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Review: Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact - ready for business?

Read time 9min 50sec

Unlike Apple and Samsung, Sony took a bit longer to find its comfort zone within the tablet market. The Japanese electronics manufacturer initially introduced a few daringly designed tablets in 2012, like the 9.4-inch Xperia Tablet S. Two years later, they came around and launched the more conservative-looking 10.1-inch Xperia Z2 Tablet.

The only thing missing from Sony's tablet assortment was a small and compact version. So last September, the company announced its first 8-inch Xperia tablet. It features hardware almost identical to that of the Sony Xperia Z3 smartphone and is also water- and dust-proof. We wanted to know how Sony's first 8-inch tablet stacked up to similar devices from competitive brands and how suitable it is for business.

To find that out, we intensively worked with the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact for a full week and performed typical office tasks on it. We used it for editing and reading documents, e-mailing, video conferencing and browsing the Internet. Naturally, we examined the quality of the hardware and thoroughly tested the processor, screen and battery. The Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact is available in 16GB or 32GB storage capacity. For this review, we used the 16GB model.

Lightweight and waterproof

The tablet weighs just 270g, making it the lightest device in the 8-inch range. To put things into perspective, the recently launched 7.9-inch iPad Mini 3 weighs 331g. That doesn't seem like a big difference, but every gram counts when continually carrying the device to meetings or on business trips. The Z3 Tablet Compact (6.4mm) is also a lot thinner than the iPad Mini 3 (7.5mm). In our opinion, these excellent properties absolutely justify Sony adding the term "Compact" to the product name.

Despite the slim design, and use of a plastic back cover, the device still feels very solid and durable. Another upside of the plastic rear is its resistance to scratches and greasy fingerprints. As a result of the 16:10 widescreen format, the Z3 Tablet Compact can quite easily be held between the fingertips, with just one hand. The 16:10 screen aspect ratio of the device also makes it ideal for watching movies, as it won't display those irritating black bars at the top and bottom.

What really makes the Z3 Tablet Compact stand out from the competition is the fact that it is waterproof and dust resistant. Sony claims the tablet will survive a 30-minute dive at a depth of 1.5 metres. We couldn't think of any real direct benefit for business users, unless they plan to do their work in a swimming pool or bathtub. Nonetheless, it's a nice feature to have.

Unfortunately, there is also a catch. The USB-port and micro-SD port must manually be firmly closed or the device will be damaged beyond repair when it comes in contact with water. We would have liked to see Sony incorporate an even more foolproof technique, like nanocoating both ports, or the complete device for that matter.

Obviously, we were eager to try this waterproof claim ourselves and made sure the ports had been properly sealed. We then put the Z3 Tablet Compact at the bottom of a 1.4-metre deep swimming pool for exactly 30 minutes. Because the Z3 Tablet Compact we used for this review was a press test-sample, which had to be returned (in fully functional order) to Sony Mobile, we couldn't seek its actual waterproof limits. Nonetheless, the Z3 Tablet Compact survived our waterproof test.

Not the fastest horse in the race

The Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact runs on Android 4.4.4 (KitKat) and uses a 2.5GHz Snapdragon 801 quad-core chip and 3GB of RAM. To keep costs low Sony chose to equip the basic version of this Z3 tablet with only 16GB of storage. Luckily, you can easily expand the capacity with an optional micro-SD card.

Despite the smartphone hardware, we found the Z3 Tablet Compact to be strikingly fast and fluid with all sorts of business and productivity related apps like word processors and spreadsheets. Unlike the Google Nexus 9, with its vastly superior 64-bit Nvidia Tegra K1-chip, the Z3 Tablet Compact never once slowed down or showed the occasional stuttering when switching between apps or starting up a new one.

So, how does the Z3 Tablet Compact perform in our benchmark set?

We began with Geekbench, a tool that simulates real-world business and consumer scenarios to determine and quantify the actual (multi-core) processing power. It showed us the Z3 Tablet Compact performs 11% better than the similar-sized Apple iPad Mini 3, and 4% better than the 8.4-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro. The Google Nexus 9 tablet, on the other hand, easily outperformed the Z3 Tablet Compact by 18%.

We then loaded up the Peacekeeper tool that also factors in the efficiency of the operating system and browser. Unfortunately, the Z3 Tablet Compact didn't do very well on this particular test run and finished last. The Nexus 9 was three times faster, and the second- and third-generation iPad Mini's performed twice as fast. Samsung's Galaxy Tab S 8.4 and Tab Pro 8.4 performed only marginally better than the Z3 Tablet Compact.

Next up was the Kraken benchmark, which also takes the internal hardware, operating system and browser into account. It showed us roughly the same performance on the part of the Z3 Tablet Compact. The Nexus 9, because of its powerful Nvidia processor, obliterated all similar-sized competitors, while Sony's Z3 tablet finished second-last. The Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4 finished last.

In the 3D-graphics department, the Z3 Tablet Compact performs a lot better. According to the GFXBench software we used to map its graphical power, the Google Nexus 9 is again the fastest compact tablet, but the Z3 Tablet Compact comes in at second place and outperforms the Apple iPad Mini 2, 3 and the 8.4-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab devices.

