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Goldstuck on Gadgets

Sony gets ‚’A’ for the Tablet Z

Sony continues to make its comeback with the Tablet Z, a 10.1‚” device that sets a new benchmark for the category, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

In the fantasy world of movies, you can never take for granted the demise of a major character. The heroes and villains alike almost always come back from the dead, or at least from near-death experiences. So it is in the deadly, hyper-competitive arena of smartphones and tablets. For the losers, it is more like a horror movie.

The one-time giants, Nokia and Motorola, are still rattling about in the cellar, threatening to emerge into the light for one final showdown. BlackBerry, which stormed the smartphone bastions before Apple decided to add the ‚”i‚” to ‚”phone‚”, has reappeared as a sprightly youngster eager to show what it can do on the field of battle.

But the biggest surprise has been the resurrection of Sony. Left for dead even before it split from its long-time ally, Ericsson, it stunned the world in January with the unveiling of the Xperia Z smartphone. The device came armed with a high-quality build, a sharp 5‚” screen, intelligent camera, and the iconic Walkman music player reinvented as an app.

At this week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Sony was merely expected to flesh out its phone offerings. And, while it did use the event to announce immediate availability of the Xperia Z in 60 countries, it pulled a new weapon out of the armoury.

It is worth mentioning, first, that Sony had been viewed by many as a non-combatant in the tablet wars. It had produced both standard tablets running on the ubiquitous Android operating system and a dual-screen device that looked more like a gaming gadget. All had been ignored by the market.

On Monday morning, Kuni Suzuki, President and CEO of Sony Mobile Communications (SMC), unleashed what is potentially a computing weapon of mass destruction.

The Xperia Tablet Z is to tablets what the new handset is to smartphones: adding a new cutting edge to the category, and setting a standard by which equivalent devices will be measured. The specs suggest a big phone: the Z phone and tablet both run on Qualcomm’s quad core 1.5GHz Snapdragon processor.

At first glance, it is just another 10.1‚” Android tablet. At first touch, however, it is the thinnest, lightest 10.1‚” tablet yet. And at first tap, when the screen lights up, it looks nothing like any other tablet on the market.

Like the Xperia Z phone, the Tablet Z opens to customised icons, representing movies, photos, an app recommendation service called Sony Select, games through PlayStation Mobile, and music via the Walkman app.

Four speakers subtly hidden in the sides provide what Sony claims is the highest quality sound yet on a tablet with both surround-sound and sound-mixing options.

A thin rubber edging offers the clue to another unique feature: all components are sealed, making the tablet waterproof. Within reason. And reason does include dropping it in the water if you’re reading on it while having a bath.

All of this doesn’t come cheap.

‚”We’re very consciously focused on the premium market,‚” says Sony’s director of Content and Innovation, Dominic Neil-Dwyer, while offering a personal demonstration of the tablet. ‚”The low end has become incredibly commoditised. There is no differentiation. We wanted to create something aspirational and more iconic.‚”

How did a forgotten mobile device maker suddenly emerge at the forefront of the two most vibrant categories in gadgetry today? Credit new CEO Kazuo Hirai’s vision of ‚”One Sony‚”, which requires the corporation’s diverse units to collaborate across products, instead of pursuing their almost traditional ruinous internal competition.

‚”We merged the Vaio laptop and tablet team with the smartphone team,‚” says Dwyer. ‚”The Bravia and TV engineering team contributed, as did the digital imaging team and the audio engineering team.‚”

Their competition, now, is obviously the Apple iPad. And the Z has a clear edge in one area: Dwyer claims it is ‚”the most connected tablet in the world‚”: users can exchange and transfer data in more ways than on any other tablet.

This means that, for the first time in a decade, Sony’s mobile fantasies have a chance of coming true again.

(* The Tablet Z is expected to be available in South Africa in May 2013)

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee

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