large screen Sony WEGA TV which although now rather dated in the face of the new flat screen TV’s, it still produces a great image. We utilise a Sony high definition set top box for our digital television reception. We have also coupled the Sony WEGA TV to a rather aging Sony receiver/amplifier. This unit still produces an excellent sound through my ETI Series 4000 speakers (Philips drivers) I built as a kit, almost 30 years ago (my, how time flies).
My son Alex (18), has recently saved some money from working after school to buy a Sony Bravia 46” television which he has coupled to a Sony PS3 Playstation.
So it was with a very pleasant surprise, we were informed of our chance to review the Sony Tablet S with an accompanying Sony Handy HDR video camera to record our experiences. Especially considering, as it is a Sony product, it is supposed to have a number of extensions/ apps to the Android based operating system to suit other Sony products including emulating some games from the Sony PSP handheld gaming console.
Alex is lucky enough to have an Apple iPad 2. I also have access to a new Blackberry Playbook. So we are able to directly compare the three platforms for not only ourselves but also for you.
For this week, we are comparing the three tablets abilities with their respective still and video cameras. This one of a number of tasks that CNET have asked us to cover in the coming weeks.
Tablets have been around for some time now in various forms and mostly all have been based on desktop operating systems that in hindsight, were clearly inadequate for the form factor and they were also priced only for use within large enterprises. Early tablets have been niche products at best.
Then along came Apple with the iPad. Isn’t it amazing how things have changed ever since?
Below, I discuss the Sony Tablet S at length and provide some comparison photos and videos of the other tablets.
Sony Tablet S:
The Sony tablet has two cameras, one a front facing camera for video conferencing and the other a rear facing camera for higher definition stills and video. In this respect, all the tablets are similarly equipped. The Sony has a stills resolution of 5 megapixels. This is amazing to me, considering the small size of the lens.
For this review I have concentrated on the rear facing camera as this is the highest resolution camera.
Like the other two platforms, the Sony Tablet S has a single “camera” app that may be used in either still or video mode. Switching modes is very easy.
For stills, the Sony has a surprisingly high level of control. This does not mean the camera is in anyway a replacement for a DSLR however some of the features are very handy and exceptionally easy to use.
1. Switching between Still and Video modes is straight forward in operation.
2. Stills mode - Format and Resolution. Now this is interesting. There are five settings to choose from ranging from a lowly VGA (640 x 480) to the full 5 megapixels in, oddly, a 4:3 format of 2592 x 1944. There are also three in between resolutions of either 4:3 or 16:9 formats. Just why there is a 4:3 format I’ve no idea especially where at the highest resolution for the far more convenient format of 16:9, is ‘only’ 3.6 meg and also given the format of the tablet is fortunately, 16 x 9. It seems the optimal or native format of the sensor is in 4:3 format and when the 16:9 format is selected, the image is simply cropped, top and bottom, in camera.
3. Stills mode – Hey there is a zoom facility, but don’t get too excited as it is simply a ‘digital’ zoom. To me, this is of little use, simply crop the image later if required. I prefer to capture as much “information” as I can and then carry out any desired cropping later.
4. Stills mode - The location the image was taken can be stored. Neat IF you want this facility.
5. Stills mode – A very nice feature included is a method to override the exposure up to +/- two stops in 1/3 stop increments. As a keen amateur photographer I find this is a really nice to have feature.
6. Stills mode – There are several white balance or ‘scene modes’ to choose from. Potentially handy in the absence of a raw file capability (all three tablets do not have a raw file format, simply jpg format).
7. Still mode – Surprisingly there is a very effective ‘macro’ mode. This will no doubt be handy for many situations including business scenarios i.e machinery and part break downs, problem reports etc.
8. Video mode – Not so many controls in this mode, first a ‘video quality’ selection of “high’, ‘low’ and a ‘You Tube’ high resolution mode.
As can be heard in this video, there is something wrong with the microphone or microphone location? The sound is very distorted. Perhaps I had my hand over the microphone? I need to do some more testing for sure. By searching the online support forums it seems I'm not alone with this problem.
Here are some stills from the camera. To me the camera performs impressively:
Above: at the maximum 16:9 resolution
Above: at the maximum 4:3 resolution
Above at the maximum 16:9 resolution
Above at the maximum 4:3 resolution
The little Blackberry is also an impressive tablet, however it is not based on either the iOS or the Android operating system, rather as Blackberry has purchased the QNX operating system, the Playbook has a derivative of QNX as its operating system. It is also coupled with similarly equipped cameras as found in the Sony Tablet S.
In stills mode, the Blackberry has some camera controls and also includes a "stabilization" mode, a 'whiteboard' mode that turns a whiteboard picture actually white rather than the commonly found 'grey' when taking pictures of whiteboards (I find sometimes this is handy in business meetings). It is also switchable between 16:9 and a 4:3 modes, a 'sports' mode and 'Auto' whitebalance mode. Unfortunately, unlike the Sony I have not been able to find an exposure override. This is a big omission for the Playbook.
In video mode, the Blackberry has the same controls as the stills mode except it has switchable resolution modes, 480p, 720p and 1080p.
Here is a video and some stills from the little Playbook, as with the Sony the camera's capabilities is impressive:
All shots above at the maximum 16:9 resolution
Note: All the shots above were taken at the newly opened Burnside Village shopping centre in Adelaide's eastern suburbs. It features an impressive atrium replete with a magnificent gum tree fully enclosed.
Apple iPad 2
Little needs to be said about the features of the Apple iPad that has not been covered in a multitude of other media reports. With respect to the still camera and video camera modes though, it is exceptionally easy to sum up the controls as there are very few available. In stills mode there is only one control, a selection to turn on a grid, giving guidance to the 'rule of thirds'. I doubt it would be used very often. In stills mode there are no controls other than front/ back camera select. Simple, however far too basic for my liking. For me, this really lets down the iPad.
Of particular annoyance for me is the location of the camera lens. Rather than being centred and out of the way, when I gripped the iPad to take shots, I would invariably cover the lens with my fingers depending on the orientation of the unit itself.
These annoyances aside the camera is impressive if not quite to the same standard of either the Sony or the Playbook.
Note: Apple seems to be sticking with the 4:3 format in both video, stills and even the screen. This seems strange given the modern tendency towards 16:9 format for large screen TV's, movies and photo formats.
All three units are incredibly impressive feats of modern technology. Not too long ago, only a couple of years perhaps, I would never have dreamt I would be reviewing such superb units. All three have their strong points however with respect to camera and video operation I'd have to favour the Sony over the Playbook, only because of the ability to override an exposure by up to +/- 2 stops. Something that is not possible on the other two units. The Playbook comes a very close second, almost neck and neck with the Sony. The Apple iPad is a clear third.
One thing I have noted about photography with tablets. I suspect one can easily look somewhat silly holding such large devices in outstretched arms in public places. Then again, some may claim "what's new" for yours truly.
My family and I look forward to bringing you coverage of other aspects of the Sony Tablet S over the coming weeks. Thanks for reading.