We have gotten our hands on Sony’s S1 and S2, a pair of Android devices that bring their own set of innovation and differentiation to an already busy market. The physical differences are quite obvious: the S1 has one side with a generous curve, while the S2 is a folding, dual-screen, device. It’s a rare, but not unique, breed in the Android world.
Sony knows that the good looks alone can only get one so far, that’s why the company is also counting on software improvements in the user interface, content store and drivers – along with the PlayStation Certification, which means that both devices will be able to run a number of PlayStation (PSOne) games ported to Android. Note that there is no PlayStation emulator as previously thought. Instead, games are ported to Android, and pass a “PlayStation Certification” to ensure a high level of quality.
We have to give it to Sony: both the S1 and S2 android devices have unique designs that aren’t just a “copy” of what already works out there. Sony is taking a risk, but if it wants to position those tablets as “premium” Android products, they must have something special.
Sony did not provide the technical specifications, but both devices feature displays that are very sharp and readable. However, the screens were a little bit shiny indoors, so I expect them to be quite a bit shiny outdoors too. This is something that we will look closely when they will become available.
Both tablets are powered by an NVIDIA Tegra 2 system on a chip (SoC) and Sony has promised to deliver a faster user experience, thanks to in-house software optimizations.
On the connectivity side, the HSPA+ network has been chosen as a wireless protocol. Both AT&T and T-Mobile USA use it, and both call it “4G”, although it should be “3.5G” in my opinion. Yet, as of today, this is probably a good compromise between network speed and battery life. Later this year, new 4G LTE devices will come out, with better battery life.
Sony S1 Preview
The Sony S1 tablet has a particular design: it has been created to feel like holding a folded magazine in one-hand. The idea is that the center of mass is closer to the hand holding it, so it makes it more comfortable. The first iPad was criticized (for good reason) for being heavy to use with one hand. The iPad 2 is a bit better, but still far from perfect in that aspect. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 is lighter and doesn’t really suffer from the “one-hand problem”.
On a table, Sony says that the gentle slope makes it much easier to type on, without having to use a case to raise the tablet at an angle.
With the additional thickness, Sony can add a USB port to the device, although the company won’t tell if it’s a full-size USB, or a mini/micro USB port. Don’t hold your hopes too high, but it seems big enough to accommodate a full-size port.
Additionally, the power and volume buttons are placed in such a way that accidental action is very unlikely. With other tablets, it’s not uncommon to accidentally shut it down by unintentionally pressing the power button on the top or side.
Finally, Sony has added a docking port that should connect very easily. It’s not anything like the 30-pin port introduced by Apple (and copied by many others) where you have to aim and carefully slide the tablet in. We will have to see how good it really is, but the idea is pretty neat.
The main question about this design is: will potential buyers mind about the additional thickness? Drop a comment to tell us what you think.
Sony S2 Preview
The “S2″ name comes from the dual-screen setup. Put together, the two displays form a surface is that approximately a 10″ square. Sony did not provide all the app development details, but Adobe hinted that it could be as easy as having apps using a virtual 10″ square surface. If that’s the case, it won’t be hard to port existing apps to this setup. However, it may prove more difficult to convince developers to build something truly tailored to it. We will have to wait and see, but the potential is there.
The Sony S2 can be used vertically, like a small book, or horizontally as a clamshell computer. When demonstrated, both modes were promising; but ultimately, their usability will depend on the apps. The eBook application looked very nice in portrait mode, and you can easily imagine that websites would look great when spanned across two screens.
I wonder what the battery capacity is on the Sony S2, because with the additional screen, the most power-hungry component of smart devices just got twice as big. The S2 seems certainly big enough to hold a substantial battery, but then, what will be the impact on the price? At least, it seemed fairly lightweight (for its size), but this is something that we will need to check again later.
Finally, Sony pitches the S2 as being portable or pocketable. It’s true, it technically fits in a pocket, but it is still big by smartphone standards. I may compare it with having the first PSP in my pocket. Yes, it fits, but it’s not small.
Software / Content
Sony does recognize that differentiation should also be found at the software and content level. They are right: merely changing the icons and Android look and feel does rarely add real value.
To that end, the company has engaged in a number of optimizations that make the user interface faster. There’s also a custom homepage in which the user can add shortcuts to many things like apps, media file, websites, etc… The overall goal is to make the user’s day-to-day tasks easier.
The PlayStation Certification is also important to Sony and in my opinion, it goes well beyond devices. At the moment, there are only about 40 PlayStation titles available, but more should come as the Electronics (Sony Electronics) and video-games (Sony Computer Entertainment) divisions of Sony work together on this platform. The goal is to leverage the immense pool of PSOne games to entertain Android users.
At the moment, I’m told that making a PSOne game work on the Android PS emulator still requires quite a bit of work. However, this should get better over time and a few years from now, the sales of PlayStation games may generate quite a bit of profit for everyone involved.
Content: Last, but certainly not least, Sony does have a lot of content, including books, music and videos. This is not new, but few people realize that today, it’s not easy to find great video content on Android tablets. Obviously, geeks can download and convert files (legally?), or head to YouTube, but I’m talking about newly released HD movies and TV Shows that should be a few taps away. Somewhere down the road, Google will do something about it, but right now, finding great videos is tedious at best. Sony can definitely do something about it.
I’m not sure if Sony will make its content available to every Android device out there. I could understand if it tried to leverage this to sell more of their own devices, but there is a huge need for an integrated store that has books, music and videos under the same roof, and this is an opportunity that someone else will take if Sony does not.
Sony has taken the time to come up with a plan before entering the Android market. It’s a plan that involves hardware, software and content, and so far, things seem to be moving along fairly well. Both the S1 and S2 devices have an innovative design and Sony seems to have its sights on the proper things to achieve.
We will have to wait and see how much the Android Market will change between now and the actual launch of the products. From a pure design perspective, both devices seem a little bigger than would they would ideally be and the competition with thinner devices may prove difficult to beat. Users can be forgiving for the Sony S1 because it will be transported in a bag, but the Sony S2 will have more convincing to do, I think.
Also, by September, we will have quad-core tablets, powered by NVIDIA’s next-generation of Tegra SoCs, so the competition from a performance point of view will be stiff as well.
Overall, I think that Sony’s aim is right: it needs a synergy between power, design, usability and content. In the long run, this is the best differentiation that can be established in the Android tablet market, and Sony knows that very few companies have the potential to pull it off. Can Sony do it? We’ll see. What do you think? Add a comment to voice your opinion.
PS: AT&T is the exclusive launch partner for the Sony S1 and Sony S2 in the United States.