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Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact review: Sony’s best tablet ever

Feature-packed and stylishly slender, Sony’s new tablet is a Nexus 9 killer.

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If you want to buy a premium, small Android tablet, what do you choose? The Nexus 7 (2013) is nice, but not really premium in price or design. The Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 with its gorgeous AMOLED screen? Again, a good device, but it doesn’t feel really high quality. In issue 45 we reviewed the slightly larger Nexus 9, giving it a maximum score of 5/5. But the game has just been changed. Enter the Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact.

From the minute you unbox the tablet and hold it in your hand, you know that it’s something special. Quite often when we review devices, we talk about the feeling of quality that comes with weight and density. The Nexus 9 is a prime example of this approach: it feels solid and therefore it feels well made. The Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact comes at it from a completely different angle – it’s incredibly light, unbelievably thin and exceptionally finished. Not everybody is a fan of the ‘OmniBalance’ design theme that Sony has been perfecting since the original Z phone, but there’s no denying that the
Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact offers one of the best implementations of it to date.

Turned on with the now traditional power button on the right of the device in the style of a watch crown (or by double-tapping on the screen when configured), the tablet immediately demonstrates another of its most impressive features – the 8-inch, 1920 x 1200 Triluminos display sitting between front-facing stereo speakers. It has taken a while for Sony to really deliver on its potential when it comes to displays (the original Z and Z1 were particular lowlights), but it finally seems to have got it right. The screen is clear, sharp and, like the Xperia Z3 itself, incredibly bright.

The tablet runs Android 4.4 KitKat out of the box with a Lollipop update promised at the start of 2015. Sony’s customisations of Android are subtle and largely complementary, with the only minor frustration being Sony’s custom lockscreen and the fact that it prevents the use of live wallpapers.

The Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact is equipped with a 2.5GHz Snapdragon 801 processor, speedy Adreno 330 GPU and 3GB RAM – it wants for nothing in the power department. As you’d expect, the device is incredibly fast and smooth. As an 8-inch device it is at the upper limits of what is acceptable when it comes to apps that are effectively enlarged phone versions. However, in use, the experience is far superior to that on its 10-inch Z2 Tablet sibling.

The Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact is only 6.4mm thick and it’s easy to assume that such slim dimensions would lead to compromises. In reality, it’s hard to see where that’s the case. The battery is still a generous 4500mAh in size (and courtesy of Qualcomm Quickcharge 2.0 it juices up very quickly) and the device is still waterproof, something of a Z range trademark nowadays. 6.4mm doesn’t leave a lot of room for high-quality cameras (particularly as there is no camera bump) and the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact’s 8-megapixel rear camera is only adequate, as well as lacking a flash. The 2.2-megapixel front-facing camera isn’t bad – it’s certainly good enough for the occasional selfie and for video calls. Is camera quality of paramount importance on a tablet like this? Probably not.

An LTE version of the Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact is available and it has a particularly intriguing feature. Most cellular-enabled tablets offer a data connection only, with SMS also sometimes available. The Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact also has the Phone app installed, so you can use it to make voice calls! You can’t hold it to your head (and you’d look silly anyway), but you can use it as speakerphone or with a Bluetooth headset.

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For reviews of the latest Android tablets, make sure to pick up issue 45 of Android Magazine.

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