The iPad no longer has the tablet market to itself. As 7in Androids such as the Nexus 7 and Tesco Hudl offer cheaper but acceptable alternatives to the iPad mini, market share declines even as tablet sales go up. But the iPad Air remains the king of the 10in tablet in the premium space... until now. Sony's Xperia Z2 Tablet changes things.
This is a premium tablet priced to match the iPad Air. And it doesn't look out of place in such rarified company. the Xperia Z2 Tablet is thinner and lighter than the iPad Air, appears to be a better performer, and is waterproof and dustproof. So should you choose the Xperia Z2 Tablet over the iPad Air? Read our iPad Air vs Xperia Z2 Tablet comparison to find out.
iPad Air vs Xperia Z2 Tablet comparison: UK price
The Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet and the iPad Air both retail with a starting price of £399 for the 16GB WiFi-only model. In the case of the Xperia Z2 Tablet this scales up to £449 for the 32GB WiFi only model, and £499 for the 16GB LTE model. There's no 32GB tablet with cellular connectivity, or anything with bigger storage.
The 32GB Wi-Fi iPad Air costs £30 more at £479. The 16GB LTE Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet costs the same as Apple's equivalent iPad. Apple does offer a 32GB cellular model, at £579. Other options include 64GB and 128GB Wi-Fi only- and cellular iPad Airs. These range from £559 for the 64GB Wi-Fi iPad, up to £739 for a 128GB Wi-Fi and cellular iPad Air.
So there is more variety in the iPad Air range, but if you want a 32GB Wi-Fi-only tablet the Xperia Z2 Tablet is cheaper. One other thing to consider: a quick online search suggests that if you shop around you can get the Xperia Z2 Tablet cheaper than you can the iPad Air. But it's marginal. Price is not a key differential when considering whether to buy the iPad air or Xperia Z2 Tablet. (See also: best Android tablets of 2014.)
iPad Air vs Xperia Z2 Tablet comparison: build quality, design
Let's look at the Sony, first. Straight out of the box we are smitten by the Xperia Z2 Tablet. It is the thinnest and lightest 10in tablet you can buy - noticably thinner and lighter than the iPad Air, which is itself famously easy to hold and carry. The Wi-Fi Xperia Z2 Tablet weighs just 426g - or 439g if you opt for the LTE version.
It's exceptionally thin, too, at just 6.4mm. Again, that's thinner than the iPad Air (and any other 7in or 10in tablet you can name).
And it matters, not just for reasons of tablet oneupmanship. Holding the Xperia Z2 Tablet feels great, despite the large, 10.1in display, and for lengthy periods of time in standing, sitting and lying positions. Previously we have preferred 7in tablets such as the Nexus 7 or iPad mini, simply because the bigger tablets feel to bulky to hold when watching movies or reading books. But you could spend hours using the Xperia Z2 Tablet without wrist-strain, even when reading in bed. That's a big win.
It doesn't, of course, solve the problem of having to carry your 10in tab in a bag where a Kindle-sized 7-incher can slip into a coat pocket - but the trade off of larger screen to weight and bulk feels like a deal worth making with the Xperia Z2.
And you can just sling this tablet into a bag, too. The Xperia Z2 Tablet is waterproof and dust resistant. It's built to last and feels so, constructed principally of metal and glass, but with a rubbery outer coat around the back and on the corners. That rear cover provides grip but does get grubby with fingerprints, though.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and your views may differ, but we think the Xperia 2 Tablet is a good-looking device, too. It's a simple, stylish device. A slice of black or white tech sharing the same rounded corners and metal frame as the Sony Xperia Z2 smartphone but - to our eyes at least - looking somewhat smarter for larger scale. Our complaint is functional rather than stylistic, in that the bezel is a little larger than we would like. We presume that this is a trade-off in return for the incredible thinness (not a phrase ever used about your author). (See also: 10 best tablets for children.)
It's available in black or white. We tested - and prefer - the black Xperia Tablet Z2.
