Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact Review: Waif-Like and Ready for an Underwater Catwalk

By Gerald Lynch on at

In my time as a gadget reviewer, I’ve tested no end of chunky notebooks that’d put your back out if you didn’t “lift with your knees” when picking them up. The fact that we can now get touchscreen tablets lighter than a paperback novel that are several times as powerful as laptops just a few years old is remarkable. Chief among these is the fantastic Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact. Supermodel-slim, sigh swooningly near this thing and you might just blow it away.

What Is It?

An 8-inch, waterproof Android tablet so slim and light you may not be able to believe it could even turn on and work, let alone be as snappy as it is.

Who's It For?

Android fans that need a screen a few inches bigger than their phablets, without adding too much extra weight in the process. Anyone who'd like to listen to Alan's Deep Bath on a tablet while taking a soak. It’s not for those that like a clutter-free, stock Android experience right out of the box, though.

Design

Back when it was first revealed at IFA 2014 in September, Sony was keen to stress that there’d be synergy across all of its Xperia Z3 devices in terms of design, whether you were picking up this tablet or either of its Xperia Z3 smartphones. If you’re familiar with the Xperia Z3 or Z3 Compact phones then, you’ll feel right at home here, with the tablet using a similarly minimal design language and almost identical software tweaks to the core Android experience as found on the smartphones.

Coming in either black or white shades, at 6.4mm it’s almost impossibly thin for a tablet and, at just 270g, light enough to hold for extended periods without a care. If you had the hand-eye coordination to do so, you could comfortably balance this on your little finger -- seriously.

Despite this waif-like figure, it feels solidly built, too -- there’s no creakiness to the plastic-backed, metal-framed chassis, and IP65/68 water and dustproofing means it can withstand some pretty harsh ambient conditions too. I still wouldn’t want to sit on it -- it’s thin enough that excessive weight may well snap it -- but I don’t feel like I have to treat it like a newborn, silicon-filled baby either. With a lightly textured finish on the back, it’s easy to grip too, while its rounded corners are more ergonomic than its sharp-edged Xperia tablet predecessors.

Even as thin as it is, Sony finds room for plenty of ports around the edges. There are slots for micro USB chargers, SIM and microSD cards (all covered by pull out flaps -- a fiddly necessity of the waterproofing), a connection for a proprietary standing Sony dock, a 3.5mm headphone jack (near the top on the right hand side), as well as a small circular power button and thin volume button strip midway down the right edge too. On the rear is a small flush 8MP camera sensor, while the tablet also supports NFC connections, should you wish to wirelessly pair devices or whack it out to pay for a coffee.

If there’s one part of the design that lets it down, it's the thick strip of unusable bezel at the bottom of the screen when held in portrait. While there’s always the argument for needing somewhere to hold the tablet that isn’t part of the touchscreen, this bottom area feels a little too thick, and will prevent the tablet from slipping more comfortably into an inside jacket pocket.

Using It

The Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact’s 16:10, 8-inch display is lovely. Eye-searingly bright and with rich colours, it remains very readable even in direct sunlight. Running at a 1920 x 1200 resolution, it’s not as sharp as some Android tablets out there, but in use you’re really not going to notice it unless you’re holding it up against your nose. I’d rather a slightly lower resolution tablet than a 4K one, if that affords it better performance and battery life.

Running Android 4.4.4, it’s got the latest version of Android (brand spanking new Android Lollipop 5.0 excepted) running on it. It comes with an obnoxious amount of pre-installed software (which I’ll get to in a bit), and a few Sony-specific tweaks, like a menu to reorganise your collection in the app tray.

Other than that, it’s Android as you know and love it: you’ve five homescreen to customise to your liking, and a pull down notifications bar that also lets you access quick settings such as Wi-Fi and brightness, as well as the ability to set up the tablet speedily as a Wi-Fi hotspot or throw content to a compatible Sony TV.

The 2.5GHz quad-core processor really sings and, with 3GB of RAM backing it up, can breeze through anything you’d care to throw at it, including the more advanced 3D gaming applications out there like GTA: San Andreas. Despite what must be a cramped chassis, I rarely noticed the tablet become uncomfortably hot, which suggests the Qualcomm-built processor must be phenomenally efficient.

As for battery life, the 4,500mAh one here performs admirably. I managed to watch around 12 hours of streamed video back-to-back off a single charge, so you should be able to get well over a day (maybe two) out of the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact unless you’re a battery-battering gadget sadist.

