Tablets

Sony Tablet S teardown: Wild wedge-shaped case hides unique hardware

Bill Detwiler cracks open the Sony Tablet S and finds internal hardware that's as unique as the Android tablet's wedge-shaped exterior.

The Tablet S is Sony's first serious shot across Apple's bow in the growing tablet war. Like other Android tablets, it has a dual-core processor, 1GB RAM, two cameras, Wi-Fi connectivity, and comes in 16GB ($499) and 32GB ($599) versions. The Tablet S is also similar to other tablet's in size and weight. It weighs 1.3 lbs. and measures 9.5" (W) x 6.8" (H) x 0.3" (D). But, the Tablet S has several unique characteristics, both inside an out.

The device's wedge-shaped exterior is unlike any other tablet on the market today. When you hold it upright, with the thick edge in your palm, the Tablet S almost feels like a paperback book folded in half. When you place it on a flat surface, the inclined screen reduces glare and makes typing with the onscreen keyboard easier than on a completely flat device.

Equally interesting is the device's internal design and hardware components. The Tablet S has an internal plastic frame, which protects the inside hardware and gives the device substantial rigidity. The Nvidia Tegra 2 processor and Elipda DRAM module appear to be part of the same IC package. And, the Tablet S has several unique chips, such as the UEI U122 remote control chip and Audience earSmart A1026 Voice Processor. I provide more information on each point in the Cracking Open observations section below.

Full teardown gallery: Cracking Open the Sony Tablet S

Cracking Open observations

  • Easy-to-open case: There are two external screws are hidden under the back cover's rubber feet. But once the screws are removed, you can easily slide off the curved cover.
  • Standard screws: Sony used standard Phillips screws throughout the Tablet S. I was able to remove all screws using a Phillips #0 bit.
  • Internal plastic frame adds rigidity, but complicates repairs: The Tablet S's outer shell is plastic, but unlike other tablets with plastic cases, such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, the Tablet S feels solid in your hands. Sony engineers achieved this rigidity in part via sturdy plastic frame that runs throughout the Tablet S. Unfortunately, this frame must also be removed, before you can access any of the internal components, even the battery.
  • Battery can be replaced: The Tablet S' 5,000 mAh Li-ion battery pack can be replaced.
  • Front panel and display are fused together: The front panel (digitizer) and LCD screen are either fused together of attached with extremely strong adhesive. Separating the two components could result in damage to either or both.
  • 3G-ready motherboard and case: Sony left an open spot on the motherboard and inside the case for a 3G or 4G card. The internal mounting bracket even has screw holes for it.
  • Integrated processor: Unlike other Tegra 2-powered tablets I've dissected, the Tablet S' doesn't have a separate processor chip, at least not one that I can find. Given the motherboard's size, the standard Tegra 2 package would likely take up too much room. To solve this problem, Sony engineers appear to have used a processor that's integrated into another IC--most likely the Elpida B8132B1PB-6D-F package. The Motorola Atrix uses a similar Elpida chip as does the Motorola Droid Bionic (although the Bionic uses the TI OMAP 4430 processor).
  • Several unique chips: After cracking open numerous tablets and smartphones, I've grown accustomed to seeing the same chips pop up over and over again. The Wolfson WM8903 Audio CODEC and Cypress Semiconductor CY8CTMA395 touchscreen controller are definitely among the usual suspects. And while the Tablet S does contain a few of these chips, this tablet has several ICs that I've never encountered. For example, the UEI U122 remote control chip allows the Tablet S to function as a regular IR remote. The Audience earSmart A1026 Voice Processor is also something I haven't seen on another tablet.

Internal hardware

Our Sony Tablet S test unit had the following hardware components:

About

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

27 comments
bobmatch
bobmatch

It appears that the blue tooth function on mine is shot and the wifi is weak, I wonder if the board if available. Also the usb port is only for data transfer. It would be nice if it can charge the battery too. It seems that this tablet is meant for the TV room. This way you can control your set, play games, and check emails, without having to boot the laptop.

r3rRWET
r3rRWET

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lwalden@ebmud.com
lwalden@ebmud.com

The device???s wedge-shaped exterior is unlike any other tablet on the market today. Guess you haven't seen the Notion Ink ADAM. What I'd really like is a Linux based tablet laptop replacement. "All" of the current tablets are trying to make a "phone based" OS work on a non-phone device. None of them seem to be doing a particular bang up job of it either. For a neat concept device check out the http://www.myrolltop.com

gm3subscr
gm3subscr

Hi! I own a galaxy tab and what I'd be missing with this device is a sim slot to have data connection while around. And weirdly enough not many tablets or netbooks have this either.

PhilippeV
PhilippeV

Designs with single chips will likely appear, to reduce the weight, and improve the robustness of the motherboard whose size will be come ridiculous (in terms of surface). This will also reduce the amount of toxic materials (soldering) for recycling. Those chips will have much less pins (all the complex bus design will be integrated). I even think that the interface to the display panel AND the touch sensor on it will be integrated using a very robust high-speed serial interface. Reducing the mounting cost, will allow better form factors, and will leave more room for batteries, whose design will also participate to the robustness of the device. Less parts will be serviceable, but each part will be more robust. So later, when you'll crack open the case, beside the plastic you'll only encounter very few components: an integrated panel with its touch surface, a single chip containing everything (including the internal memory), possibly an external card reader, and a future high-speed serial interface to an extension "nano-PCI" card (e.g. different 3G/4G adapters, also integrated with its antenna on board), the battery, and very few connectors to hardware buttons, a fast USB3 connector, and connection to the speaker(s) and micro(s). The case will be much less needed for the robustness, and will be only part to the visual design. May be even the USB connector will disappear: it will just be a robust connector for charging the battery, and all the other connectivity will use wireless technologies (I personnally don't like the very fragile micro USB connector, very sensitive to the presence of durts and oxydation, and not very robust physically to moderate forces of insertion). There will also no longer be any connector to an audio headphones (wireless Bluetooth will be much better and more robust). So the final chip will no longer have any digital interface except two for the fast "nano-PCI" interfaces connecting the display and the extension board for other wireless adapters, and one for the external memory card reader (which in my oponion should become more universal and probably use a "nano-PCI" serial interface as well).

oderayi
oderayi

The only reason why I haven't got a tablet yet is because none of them seem to support USB flash drives. I know I sound like a pure novice, to me this is the most important part of my PC life and it's missing big time in tablets. Can anybody recommend a good tablet with USB support for me please?

ddalley
ddalley

what does the shape do for me?

