Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact – the portable, lifeproof compact tablet

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At just 6.4mm thick and weighing 270 grammes, Sony claims that its Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact is the world’s slimmest and lightest. There are plenty of features though and it comes equipped with a Qualcomm quad-core 2.5GHz processor, 3GB of RAM, Adreno 330 graphics and 16GB of storage expandable via a microSD card up to 128GB.

It has an 8-inch 1920 x 1200 screen using tempered glass with an anti-fingerprint coating. Added to all that is PS4 Remote Play allowing you to run PlayStation 4 games and the fact that it’s dust and water proof.

Many of these features are shared with the Xperia Z3 smartphone but the Z3 Tablet Compact has a larger-capacity 4,500mAh battery and a lower spec main camera, 8.1Mp (full-HD video) at the back and 2.1Mp at the front. It does come with Sony’s camera features like Movie Creator, Sound Photo and AR Fun though.

It’s the spec that concerns PC Advisor which notes,

“It’s great to see Sony finally make a smaller tablet and the 8in form factor is proving to be increasingly popular. The Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact is super thin and light and is waterproof to boot. Hardware is decent but not mind-blowing so rivals like the Galaxy Tab S offer more gadgetry. Software is easy going with one key new feature in the form of PS4 Remote Play.”

TechRadar is impressed by the size but critical of the screen spec, “On the one hand, it’s taking the best of Sony’s smartphone tech and spreading it smoothly through a slim and lightweight tablet that’s far less cumbersome than the likes of the (already pretty portable) Xperia Z2 tablet.

“On the other hand, it’s being brought out with an eight-inch screen that’s nowhere near as sharp as the competition in the smaller slate arena, which will instantly put some users off purchase, given that spec comparison is still one of the primary ways to decide which tablet to go for.”

However, it does go on to say, “…the strides Sony has made in display technology, this year included, mean that even a low-res display is boosted to look better.” Sony’s Triluminos technology helps with games and video footage but the resolution is likely to show itself with less sharp letters when loading web pages.

There’s some damning with faint praise going on over at Trusted Reviews, “Longwinded name aside, this is a reasonably impressive offering. A sleek, stylish body belies a veritable feast of high-end components. That said, this tablet is hardly breaking new ground. A Full HD display joins a quad-core CPU and an 8-megapixel rear-mounted camera on the strong specs sheet.”

It does seem impressed by the screen’s response though,

“Capable of diffusing glare in bright, direct sunlight, the Tablet Compact’s screen was highly responsive during early tests. It swiftly skipped through menu screens and effortlessly handled all manner of multi-finger gesture controls.”

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The Xperia Z3 Tablet is available to pre-order from the Sony website with prices starting at £329 for the 16GB Wi-Fi model, an extra 16GB of memory adds £50 but opt for the LTE/4G version and you’ll pay a hefty £429.

Wired concluded its preview by saying, “If the price is right, this slim slate could be one of the best tablet offerings on the market.” We’ve a feeling that, certainly for the 4G model, Sony’s pricing may be just a little high.

Sony’s Xperia Z3 and Z3 Compact – their latest and greatest smartphones

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Sony has done a nice job of creating a little elbow-room for itself in the Smartphone market, aided initially by its key differentiator – waterproofing. Anyone who has inadvertently dropped a phone down a toilet or encountered some other aqua-based mishap will have considered the Xperia Z – the world’s first waterproof phone, and that powerful yet rather angular behemoth has spawned some impressive successors that are slowly smoothing out those edges.

Here we have the Xperia Z3 and Z3 Compact, a choice for those who are leaning towards the “phablet” market and those would prefer something that can be used comfortably with one hand.

Accordingly the larger model features a 5.2” (1920×1080) display compared to the Compact’s 4.6” (1280×720), but otherwise the devices are fairly similar. Both offer the headline waterproofing and dust tightening (IP65 and IP68 rated, if you want to find out exactly how secure this is), both feature a whopping 20.7MB camera and 2.2MP front-facer, both run KitKat 4.4 and both have a Snapdragon 2.5GHz Qualcomm quad-core to keep things ticking over.

