Late last year Sony released the Tablet S, a fairly standard tablet with some major design changes over the typical bunch we’ve seen from other Android tablets. The P is an even further departure, with a clamshell build and not one, but two screens that shut like a Nintendo DS to fit in the pocket. We all scratched our heads when Sony first revealed it last year, but after some hands-on time, I can say that clearly the company knows what it’s doing. The question is whether or not it’s the kind of tablet consumers will want.

So let’s set one thing straight for potential nay-sayers: the Tablet P is, in fact, a tablet. It uses two screens that are indeed not attached, but the space between them is minimal and for the majority of Android applications the two displays act as one. There is no difference between the two. If you are concerned about the tablet because it doesn’t fit the notion of tablets that we’ve seen today, put those concerns aside. The Tablet P is, in fact, a tablet in every way.

Now that that’s settled, let’s take a look at how this clamshell design actually works. Because this isn’t a full review (only a hands-on from some 15 minutes of play at CES), I’ll keep it brief. Closed, the Tablet P is just over an inch thick, and open it’s half an inch. Each screen is 5.5″, each with a resolution of 1024×480, providing a combined screen resolution of 1024×960). This aspect ratio (16:15) is unseen in the industry, and is a complete oddity. It’s practically square. Of course, the stranger aspect ratio is with each individual display, which is 32:15. For reference, widescreen is 16:9, most computer monitors in homes today are 16:10, and old TVs are 4:3 (or 16:12). Suffice it to say, watching movies on the Tablet P will be very strange.

In fact, the aspect ratio and screen resolution may pose larger problems for the tablet and applications as a whole. Certain apps like web browsers and simple apps like Twitter and Facebook will actually be easier to use on the Tablet P for two reasons: using both screens will provide the same resolution across we see in most smaller tablets (1024 is the standard for 8″ or smaller tablets) while allowing 33-66% more space going down. Most tablets with a screen resolution of 1024 across are 1024×600 displays. The Tablet P has an extra 360 pixels going down, which means web pages and basic apps will have a lot more room. Users won’t have to scroll as much and will be able to enjoy more of the page or app at once.

Then, there’s the second reason. Because the Tablet P is two separate screens, the bottom display can automatically be changed to a keyboard for typing while the top display maintains it’s current state. Users will have more screen real estate to see what they’re doing while typing, a standard problem with most tablets, especially when holding them in landscape mode. This means if you use your tablet often for typing notes or messages, with the Tablet P you won’t have to constantly scroll up and down to see what was above or below, at least not as often. It may not seem like such an important thing, but for anyone who types on their smartphones often, it’s a serious inconvenience.

Having a clamshell design also enables the Tablet P to better fit into the design for Sony’s Playstation brand. Instead of a typical tablet, which is hard to hold compared to portable game consoles like the Nintendo 3DS or smaller smartphones, the Tablet P can utilize the bottom display as a touch controller and touchpad while the top display downscales to 720×480 (480p) or 640×480 (480i). This means Playstation 1 games, and even Playstation 2 games, could be played on the screen while making full use of the touch controls. The Tablet P is Playstation Certified, which is an Android-specific determination of whether or not a smartphone or tablet can play Playstation games (which today includes a small but growing list of Playstation 1 games).

In the hand the Tablet P has a good solid feel to it, and the curved edges and build are comfortable to hold. Because of the hinged displays, it’s actually fairly comfortable to hold, and I’d assume it would remain so for longer periods of time because of the weight distribution. Most tablets are larger and are held in two hands, but the weight isn’t all resting in the hands themselves. With the Tablet P, depending on how users bend the hinges, the weight distribution can be made much more comfortable by keeping the top display upright (the screen facing perpendicular to the ground). The display quality is good, though navigating web pages is odd on two displays. Both are of course touchscreen displays, but it’s still weird to scroll and hit another screen.

I played one game on the Tablet P, Crash Bandicoot, and it ran very well (though this isn’t surprising; the Tablet P has identical internals to the Tablet S). The bottom touchscreen was responsive, though it is and may remain odd to play on a touchscreen. Users can of course play with a Bluetooth Playstation controller as well, though I imagine doing so would be quite strange considering the screen resolution.

The Tablet P is set for release within the next few months, and will be available only with an AT&T contract, at least to start. What the pricing is, both on the contract and for the device itself, has not been released. The Tablet P will not include an LTE antenna, but it will have access to AT&T’s “4G” network (which, as I’ve talked about previously, is significantly faster than 3G and not nearly as battery intensive as LTE).

James Pikover

Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.