The iPad Air seems much smaller than previous full-sized iPads, despite having a similar-sized screen. The iPad Air styling follows exactly the original iPad mini, with the same thinned bezel side edges with broader borders top and bottom.
The iPad Air is primarily a portrait-mode tablet in 3:4 aspect ratio, yet one that works well on its side in landscape. Contrast this with successive Google Android tablets that take a 16:9 widescreen, a shape that's better for video but when used for reading webpages or ebooks in portrait you get an overly tall narrow window.
When we first tried the new iPad Air we though it quite widescreen in appearance, not unlike a 16:9 device. The proportions didn't look right any more – by slimming the edges but not the sides, the tablet looked too tall, not so aesthetically 'right'.
Foremost, the iPad Air is about lightness. We tried a 128GB iPad with 4G modem and on the scales this – the heaviest possible version of the iPad Air – does weigh just 478g, and is only 7.5mm thick. If you've used any previous full-size iPad, you'll notice immediately the transformation from that circa-650g weight. But pick up the Xperia Z2 Tablet and you'll notice further lightness.
In general handling, the iPad Air is very light none the less. Yet we found the shape and feel much less tactile than the shape of the iPad 2, 3 and 4, with their gently curved radiuses at the rear and smooth snag-free edges around the front. The iPad Air has harder, less well finished edges which may add more purchase to the fingers but make it less satisfying to handle.
You will decide which you prefer to look at based on subjective critera. But we prefer the Sony based on comfort when holding it, and it is dust- and waterproof.
iPad Air vs Xperia Z2 Tablet comparison: display
The design of both of these tablets is of course built around a 10in display. It's the bit you'll be looking at, so let's take a closer look right now.
The Xperia Z2 Tablet in fact sports a full HD 10.1in display. This packs a whopping 1920x1200-pixel resolution, giving it a pixel density of 224ppi. That's up there with some pretty decent smartphones, but not quite as sharp as the market-leading iPad Air. It's an IPS display and the aspect ratio is 16:10, so viewing angles are good but there is a little screen space under utilised when watching movies.
Sony tells us that the Xperia Z2's display has been given a colour boost thanks to TRILUMINOS and Live Colour LED – designed to increase the colour accuracy, depth and gradation. Which is nice.
Of course, all that is so much window dressing. What matters is that we found the Xperia Z2 Tablet's display to be simply stunning. It displays crisp, vivid colours. Watching TV and movies is great. Photos are faithfully reproduced with great clarity but not too much colour as you sometimes find with OLED displays on smartphones. And text documents are sharp, even when you zoom in.
The Xperia Z2 Tablet's touchscreen responsive in use, bar the almost imperceptible lag that is found on all Android devices when compared directly with their iOS equivalents. And from our initial roughhouse tests at least it seems reasonably immune to scratching. Our only complaint was that the display was all but impossible to see in natural daylight.
The iPad Air is primarily a portrait-mode tablet in 3:4 aspect ratio, yet one that works well on its side in landscape. When we first tried the new iPad Air we thought it quite widescreen in appearance, not unlike a 16:9 device. The proportions didn't look right any more – by slimming the edges but not the sides, the tablet looked too tall, not so aesthetically 'right'.
The iPad Air screen is in essence unchanged since the first iPad with Retina display – a 9.7in capacitive touchscreen using IPS technology which delivers rich, faithful colours and clear viewing from any angle.
Strictly speaking it is a 9.7-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit MultiTouch display. And that IPS display is blessed with fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating.
That 2048x1536 resolution makes for a pixel density of 264 pixels per inch (ppi). You may find the odd tablet that is sharper, and certainly a few smartphones, but when you look at the iPad Air's display you see only a vibrant and sharp display. And it is sharper than the Xperia Z2 Tablet's screen, although both displays show even detailed text in fine detail.
We're going to call this a draw. The iPad is sharper but smaller, and we prefer the aspect ratio of the Sony tablet. But both are great displays.