Also of note is the PS4 Remote Play feature – these are the only smartphones with this built in, and it allows you to connect to and control games via your handheld or play them on the smaller screen by utilising a DUALSHOCK 4 wireless controller in between. You can even watch friends play games remotely on the screen if you so wish.

Interesting – two phones that simply offer a choice of size without dumbing down the interiors or key features. Let’s take a look to see what else Sony has in store.

TechRadar is impressed by the compact, saying that it’s “more powerful, better built and with an improved screen over its predecessor, there’s a lot to attract consumers here.”  Of particular appeal is the design, which has a premium feel and fits well in the hand, and the battery. Using an intelligent screen that “remembers” images, battery life can apparently be extended to three days without charge. Overall, TechRadar is highly pleased with the device:

an astonishingly capable device that takes over from the first Compact and shows the world how it should be done. There are very few flaws, the screen aside, and it could even rival its bigger brother as the top dog thanks to the lower price tag.

Stuff takes a look at the Z3 and is impressed by its design:

The aluminium and tempered glass OmniBalance design now has rounded sides and, while it’s still an angular body and won’t sit completely snug in the palm like a One (M8), it’s enough to make it much more comfortable.

It’s also lighter than the Z2 and slightly smaller and thinner, which helps it fit a tad better. The display is impressive – 20% brighter than the Z2 in fact, and the camera has undergone a range of tweaks and improvements. These include “a new 25mm G lens for wide angle shots and improved SteadyShot for video” and a sensor with “light sensitivity up to IS0 12800. By comparison most phones will go up to ISO 800 or so before giving up” to improve low-light shots. It concludes with an impressive statement that sums up Sony’s capabilities as a jack of all trades:

This is a smartphone that deserves attention. It’s supremely specced in all the right places and shows that Sony does care about how people use its gadgets. And it may just be the best all-rounder you can buy.

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Despite the clear capabilities of both models, the Compact is getting more attention in the press at the moment, possibly because the market for larger displays is smaller. The Verge says that out of the two “the Z3 Compact is the real star of Sony’s IFA 2014 lineup.” It highlights the fact that while the same size as the Z1 Compact, it has a bigger 4.6” display, is 9% thinner and 6% lighter – in fact it calls the size and feel just about perfect for the vast majority of people. When you throw in the improved waterproofing and toughened exterior, which takes it a level above that of the S5, it seems like the Compact, at least, has all the potential to be a big success.

 

Sony’s Action Cam Mini – a portable video camera game changer?

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Time was when small cameras were the stuff of spy movies, “Pay attention, Bond, this is fully functional high-definition video camera small enough to slip into your shirt pocket and which can be controlled from a screen on your wrist.” Technology of course has a way of catching up with fiction and Sony’s latest Action Cam Mini the HDR-AZ1, announced at the IFA electronics show, means you no longer need to pop down to see Q to get your hands on a tiny movie camera.

The first thing to note is that it’s small, weighing only 63g, and around 2/3 the size of existing Action Cam products at 76mm long, 36mm high and 24.2mm wide. That doesn’t mean it’s lacking in capabilities though. Into this small space is packed an 18.6 megapixel image sensor that can handle resolutions up to 1080p at 60fps. If you’re prepared to sacrifice definition for faster action it can do 720p at 120fps. The camera has a Zeiss f2.8 lens and Sony’s SteadyShot image stabilisation technology. There’s no LCD screen on the camera itself, just a tiny display for camera functions, but Sony has solved that problem in a clever way.

For that added James Bond touch it comes with something called Live View Remote. This is a wrist-mounted controller with a colour LCD screen that can be used to stop and start recordings, change settings and log GPS data. It’s a bit chunky, like a double-width wristwatch, and connects wirelessly to the camera.

It’s possible to control up to five cameras from a single remote so you could set up multiple angles to cover a particular event or follow several different competitors. It gives you the ability to stream your footage live via sites like UStream and you can use Wi-Fi and NFC to connect directly to a smartphone. You have the option to control the camera from your phone too if you don’t want to use the remote.