Like

Everything about the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact feels premium -- the way it sits in your hand, the speed with which it tears through apps, its featherlight weight. It’s undeniably lovely.

I found it unexpectedly satisfying to be able to expose the tablet to water, too, running it under a tap and dunking it in a bucket without any concerns. In more practical circumstances, being able to read an ebook in the bath, or taking it out on a rainy night whilst waiting for a bus, all without worrying about damp getting in the seams, is reassuring and genuinely useful. Were I a zillionaire with an underground swimming pool, having this blasting out tunes from the water’s edge to a Bluetooth speaker would feel fittingly posh. Every tablet should be waterproofed like this.

Array

No Like

There is so much pre-loaded junk on here. Sony this, Sony that -- a Sony app or widget alternative to many of your go-to apps that would inevitably do the job better. There are two (two!) pre-installed Sony apps (What’s New and Sony Select) just for recommending new apps, songs and movies for you to buy! The app links just redirect you to the Play Store anyway, so it’s doubly frustrating.

Also, though it’s a premium-feeling tablet, £330 for the Wi-Fi-only model still feels very expensive for a 16GB slate -- even an iPad Mini 3 with the same storage costs just £319. The Tesco Hudl 2, for instance, may be heavier, lacking waterproofing and less stylishly built, but is £200 cheaper and offers very similar functionality. It’s easy to see how such a well-engineered device could be so pricey, but you may find it difficult to justify the purchase when there are so many solid, cheaper alternatives out there.

Test Notes

-- With a SIM card plugged into the 4G version, you can use the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact as a phone. You don’t want to be doing that (you’ll look like a moron unless you’re 15 feet tall), but the option is there if you need it, dialler and all.

-- Just as with the Xperia Z3 smartphones, the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact can be used to stream PS4 games through the PS4 Remote Play app. Using the console’s Remote Play feature, you’ll need a DualShock 4 controller paired with the tablet, and a solid internet connection to avoid lag in order to get the most out of it. Certain games work better than others -- FIFA’s need for split-second reactions makes it a bit of a troublesome play, but turn based or slower-paced games work a charm. PS4 gaming on the toilet -- it’s hard to knock that.

-- Hitting the multitasking button not only shows you your open apps, but also throws up a few “mini apps”, so to speak, that can sit on top of and be dragged around over any other open application. The four mini apps are a calculator, a screen grab tool, a timer and a web browser. Their usefulness will be dependant on how you use the tablet (there are standalone versions of all these tools, of course, and the browser won't play back YouTube videos natively), but they do go to show just how powerful the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact is.

-- Though you should never, ever take pictures with a tablet, if you insist on doing so, Sony’s thrown some interesting features into its camera app. There are augmented reality additions you can slot into your pictures, the ability to take “Sound Photos” with wildlife tracks playing in the background to send to mates, a Timeshift burst option to find the best shot from before and after you hit the shutter button and the ability to livestream video direct to YouTube, amongst other features. There's no LED flash, and it's not a patch on the Xperia Z3's 20.1MP snapper, but a tablet cameras it's alright.

-- The tablet’s speakers are loud but, as you’d expect from a device this thin, it’s a rather tinny sound produced. Pair it up with a Bluetooth speaker or decent pair of headphones if you’re watching a film or listening to music.

Should You Buy It?

As far as 8-inch tablets go, the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact is up there with the best of them -- once you’ve disposed of the crap that Sony’s pumped this svelte slate full with, anyway. One of the lightest tablets out there, it’s perfect for taking to bed, and its beautifully minimal build is matched by the joy of being able to get in the bath with it, care free. It doesn’t come cheap, but luxury rarely does.

Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact Specs

• Operating System: Android KitKat 4.4.4
• Screen: 8 inches, 1920 x 1200
• Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon (MSM8974PRO-AC) 2.5GHz Quad Core processor
• Memory: 3GB RAM
• Storage: 16GB with microSD expansion supported
• Camera: 8.1 MP rear, 2.2 MP front
• Dimensions: 213 x 124 x 6.4mm
• Weight: 270g
• Battery Life: 4500 mAh
• Connectivity: Wi-Fi, 4G (optional) NFC, a GPS,
• Price: £329 for Wi-Fi only, £429 for Wi-Fi and 4G