Sony Z3 Tablet Compact IRL Review– The Z3 Tablet Compact (TC from hereon) was a bit of an impulse buy for me. When I first heard rumors of it, I was pretty excited. It was the Xperia Z Ultra successor in a much larger manner- it fixed a lot of things I didn’t like about the Z Ultra and expanded on its strengths. Specifically, I loved that it came with stereo front facing speakers, a relatively large capacity battery, and a bigger 8 inch screen (up from 6.4 inches). I think a big difference though was that it actually wasn’t a Z Ultra successor- it was just a mid sized tablet that could do phone calls in a pinch. I was still impressed and wanted a piece of this giant action. A big reason why I also liked this was that the Samsung Galaxy Note II had blown my mind away from how much more enjoyment I could get out of my cell phone with a bigger screen (coming from a Blackberry Bold 9900). So my reasoning was that a mid sized tablet would just take me to the moon as my primary device. After more than a year of it being out, I had generally forgotten about the TC, because I was having such a good time with my Z3 in copper. While much smaller in screen size (5.2 inches), it hit the nail on pretty much everything I wanted in my phone, aside from ridiculously huge screen size. About a few months ago, a ridiculously crazy sale came up on the TC where it was 239 CDN outright. In a time where phones are no longer being subsidized a whole lot unless you get a ridiculously expensive monthly plan, that was a steal. My buddy ended up grabbing one, but I really held back, knowing that I had far too many end of life tablets not being used. However, a recent panic about losing my coveted phone plan with no hardware upgrade made me rethink that missed opportunity sale and I was sad and regretful. Come Boxing Day, a sale emerged that caught my attention on the TC and low and behold I have been using it for a month or so as a secondary device to my Z3. The following is my IRL (In Real Life) review of the TC.
Design- Its really really slick. The device is super duper thin and this feels amazing in hand on a 8 inch tablet. While I am not necessarily for thinner in small screen devices (I’d prefer thicker with more battery capacity), on a larger screen device, thinner goes a long way. Especially for weight. Having used several very heavy tablets, I have come to appreciate a thinner lighter device and the TC excels at that. However, it also is compromised because its hard to hold- the back of the device is a slippery matte plastic. It really makes you feel worried about it slipping out of your hands. Its just large enough that it doesn’t fit well for one handed operation. So basically, the design is too slick and sleek. I’m not sure what the answer to this would be- a grippier back material would likely help a lot. With the official TC case, there is a grippy texture that makesit feel much more secure in the hand. In fact, I would say the TC needs the official case- it makes handling that much easier and does add a landscape stand.
I don’t think its that remarkable in terms of overall design- it looks like a tablet. I quite like the minimal nature of it, but its not something I would write home about,. To be honest, I’m not sure how much more designers could put into a tablet’s design. Its a slab that looks good. Certainly, it falls right in line with the Z3 line up with rounded corners and edges. It uses the Z2/Z5 design of edge slit speakers, vs. the rounded squircles on the Z3. It skips out the glass back panel of the Z3 line up and uses the plastic back- not a huge loss, and probably good for longevity without a second giant glass panel to break. But certainly not as eye catching as the Z3. Probably my only gripe with the design is the widescreen aspect ratio of 16:10- while better than 16:9, I would much prefer a 4:3 aspect ratio like the iPad and newer Galaxy Tab series have used- its just more conducive to browsing in either portrait or landscape. While I appreciate widescreen for multi-tasking, its not something I necessarily need in a tablet.
Build Quality-generally quite good. Its showed no issues to me so far and no creaks or cracks indicating poor quality. It certainly is not as premium feeling as the Z3 line up, or its competitors (Apple iPad Mini) due to the plastic build. I’m pretty sure even the side panels are plastic. Not bad for a plastic tablet for sure, but nothing premium like most of Sony’s flagships. Other than that, no issues. I do appreciate the water proofing of this tablet. I don’t go swimming with it, but I do have a sense of ease when I have a drink nearby. I believe Sony has since recanted its waterproofing focus, since consumers were not putting the tabs back properly and messing up the waterproofing. I am worried about the tabs- the tab wore out on my Z3 and while it can be replaced, I don’t like the design of it breaking down eventually. Its actually quite stiff on the TC- not sure how long it will last. They are readily available on eBay though.
Screen- its not a monster 4k screen, but its perfect for me- its a 1920×1200 screen with great color reproduction without being overly vivid (I’m looking at Samsung’s OLED panels, which I generally despise). Viewing angles have not been a problem for me, and the brightness has been good too. Really no complaints from me about the screen. I don’t think this screen would have benefited from a 4K screen. After using the 2560×1600 screen on the LG G3, I can’t say I really miss it, even if it was on a 8 inch screen. The brightness is also really good on this- its never a problem for me in outdoor sunlight viewing.