Battery life for the Mini is shorter than on larger models as you might expect. It’s splash proof to survive day-to-day life but there’s also the option of buying it with a case which makes it dust and sand proof as well as waterproof down to five metres. There’s a standard tripod adaptor so the camera can be attached to mounting brackets for bikes and the like and Sony also offers a choice of wearable and bike mounting kits on its website.

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If you have an active outdoor lifestyle and you want to be able to record your exploits, the Action Cam Mini could be just the camera for you. The HDR-AZ1 is expected to go on sale in October and is available to pre-order on the Sony site until the 6th of October at a price of £279 including the Live View Remote.

Sony’s a5100 camera: the height of lightweight photography?

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Japanese tech company Sony’s next shot into the smart-camera fray is on the horizon with the upcoming release of their a5100 camera. It promises to be an extremely lightweight, pocket-sized solution to photography needs, boasting a huge 24.3 megapixels and the ability to shoot full 1080p video. Sony promises “Crisp, blur-free action shots and soulful portraits. Smooth, cinematic Full HD movies. Better-looking selfies.” While this may be quoted, is this really going to be the go-to lightweight camera we’ve all been waiting for?

The company sure seems keen to advertise one of this camera’s key aspects – its strengths in video shooting. The camera will feature “Fast Hybrid AF with huge 179 focal plane phase-detection AF points for reliable tracking autofocus plus touch focussing and touch shutter release”. This means the camera is able to constantly focus and refocus an image during filming – resulting in a crazed pet, a photo finish or the winning penalty shot all recorded in crisp 1080p with no blurring in the image during filming. Touch shutter release will allow you to use the rotatable camera screen to take photos without the need for the shutter – touch a location on the screen and the camera will make it the focus of the image.

According to TechRadar, The screen is also bright and clear, and responds quickly to touch.”  The screen can be flipped up 180 degrees, making selfies easy to capture.

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The camera is palm-sized and lightweight – weighing in at just 283 grams you could easily forget it’s in your pocket. It also has similar dimensions to a smartphone, making it easy to carry and serving, according to Sony, as “the serious choice for anyone who’s moving up from their smartphone’s camera or point-and-shoot compact snapper.” So if you’re looking for an upgrade on your smartphone’s camera but don’t want to restrict bag or pocket space, this could be a great choice.

The selfie lovers among us will have plenty to like here too. The company is quick to advertise the camera’s selfie-taking abilities, stating:

“Flip the large LCD screen through 180° and hold the ergonomically-styled camera body comfortably at arm’s length. Frame yourself with the conveniently positioned zoom lever: then release the shutter for great selfies.”

With the selfie trend showing no signs of slowing down, it’s clear that Sony want to make this aspect of modern photography easier for its consumers – all the more reason to want one of these cameras. Cnet were also keen on the camera’s selfie abilities, stating: “interface optimizations make Sony’s cameras stand out for selfies”

The a5100 also has Wi-Fi built in. This is a feature that has been under some debate – more serious camera makers have often opted to avoid building Wi-Fi into their cameras, while others, like Sony, see the potential here. The a5100’s wireless compatibility will allow seamless sharing of photos and video with others and storage devices – syncing your work onto a computer is easier than ever.

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The camera will become available in mid-September 2014 and has an RRP of £420 for just the body, £550 with a 16-50mm lens kit, or £760 for both the 16-50mm lens and the 55-210mm lens kits.

For more information visit Sony.

Sony MDR-HW700DS: World’s first 9.1ch headphones

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Like the amplifier in Spinal Tap that goes up to 11, when it comes to anything to do with sound bigger numbers are usually better. So, forget about your puny 5.1 or 7.1 sound systems, these latest wireless headphones from Sony offer a 9.1 audio experience – but without actually having all the speakers. They use what Sony calls Virtualphones Technology to reproduce the effect of multi-channel speakers.

