I bought my first Mac (128k RAM. single 400k floppy disk drive) in 1985 (yes, I’m that old) because the user experience and interface felt a million years ahead of anything else available, especially what was then called the IBM PC.
That design advantage has, to my mind, been maintained even to today. Before any Windows or Linux advocates get uptight I fully acknowledge that those operating systems (I use Windows at work and Linux just for the experience) are much better then they were and if you’re happy using them, fine. But we all have different tastes and preferences; otherwise we would all drive the same car and wear the same clothes. A Subaru Impreza Turbo driver can justifiably question the Aston Martin Vantage V8 driver over his choice. The Subaru will be cheaper, quicker, seat four and actually have a usable boot.
Nonetheless the Aston Martin owner’s choice is as valid as that of the Subaru driver. The former sees exclusivity and quality. Too often we see alternatives as right or wrong when in fact they are just different. Embrace difference.
So over the years I have spent many thousands of pounds on Mac computers with capability way beyond what I will need during the computers’ lifetimes, software I don’t need and will use once and obscure peripherals (Microtek SCSI scanner, anyone?) just for the sake of it.
Lately one of my principal reasons for buying Apple has been eroded: Apple products (especially iPhones and iPads) are ubiquitous. They’re no longer exclusive. I can’t find a product to match my iPod Touch, but any Tom, Dick or Harry has an iPad. ‘Think Different’ (to use Apple’s grammatically incorrect 1997 advert) and buy an iPad? I don’t think so. So when the time came for me to look at upgrading my first-generation iPad I turned not to the guys from Cupertino but at an Android tablet. I still want my choice to be select and a premium product. Samsung is too common, so I turned to a brand I have grown up with and trust: Sony (makers of that 400k drive in my first Mac, Trinitron TVs, the Walkman, the badly underrated MiniDisc and my favourite short-wave radio).
When you share an operating system with almost other tablet manufacturers (bar Apple) and that system isn’t under your control you have to work hard to differentiate your kit from others. Sony has achieved this by making a tablet which is:
- lighter and thinner than others
- waterproof to a depth of 1.5m for 30 minutes and dust resistant
When I took the tablet out of is box first impressions were very good; the tablet, despite its light weight and thin profile, felt solid and very well-built. with high-quality materials used.
The protection from water and dust comes in part from the ports for connection and charging (micro-USB, reasonably enough) and memory (micro-SD) being covered. Clearly the covers need to be closed to protect the ports but in reality when they’re not in place they dangle in a very fragile manner. My other concern is with opening the covers. They are necessarily a tight fit and the only way I could open them was using my fingernail to prise them open. This isn’t very elegant and on the first tablet I had the cover became slightly damaged within 12 hours. That might be my fault but it’s also not great design. Consequently I try to charge the tablet using a dock (not included) that charges through a robust connector on the bottom face of the tablet. I also try whenever possible to connect to my Mac by Bluetooth so that I don’t run the risk of damaging the covers.
On firing up the screen is clear and attractive. Response to touch is fine, comparable to the iPad. Two speakers have been described elsewhere as giving good stereo separation; that’s overstating it a little.
I chose the version with 32GB of memory, to which I added a 32GB micro-SD card (which John Lewis included free) for all the music and videos I want.
Moving from iOS to Android
To a long-term user of iOS Android feels very different right from start-up. Not better or worse, but different. On boot-up the user is presented with a desktop of five pages. These are customisable with any applications that you wish to have there. The second thing I noticed was the number of applications, shown on two pages accessed from the home screen. Android is of course a Google system so the default browser is Chrome, there is a link to the Google Play Store, Gmail, Google Maps, Google+ and YouTube. Imposing its personality Sony includes a Walkman application for music, Xperia Lounge (for all sorts of experiences in which I have no interest) and Xperia Link, PlayStation and PlayStation Mobile, Sony Select and What’s New apps. On top of that lot there’s all the apps you would expect: email, contacts. alarm, clock, calendar, camera, photos and the like, and a neat weather widget that uses your location.
Included applications for which there is not (as far as I know) an equivalent included in iOS are:
- FM radio (uses headphone cable as an aerial) which is surprisingly good
- OfficeSuite pro, an office suite with very good functionality and surprisingly usable on the Z2’s 10.1” screen
- File Commander, which enable one to browse the filesystem, which I miss in iOS, which keeps that detail from the user
- Sketch, a simple drawing program
As far as I can tell, iOS has a compass, Siri and fingerprint recognition. Apple also has FaceTime, of course; you’ll have to download Skype for the Sony.
Using the Xperia Z2
Let’s face it, most tablet use is for web browsing, email, downloaded media (music and video mainly) and on-line media such as YouTube. It’s difficult to fault the Z2 for any of this, although scrolling on-line video isn’t perhaps as smooth as on an iPad.
My other use is for BBC iPlayer and on the Sony and Android it’s a nice piece of software, as it is in iOS. I also have an aversion to Chrome, so I downloaded Firefox, which works with no problems.
Battery life? Difficult to judge from specifications; a tablet might have a larger battery but negate that by consuming more power. Camera? Seems pretty good but if I want to take pictures I tend to use my Olympus.
One area where the Z2 is better than either my iPad or iPod Touch is Wi-Fi connectivity. I travel a lot and there are Wi-Fi spots to which my iOS kit either will not connect or gets an IP address such as 169.x.x.x which does not give internet access. No such problems with the Sony.
Integration with a Mac
This is not surprisingly the Z2’s Achilles’ heel. Apple’s control over both hardware and software makes their integration between devices and platforms comparatively seamless (although I personally have a bugbear with recent iTunes implementations which, for me, have lead to a less intuitive interface). Sony has made a creditable attempt at synchronisation between a Mac and the Z2 with its Sony Bridge for Mac software.
This enables you to drag any iTunes media to a connected Xperia device and it works well. The problem for me is my desire not to open the port covers any more than I need to, because disappointingly the Bridge for Mac software does not work over a wireless connection. My solution is to do one big initial migration of stuff using the Sony software via USB, and then make incremental changes by sending files over Bluetooth from the Mac to the Z2. Not ideal, but workable. Sony really need to get this Bridge working over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth sharpish.
I’m very pleased with the Xperia Z2 tablet. It is a high-quality and impressive piece of kit. Its low weight is remarkable and its protection from water and dust is unique, even if its usefulness might be a little debatable. Performance is good and the included range of software covers almost all requirements well.
My only complaints are about the robustness of the port covers and the inability of the Sony Bridge for Mac software to work wirelessly.
Would I buy it again? Definitely yes.