Bright and blue

The Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact features an 8-inch screen with a resolution of 1 920 x 1 200 at 283 pixels per inch. Admittedly, there are similar tablets that offer even higher resolutions, like the Google Nexus 9 and the iPad Mini. With the naked eye, however, it's nearly impossible to see any difference in pixels and density.

By using specialised equipment, we were able to very precisely measure three important screen properties: brightness, contrast and colour reproduction. A higher brightness level means the content displayed on the screen can even be seen in light-intensive environments, like on a very sunny day or in a bright office.

According to our measurements, the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact blows away all the competition. It is easily the tablet with the highest maximum brightness we have come across. The closest competitor is the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4, but that device only reaches 65% of the Z3's brightness levels. It should be noted that higher brightness also excessively reduces the battery life. In the contrast department, the Z3 Tablet Compact showed better values than the iPad Mini and 8.4 Galaxy Tab's. The Nexus 9, however, was responsible for the best contrast scores of all the tablets in the 8-inch range.

The measured colour reproduction of the Z3 Tablet Compact is not completely accurate and leaves room for improvement. It shows a slight bluish discolouring where it should be completely white. We were able to minimise this effect by manually configuring the screen colours though. This did, unfortunately, have a negative impact on the otherwise excellent brightness and contrast levels. Ultimately, business users will have to choose between a colour representation that is not entirely accurate, or slightly diminished brightness and contrast.

Impressive battery life

Battery life is a key consideration for business users. Longer battery life means less dependency on a power source or charger. The battery inside the Z3 Tablet Compact has a capacity of 4 500mAh. Compared to the ones we found in the Google Nexus 9 (6700mAh) and the iPad Mini 3 (6 470mAh) we initially feared the worst.

To quantify our suspicions, we ran the Z3 Tablet Compact through our battery benchmark test script. Our test showed the Z3 Tablet Compact survived for an impressive and totally unexpected 9.5 hours, making it the longest lasting device in the 8-inch range. The iPad Mini (9 hours), Nexus 9 (6 hours, 45 minutes) and the 8.4-inch Galaxy Tabs (6 hours, 40 minutes) all gave up sooner. In real-life, when the Z3 Tablet Compact is not continually in use, it should have no trouble lasting 12 to 13 hours.

Because Sony also markets the Z3 Tablet Compact as an ideal device for watching movies, we tested how long it would last while enjoying the latest Hollywood high-definition blockbusters. Again, the battery life really stunned us. According to our movie test script, the device held on for almost 14 hours. Again, it leaves all other 8-inch tablets far behind. The closest competitors are the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 (12 hours, 30 minutes), Google Nexus 9 (10 hours, 35 minutes) and the Apple iPad Mini 3 (10 hours, 30 minutes).

Speakers and camera

Just like the recently reviewed Google Nexus 9 tablet, Sony also chose to implement front-facing speakers in the Z3 Tablet Compact, resulting in enhanced sound clarity and an improved stereo effect. We hope to see more brands incorporate this new trend in future tablets. In general, the sound quality and maximum volume the speakers on the Z3 Tablet Compact are able to produce, are quite good. As with all tablets, the low frequency (bass) leaves much to be desired.

In summary

Pros: Thin, lightweight, feels solid, great battery life, expandable storage
Cons: Waterproof comes with catch, screen looks bluish, camera quality in low-light situations, cheapest version has only 16GB storage capacity
Dimensions: 213 x 124 x 6.4 mm
Weight: 270g
Storage: 16GB/32GB (expandable with max 128MB micro-SD card)
Screen: 8-inch (1 920 x 1 200, 283 pixels per inch)
Connectivity: USB, WiFi, Bluetooth, NFC, 3G/4G (LTE)
Camera: 8.1MP rear with auto-focus, 2.2MP front
Processor: 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 (quad-core)
Rating: 7.5/10
Price: R9 500 (16GB)
Availability: 7 December from Vodacom outlets
Product page: www.sonymobile.com/za/products/tablets/xperia-z3-tablet-compact/

The 8.1MP rear camera pales compared to the 20.7MP camera on the Sony Xperia Z3 smartphone. Still, it can take some pretty decent pictures and 1 080p HD videos. As long as there is enough light, the quality is more than sufficient for the occasional corporate meeting, business trip or birthday party at the office. The 2.2MP camera on the front is good enough for a proper Skype call with colleagues or business contacts, as long as the room is supplied with ample light.

Verdict

The new Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact is a surprisingly thin, lightweight and durable 8-inch device offering amazing battery life and expandable storage capacity. This makes it especially qualified for business users who travel frequently.

Despite the inaccurate colour reproduction, the screen is pretty good and more than capable for day-to-day office tasks. The Z3 Tablet Compact may not be equipped with the latest and greatest processing hardware; but it still manages to deliver a remarkably smooth and fluid user experience that undoubtedly has a positive impact on business productivity.

The fact that it is waterproof doesn't offer direct advantages for business users, besides that it will survive the incidental spilling of coffee, assuming all ports are firmly sealed beforehand.

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