The unit’s ‘Cinema’ mode has been created with the support of Sony Pictures Entertainment and the company says, “This mode ensures an authentic cinema sound experience and virtual sound arena that is based on an analysis of the prestigious sound mixing stages used for the production of major motion pictures.” Which in non-PR speak means it should sound like the director intended.

The transmitter unit can be used as an HDMI switchbox for up to three sources so you can enjoy audio from multiple devices. It also supports 4K sources so you can send uncompressed audio to the headphones, and has a conventional stereo line-in though of course the latter won’t give you the full surround-sound experience.

These then aren’t just a set of headphones, they’re a positive feast of audio technology, so what are the reviewers making of them?

Bonkers bass and voices in your head

Trusted Reviews was impressed by the sound quality, “…their dynamic range is sensational, with bass handling proving able to do full justice to the sort of bonkers low-frequency rumbles employed by most modern action movies.”

It also praised the surround-sound capabilities, “…the scale of the film – or game – soundstage it produces creates a world much larger than the physical presence of the headphones.” However, the way dialogue is delivered came in for some criticism, “While dialogue appears to stand forward of most of the mix and is extremely clear, it still feels distractingly dislocated from what you’re watching. The words spoken sound like they’re in your head, rather than like they’re coming from the mouths of the actors on the screen.”

“The 50mm drivers offer enough bass to immerse the user for up to 12 hours before the cans need fast recharging.” notes Pocket-lint although it hasn’t done a full review as yet.

People who have actually bought the headphones seem impressed too, with one Amazon reviewer in the US saying, “Sound quality is stunning. I especially like that putting the headphone on, turns them on and powers up the HDMI box all at once.”

Another US Amazon customer praises the unit’s ability to combat interference, “The headphones work on the 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz band. Switching bands automatically if you desire. My neighborhood is crowded on the 2.4 band, so I use my Apple devices, including an airport express and airport extreme, all of them on the 5 GHz band. I had only heard just a few skips, probably when the headphones change channels automatically. Otherwise signal is perfect, without any noise whatsoever.”

We’ll leave the last word to Trusted Reviews, “While the HW700s are only good rather than spectacular music performers, they’re capable of completely transforming gaming or movie sessions where you either don’t currently have any surround sound kit or else you regularly find yourself wanting to play or watch stuff in antisocial circumstances.”

If you’re impressed enough by all this to think that you might want to buy the Sony MDR-HW700DS headphones they’ll be available in the UK from this month. You’ll need to find £450

Video: Sony’s AX100 4K Camcorder & AS100VR Action Cam

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Among the products announced at Sony’s gaff-free (no movie directors here!) CES press event, a couple of new cameras caught our eye. First up was Sony’s latest 4K Camcorder, the AX100, which is now a far more ‘consumer friendly’ looking device compared to the company’s previous efforts. Producing a lighter and smaller camera is obviously key for Sony as they look to encourage us all to start producing and consuming more 4K content. The FDR-AX100, to give it its full name, is approximately one quarter the size and one third of the weight of the current FDR-AX1 model.

The AX100 comes with a 14.2 effective megapixel back-illuminated 1.0-type Exmor R CMOS sensor and, in addition to recording 4K footage, the camera is also capable of down-converting 4K images to very high quality 2K (Full HD) video. In terms of size, the AX100 is 196.5mm long, 83.5mm high and 81mm wide, weighing in at approx 790g. The camera is available for around £1,800 and more details can be found on the company’s UK web site. Also be sure to check out our video of the AX100 below:

The other new (or should that be significantly improved) camera that we checked out was the company’s latest action camera, the HDR-AS100VR Action Cam. This new model comes with a new image processing engine, new lens and a new image sensor for significantly improved image quality. The AS100VR is being marketed as “splash-proof” which means there’s no need for separate housing.

