Sony unveils two Honeycomb tablets that stand apart from the pack

by Phil Hornshaw

After cutting its own niche in the smartphone market with the game-centric Xperia Play, Sony has reloaded its main cannons and returned to the fight with not one, but two entrants into the tablet market, a field quickly becoming overcrowded with sub-par Android-running iPad wannabes.

Sony has taken a different approach, outing its two tabs -- the S1 and S2 -- that stand apart when it comes to physical design. The S1, which sports a 9.4-inch display, has a rolled back design that makes it thicker on one side than the other, which Sony calls an “off-center of gravity design” that it says makes the device easier to hold and use. The S2 actually has a joint across its middle, allowing it to fold in half, and sports two 5.5-inch screens; one on top, one on bottom.

The two tablets were announced at a Sony press event in Japan this morning, according to a story from TechCrunch. Both devices are set up to work with Sony’s Qriocity network, which allows for on-demand video and streaming music for its subscribers. Like Sony’s other devices, the two tablets are meant to work over networks with each other and things like Sony’s Internet-enabled Bravia TV line, its computers and its PlayStation 3 video game console. The tablets include DLNA support, which allows streaming of media from one device to another, as well.

Like Sony’s forthcoming handheld video game console, the NGP, and the Xperia Play, the S1 also has access to the company’s PlayStation Suite software, which will allow it to play old-school PlayStation games that are accessible for download from the Internet. In fact, Sony might have more plans for the S1 as a gaming machine, judging by the fact that it bears the PlayStation logo on its back; this could be the PlayStation tablet we’ve been hearing rumors about, and it could become the Xperia Play of the tablet world. DLNA would add the possibility of streaming PlayStation Suite games from the tab to compatible TVs which could be pretty cool.

We don’t know much about the S1 at this point, though there is some info about the tab. It has a Tegra 2 dual-core processor, which should allow it to handle HD playback for content, and it also sports an IR port that will make it compatible with universal remotes that control other Sony products. TechCrunch speculates the screen on the device has a resolution of 1200x800 pixels, 512MB of internal RAM and a 32GB hard drive.

As for the S2, we don’t know much at all about the little dual-screen device, which resembles the Nintendo DS handheld video game console and sports a pair of 1024x480 screens. Sony says the tab will support using either the two screens separately, like with email applications (where one screen will display the message while the other acts as a virtual keyboard), or together, like with web browsing.

Though Sony hasn’t said anything about release dates or pricing just yet, the fact that the S1 boasts that PlayStation logo has me excited. The Xperia Play has already turned out to be a very cool little device, garnering the backing of developers like Gameloft. I think the Play has the ability to redefine mobile gaming if Sony plays its cards right, and the company has a similar opportunity in putting out a more gaming-centric tablet. Statistics seem to show that tablets get most of their use from gaming anyway -- Sony has the know-how to capitalize on that market, and it might be looking to do just that with the S1.

We’ll have to wait for more information (and a chance to get our hands on the devices) to really make heads or tails of the S1 and S2. But the very fact that Sony has already chosen not to attempt to beat the iPad 2 at its own game is good news. Perhaps the company has some truly innovative ideas to bring to the Android camp.