Photo by markomniSony have recently revealed the first details of their upcoming S1 tablet computer, a large screen device aimed at the high end of the market for media, web browsing and gaming, which puts it in competition with Apple’s iPad 2 and the Galaxy Tab 10.1 from Samsung. The final release name of the tablet hasn’t been revealed yet; the S1 is a placeholder until then with release expected later in the year, autumn at the earliest and more likely toward the end of the year.
Though few details have so far been released about the hardware of the Sony S1 tablet computer it is known it will have a 9.4 inch display, putting it at the top end of tablets and placing it directly in competition with Apple’s iPad 2 and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. Both competitor devices have slightly larger screens at 9.7 and 10.1 inches respectively demonstrating that manufacturers are still experimenting with the optimal size for a large tablet screen. Internally it’s thought the S1 tablet computer will be running on a dual core 1 GHz Tegra 2 processor from nVidia. At the moment this would be a competitive processor but with the late release date it is likely to be dated as the following generation of tablets sporting up to four cores running at speeds of around 2.5 GHz is likely to have been released by then.
The ergonomics of the design are very unusual and stand out against the competition. Rather than the flat profile and even weight distribution of competing tablets such as the iPad 2 the S1 tablet computer has a thicker, rounded body at the top which tapers to an extremely thin base. This is intended to give a good feeling when held in the hand and improve grip.
Other hardware such as the onboard memory has yet to be confirmed with it likely to have either 512 megabytes or 1 gigabyte of memory. It will have full wireless connectivity with both Wireless-N and 3G support and possibly one or a number of the competing 4G technologies, making it either comparable or slightly superior to the iPad 2. An unusual feature of the tablet is an infrared signalling ability allowing it to control household devices that have infrared reception though support will initially only exist for Sony Bravia products.
The killer feature of the Sony S1 tablet computer is its access to the Playstation library of games. Much like the recently released Xperia Play the S1 will have access to the growing library of Playstation games that are being ported to run on the ARM processor architecture that powers the S1 tablet. This is one area where the S1 will be far and away ahead of the iPad 2 which, while it has a wide selection of games available on the Apple App store few of them compare graphically or for fun value with the large number of games the S1 will have. It will be interesting to see how the tablet is used to create a gaming interface, the Xperia combined a touch screen with physical controls such as a directional pad and buttons to make it a high quality gaming machine, the S1 will not have any physical interface beyond the touch screen.
The S1 will probably come with a version of Android Honeycomb which it is said Sony are heavily modifying and integrating with their own media and entertainment services. It is possible that the S1 will be running a version of the coming release of Android, Ice-cream Sandwich which will combine the phone and tablet versions of the operating system into a single version. Honeycomb still has some catching up to do to compete with the user experience and quality of the iPad 2’s iOS though it will have the advantage of full Flash support which Apple are still refusing to add to their operating system.
Android for tablets has only been around for a few months now and this youthfulness is very apparent in the app market where the Sony S1 tablet will lag far behind the iPad 2 with a few thousand tablet specific applications available compared with tens of thousands for the iPad 2. This has been improving rapidly and there are also many apps that are not tablet specific but can take advantage of the superior screens and interface options of tablets compared to normal smart phones. By the time the S1 is released the tablet apps picture is likely to have greatly improved as the sales of Android tablets have been strong so far and will be attracting the interest of app makers.
The S1 seems like it will reach the market too late for the specifications it will offer as it will be an iPad 2 generation device around six months after the release of the iPad 2. It is hard to see Sony being able to compete effectively with the iPad 2 price so the Playstation library seems to be its only real standout feature. This mirrors Samsung’s first generation tablet computer that came too late and needed to be replaced very quickly with a new generation; alas Sony have been too slow to react to the tablet market.