Speakers- Probably one of my personal disappointments in the TC- While front facing stereo is good, its nowhere near the speakers on the Z3 or the HTC Boomsound One M7 -M9. They are adequate but not remarkable. They remind me of the Surface RT/2 speakers- just ok, but not great. A little bit on the teeny sound with really no low end to give that full sound. EQing them doesn’t really seem to help. Disappointed because Sony had much more room to use here to make the speakers better than the Z3.
Battery- its good. Really good. I almost never worry about battery on this device. I have ease of mind knowing I can gun the crap out of this and not rush to find a charger. It does take a little longer to charge since it is a larger capacity battery than your typical smartphone flagship (I think its around 4000 mah), and Sony bizarrely gives you a 1.5 A charger, and not a 2 A charger like most other flagships.
Speed- Its a quadcore CPU with 3GB of RAM. Its the exact same as the one in the Z3 and its generally quite good. No issues from me- definitely no lag, or anything concerning. Its comforting to have that 3GB of RAM. I had a choice of getting the Nexus 9 which only has 2GB of RAM. I’m not really one to care that much for spec to spec (maybe a little), but in terms of longevity, I want as much RAM as possible to delay the inevitable slow down. The Walkman Z has 512 mb of RAM and it shows- any sort of multi-tasking and its like the BB devices before OS 7 again, where I had to use task killer apps to kill apps from taking up too much RAM. Generally, no hiccups from me, and I’m pretty pleased.
Camera- while I don’t comment too much on cameras in tablets because I think that’s dumb using a tablet for a camera, with the dialer, this is a primary device for some people and the camera is an important piece for that. I can say the quality reminds me of my old Blackberry 9000/9790/9900 cameras. Meaning, very very terrible. I think this is rather disappointing. While I get that a tablet shouldn’t need a premium camera, if you are going to command a premium price, there shouldn’t be many compromises. This is a major compromise. Its mostly terrible. No details at all. Lack of sharpness. Just clearly a camera phone. Not something I expect from a company touting its camera phoen technology and commanding a sizable portion of the camera phone sensor business.
Other- I can’t say that the TC has really changed me all that much- the bigger screen doesn’t come with more real estate- Android scales up, so I don’t actually get more useable space, and Android doesn’t really make good use of the big screen for apps. I.e. there is no side by side windows, which would be really useful on a big screen like this. I can’t believe this still is not part of Android- the Note II had this back more than a few years ago and while fun, it was just a 5.5 inch screen. This 8 inch screen needs that multi-tasking. It also needs adjustable scaling builtin Android OS. This should be controllable in OS and not require bizarre hacking/Rooting techniques. I have had enough software issues that I don’t want to delve into the little work arounds for this to see if I can get scaling to work. It would be much more useful if I could have the same sized icons as I have on my z3- I don’t need to blow everything up and make things larger. I’m not using the tablet at a different distance than my phone. Le sigh.
When I compare my TC with my Surface 2, its a night and day difference. Android just isn’t ready for prime time productivity yet. While some Office apps have become surprisingly good for near desktop experience, they still lack lots of features that make a desktop OS a true productivity king. This alone makes the Surface 2 the tablet I like to take as my companion to my phone. The TC just doesn’t offer enough as a companion device to make me feel like its that much more useful than my Z3 to use. On the other hand, I think I would generally be happy with the TC as my sole device. I think the Z3 is good enough as a device for me screen size wise, but the TC is a great device overall for media consumption because it is bigger. Its just not a productivity device like I think it should be, because Android just isn’t there.
I have made a few phone calls with this and everything seems ok- its nice that it has the dialer built in. The phone can only do speakerphone for voice calls, or BT headset. I’m not sure if that’s silly or not- I don’t think anyone would want to hold this up to their ear to talk, but I mean there’s been worse, like the side talkin N-Gage. I generally use my SBH52/Motorola Oasis and its been good. The SBH52 is perfectly designed for a device like this.
Conclusion- The TC is a good device overall, but it is limited by Android’s limited tablet functionality. I still find it remarkable that Android tablet apps and OS don’t make better use of the big screen. Its no fault on the TC itself, but it does make you question why you would pay a premium for a device like this over a cheaper Android tablet (which are available by the dozen for around a 100 CDN easily). There just is not enough to distinguish it from these tablets. I think there needs to be quite a bit more software optimization to make the most out of this device. Its hardware is good, but not mind blowing. Its generally a good device, but not an amazing one. I do appreciate it having a built in dialer as the unique ability, and the fact that I can use it as a phone replacement. That’s its one big win for it, and truly a unique property amongst other similar sized Android devices. Whether you find a 8 inch phone useful is another question. I like it because its different.
TLDR- Pros -Good screen, battery life, size, phone capability in an 8 inch tablet; Cons- Plain jane design, meh speakers.