Hands on with Sony's S1, S2 tablet PCs

The tablets are light and easy to hold

Sony will take its first step into the tablet market later this year when it launches two devices. Prototypes of the two tablets were previewed at a Tokyo news conference on Tuesday, but what are they like to use? On Tuesday evening I had a brief chance to try them out.

The two tablets are very different devices. The larger of the two, code-named S1, has a 9.4-inch screen that takes up most of the front. The second tablet, code-named S2, has a clamshell design with twin 5.5-inch screens and can be folded so it fits in a jacket pocket or bag. Some might argue this design doesn't technically make it a tablet, but it runs the same Android 3.0 OS and has much in common with the S1.

My first surprise came when I picked up the S1. It's pretty light -- Sony hasn't detailed the weight or other specifications -- and while it was difficult to guess how much it weighs, it was lighter than I would have expected for a device of this size.

The case is designed in a wedge shape. Sony said inspiration for this came from the way you might hold a magazine with a single hand. Typically, you'd fold half the magazine around on itself to make it easier to hold, resulting in one side being thicker than the other.

When using the tablet in portrait mode, you hold it by gripping the thicker of the two sides with your hand. It felt quite natural.

In landscape mode, Sony has indentations along each side that provide a resting place to the thumbs. It's pretty easy to hold and the weight wasn't a problem -- at least for the five minutes I used it.

The screen was bright and crisp and the touch panel was quite responsive, but on a few occasions icons didn't launch when clicked or things had to be swiped twice. It needs a little bit more work, but Sony has several months to improve the prototype before it becomes a commercial product.

In the world of tablets, the S2 is a much more unique device.

Each half of the case has a curved back so when it's closed it has a side profile that looks like an oval. It reminded me a lot of the oval ends of the original PlayStation 3, but Sony said that was just a coincidence.

With its 5.5-inch displays, Sony is hoping that developers come up with innovative applications that make use of the dual screens. Some of the company's own applications do. The mail app, for example, shows the message text on the top screen and the mail list on the bottom screen.

It too was reasonably light, although I wasn't as surprised at the weight. That's probably because it's small and isn't expected to be heavy.

I also got a chance to try out a game. Both tablets are PlayStation Certified, which means they will run an upcoming series of Android games from Sony and other game studios. The familiar PlayStation control buttons appear on screen and are used through the touch panel.

With no tactile feedback, it felt a little strange. But then again, this isn't meant to offer a hardcore gaming experience, Sony has the PlayStation Portable and upcoming "NGP" next-generation portable platforms for that. The game, a version of Sony's Crash Bandicoot, worked well enough and provided some brief entertainment -- until Crash fell down a hole and it was game over.

In the tablet market, Sony's game is only just beginning. The two tablets should debut in markets around the world from later this year.

Martyn Williams covers Japan and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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Martyn Williams

IDG News Service
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