One interesting new feature is the ability to control up to five cameras with the Live-View Remote and record simultaneously with them all for a multi-view picture. Another, perhaps more quirky, feature of this camera (as well as its predecessor) is the ability to mount it to your dog’s back. Check out our quick hands on, and demonstration of the dog harness, in the video below:

Xbox One vs PS4: battle of the next-gen consoles

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Whether it’s Apple vs Microsoft, iOS vs Android or Facebook vs Twitter, the tech world loves a good head-to-head. In recent weeks we’ve seen one of the greatest heavyweight battles yet as both Microsoft and Sony launched their much-anticipated next-generation consoles. The reviews are in, but which machine has the edge? If you’re thinking about making a purchase in time for Christmas, or are just curious about who’s offering what, we’ve pulled together a rundown of opinion from some of the most influential sites on the Web.

Microsoft Xbox One

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Unlike Sony, Microsoft has a phone and desktop ecosystem to consider as well as a gaming one, and these other platforms make themselves felt on the Xbox One. The Verge picks up on this, saying that it’s both a games device and “a sprawling, ambitious attempt to be the most important thing in your living room for the next decade.” The review also notes the importance of Kinect: you can use voice commands to launch games, run searches and record gameplay, though it’s often frustrating to use. It’s even clever enough, in theory, to recognise your face and log you on automatically.

The digital media handling of the Xbox One is praised, though the review suggests the PS4 has the superior controller and the faster loading times. The theme running through the piece is that the Xbox One has lots of unfulfilled potential in terms of its Kinect functionality, TV integration and support for Windows apps. The article concludes:

“The Xbox One is here for a decade. If Microsoft can deliver on all its promises in that time, it will have built a console truly worthy of Input One — but that’s a big if.”

This overarching idea — lots of potential, but not there yet — is continued by Keith Stuart in the Guardian. The review compliments the Xbox One’s improved interface, advanced multi-tasking capabilities and helpful Kinect integration while lamenting the rather lacklustre selection of launch day games. Ultimately, writes Stuart, “something about the PS4 feels fresher and more seductive”.

At games site IGN, the Xbox One picks up a respectable 7.8 out of 10 score, and again the main theme is the “split focus” as Microsoft looks to please gamers and more casual users with the breadth of its offerings. According to IGN’s Fran Mirabella, the software and hardware ” isn’t totally ready for what the Xbox One’s trying accomplish.” Gameplay and Kinect integration are much improved over the Xbox 360, says the review, and there’s praise for the integrated digital media apps and television functionality.

In the end though, MIrabella comes to the same conclusion as many other reviewers, that while the Xbox One’s attempts to own the living room are laudable, the functionality isn’t quite there yet (and for the moment the PS4 beats it as a gaming machine). His final verdict:

“If you’re purely interested in gaming, you may want to wait until the platform stabilises or drops in price. However, if you’re more like me and are tired of the dumbest screen in your house being your TV, the Xbox One will change your living room forever.”

Sony PlayStation 4

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If the Xbox One is trying to broaden its appeal, then the Sony PlayStation 4 is built primarily for gamers. According to the Verge, the PS4 is an attempt to build “the game console of our dreams”. The DualShock 4 wireless controller is described as “the best gamepad Sony has ever built” and the on-screen interface is described as putting games and associated apps front and centre.

Sharing and broadcasting your exploits is also a big deal for Sony’s console — there’s even a Share button on the controller. You can capture a screenshot or video of the last 15 minutes of gaming action and even broadcast your screen live. It has its own basic Kinect clone in the form of the £55 Playstation Camera, and then there’s the £180 PlayStation Vita, the portable console that can act as a second screen and complementary controller for the PS4.

In the end, The Verge argues, the PS4’s problem may not be the Xbox One but the PS3: “The PS3 was a media powerhouse, and the PS4 goes way too far the other way.” As the wrap-up puts it:

“Right now it’s a fast, powerful console with a great controller and a mostly useful interface… For right now, though, there’s little incentive to spend $399 on a PlayStation 4. Not only are there few games worth the price of admission, the vast library of PS3 games is more compelling than anything the PS4 currently offers.”

Over in the Guardian, Keith Stuart is once again on reviewing duties. “Everything is geared towards making the technology accessible to programmers,” writes Stuart. The trackpad is more comfortable, the interface is better, and the social and sharing aspects are better than its rival, claims the review.

