Sony is taking a brave step with the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact. With an 8in screen, its principal rivals are the Apple iPad mini 3 and the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 – yet at £329 it costs more than both. In fact, that price also makes it more expensive than the Nexus 9 and the 16GB iPad Air.
■ Specifications and design
At first glance, it’s difficult to see how the Z3 justifies its price, especially in terms of the bald specifications. On the display front, it comes with an 8in IPS display with a resolution of 1,200 x 1,920. Inside, it’s powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 SoC, with 3GB of RAM and an Adreno 330 GPU. None of this is groundbreaking stuff, and for £329 we’d also expect a little more than 16GB storage (although
there’s a microSD slot for expansion).
However, a closer look reveals a handful of things that elevate this tablet above the humdrum. It has the same water and dust resistance as the firm’s smartphones – its IP68 rating means it’s impervious to the ingress of dust and capable of being submerged in up to 1.5 metres of water. The cameras are also a cut above the tablet norm – at least when it comes to the numbers. You get an 8.1-megapixel camera on the rear and a 2.2-megapixel shooter up front, although there’s no LED flash to help out in low light. In terms of connectivity, there’s a full roster of top-end technology, too, with 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1 and NFC for quick pairing with wireless peripherals.
There’s also a 4G version (not yet officially available in the UK) that can be used to make phone calls, albeit only via a Bluetooth headset or in speakerphone mode. The Z3 also offers a unique feature for those who own a PlayStation 4 – it sports a special mode that allows users to pipe games from the console to the screen of the Z3. The design furnishes more points in the Z3’s favour. For starters, it’s the lightest, slimmest tablet of its size, outdoing both the iPad mini 3 and the Galaxy Tab S 8.4 in this regard. It’s 124mm wide, 213mm tall and only a fraction thicker than the iPad Air 2, at just 6.4mm.
It’s the merest slip of a thing, weighing little more than an ebook reader, at 266g. Despite this, there’s barely any flex or give to be found – which is no mean feat for such a dainty tablet. It’s an engineering achievement of which Sony should be proud – it’s only a shame that the design is so bland.
Cameras and software
When you move up the tablet price scale, one of the things you should expect is a better camera, and that would certainly seem to be the case from the specifications. Fire it up and you’re faced with
an impressive-looking selection of modes and options. It’s similar to Sony’s smartphones, with Intelligent Auto mode selected by default, and a host of fun features to tinker with. Alas, the Z3’s 8-megapixel rear
camera struggles to produce consistently good results.
The main problem here is lens flare, which means that most of our shots in less-than-favourable conditions came out lacking in contrast and looking washed out. We weren’t too keen on Sony’s processing of pictures, either, with heavy-handed compression artefacts smearing the finer details. Our test photos weren’t a complete disaster, but the Z3’s rear camera is best viewed as an emergency snapper – one that’s only worth using when your smartphone runs out of battery.
Although it has its weaknesses, the Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact is a fabulous piece of hardware. The battery life is incredible, the display is super-bright and performance is excellent. Couple these attributes
with a slim, lightweight, water- resistant chassis and you have a high-calibre compact tablet – one that holds an edge over all its rivals. The problem here is the price. It costs £329 for the 16GB Wi-Fi version,
which makes it more expensive than the Galaxy Tab S 8.4 – currently available from some online outlets for £280 – and more than the already overpriced iPad mini 3; even the larger Nexus 9 and the original iPad
Air are a smidgen cheaper. The Sony Xperia Z3 Compact Tablet is a fantastic device, but only if you don’t mind paying for it. While its rivals may not boast superior hardware, they certainly offer better value.