The PS4 earns itself an 8.2 score at IGN, putting it slightly ahead of the Xbox One. “The PS4 not only brings the PlayStation platform into a more modern era, but establishes a strong foundation for long-term evolution,” writes Scott Lowe. While the PS4 has similar specs to the Xbox One, Lowe points out that Sony’s console runs more quietly in a smaller form factor. There’s praise for the DualShock 4 controller and the “gorgeous, straightforward” operating system, while Lowe also has good things to say about the PS4’s social and sharing features. The review concludes:

“The PS4 is an exceptionally well-crafted console. It’s impressively small and attractive design sets a new bar for the industry, and its powerful hardware offers not only stunning visuals, but higher player counts, constantly connected experiences, and larger, more detailed worlds.”

In summary

It isn’t difficult to pick out the common themes from the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 reviews on the Web. Both machines have the potential to be great, but lack any outstanding titles at launch. The PS4 offers a purer, faster, more sophisticated option for gamers; the Xbox One has more strings to its bow in terms of digital media and app support. The advice seems to be wait and see, unless you’re desperate to get your hands on a next-generation console: the final verdict on these two heavyweights won’t be made for several years yet.

We’ll give the final word to Keith Stuart in the Guardian: “If you love games, PS4 is a smart choice, and if you want a progressive media hub, Xbox One is your thing.” You can pick up the Xbox One for around £430 online, with the PS4 retailing at £350 or thereabouts; don’t forget, though, that Microsoft’s console comes with a Kinect camera included, whereas the Sony equivalent is £55 extra.

PS4 image © Sony Computer Entertainment, Inc.

PS4 DualShock controller gets overhaul, but is it enough to challenge Xbox?

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One of the biggest names in the gaming industry, Sony’s PlayStation has routinely been one of the top consoles on the market. For owners, this has meant access to a great selection of games, incredible graphics and plenty of additional content. There was just one problem – the controller.

Although sufficient for the job, Sony always seemed to lag behind its rivals where controls were concerned. Whilst Nintendo paved the way for motion-detection technology with the wand-like remote for the Wii, Xbox found a way to better the gamepad style – something which was a bit of a sticking point for Sony … until now.

Enter the PS4 DualShock4 controller. It’s had a considerable overhaul from previous versions but is it finally enough to challenge Microsoft?

What’s changed?

Perhaps the most obvious change to the control is the touch-sensitive interface found on the front. This is designed to recognise small swipes and finger presses in the same way as an iPhone or Wii U gamepad but it also allows you to use it as a giant button, offering a clicking feature.

The rest of the controls remain much the same as they were on previous models, at least where their position and general appearance is concerned. Scratch the surface though and you find a number of small adjustments that make the world of difference to gamers.

On the analogue controls, the tops are now more or less concave. They have a recessed centre which is more nuanced than before – something intended to increase grip and keep all players happy. Comfort is heightened thanks to angled ridges at the side with the overall aim being to cushion players’ thumbs within the centre to allow easy and solid movements.

Even the heights of the analogue sticks have been lowered to help gamers move between different controls with ease while elsewhere on the controller the D pad controls have been made more pronounced with the buttons giving a sloping angle so that thumbs slot neatly towards the centre for more secure and comfortable control.

Why change?

Always striving to improve the services they offer, the new controller from Sony was developed to elevate game playing to a whole new level. Feedback influenced the decisions made by Sony heavily, helping them to develop a controller that would be comfortable and beneficial to all gamers.

This is something which Xbox themselves had success with when developing their 360 controller – using customer feedback to redevelop their D pad control to make games which require precise movements (such as fighting games) easier to play.

Sony’s decision to listen to their audience has meant that the PS4 controller has received plenty of praise already – and this spells good news for the brand.

Whether it manages to finally be considered superior to the Xbox’s offering remains to be seen but with such strong credentials already behind its name already, we’re sure that people will be rushing to game.co.uk to get their hands on the latest controllers for their new next-generation console.

 

Image courtesy of Alan Klim. This was a sponsored article.