DAMANgoldberg
DAMANgoldberg

It seems that Sony wants to place premium and unique equipment in the items they make, but a VGA front camera on an HD capable screen seems to go backwards, especially for the same price as an iPad. Otherwise a typical Sony product.

rusudanielam
rusudanielam

I love to test this amazing gadget... sooner .. better!

dovelewis
dovelewis

...not very informative. I know I can replace the battery but I don't know much more about the "several unique chips" inside and why I should be paying attention.

bryangb
bryangb

It's not exactly a tablet, but the smallest Linux portable I've seen is the Palm Pre. You have to root it, but that's fairly simply, and then essentially you have a pocket-sized Linux PC.

PhilippeV
PhilippeV

may be it wil be the complete disparition of all motherboards: - the single chip will have a fast serial interface (nano-PCI, nano-USB or other emerging technologies for faster bandwidths). - this will also be the case for the display/touch device - also for the connection to the extenral card reader or external wireless interface These subdevices will be only connected in a "daisy chain", and esier to service and replace, or extend in longer chains within the case, or outside of it. And then may be it will be the case that you'll be able to choose for your prefered form factor or usage.

GSG
GSG

It has a full size USB port, as well as a full size SD card slot in the Lenovo Thinkpad Tablet

dcolbert
dcolbert

It depends on how you want to achieve your goal. On the ASUS TF101 Transformer, the tablet itself has no regular USB host port. When attached to the Keyboard dock, though, you gain two full sized USB host ports, and not only will those ports accept USB Flash Drives, they'll accept USB hard drives (both external drives that require their own power and portable drives that are powered by the USB port). I hook up my 1TB external portable 2.5" hard drive to my Transformer tablet on a regular basis. Try doing *that* with an iPad without Jail-breaking. If you want the ability to do this ON the tablet, the Xoom now supports this, I'm pretty certain. I think you need a dongle. The Acer A500 Iconia and other Acer tablets should support it as well - the A500 has a built in full sized USB port. Even my Coby Kyros MID7015 did this, and it was in the range of $100-150. It required a dongle to convert the mini-USB into a full USB host port. I used to hook my 32GB thumb drive to the Coby on a regular basis. The point is, there are a LOT of tablets that can do what you want. This is one of the significant advantages of Android over iOS. In my opinion, the TF101 offers the most flexibility in this regard, when purchased along with the keyboard dock (which is optional, but I don't see why you would buy the TF101 unless you were interested in picking up the dock, too). Most of the newest Android tabs all offer vendor keyboard docks or aftermarket docks at this time. The Toshiba and the new Samsung tablets, for example - are on display with their docks at my local Best Buy. No one has done the integrated dock with keyboard as elegantly as ASUS at this point. The ASUS slider (which has an integrated sliding keyboard) is coming out soon in the US, too. This will probably be like the TF101, only with the keyboard non-detachable. 6 of 1, half-dozen of the other which one is best for a particular user, assuming all other features (HDMI, USB ports, MicroSD, full SD) are still there and the price is the same.

bobmatch
bobmatch

I too am left handed. The tablet screen rotates from vertical to horizontal??? on both sides. Like the author states, it feels like you’re holding a paperback book, and does so equally well in both hands.

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

The screen can rotate through 270 degrees, so you can hold the large edge in either your left or right hand and the screen will be right-side up.

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

I agree. I would like to have seen a 1.2 or 2 MP front-facing camera. The rear-facing 5MP camera works very well however.

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

In this section, I describe the tablet's integrated Elpida/Tegra 2 package, the very unique UEI remote control chip, and the Audience earSmart Voice Processor, which I've never seen on another tablet. I also discuss the internal plastic frame, which is something I haven't seen on other tablets. What exact bit of information are you looking for?

oderayi
oderayi

for taking the time to educate me.

dcolbert
dcolbert

Would not work for a southpaw with traditional print media, unless they can read upside down.

zooeyjfp
zooeyjfp

Hi Bill, I think that the review needs a bit more explanation for those of us who do not know what each chip does and why it is important. For instance, I do not know if the Audience earSmart Voice Processor interprets voice commands and whether this is an improvement or not. You say that the UEI chip enables IR connectivity--this means infrared? I thought Bluetooth was taking over for close range connectivity, so is this really a benefit? I would be interested in your opinion of whether this tablet is an improvement over the current standard or not. I guess it comes down to the audience you are writing for.

bryangb
bryangb

It works fine left-handed, it's how I use mine. The image simply rotates as needed. It's just as annoying when apps force landscape mode, of course, and the power button is now at bottom right instead of top left, but that's all.

johncymru
johncymru

But even if it can only be rotated 270 degrees in one direction that means that any side can be top, bottom, left or right with the screen rotating to remain vertical to the viewer in each case. I.E. if it is in landcape mode initially, then a 90 degree anti-clockwise rotation makes the previous bottom edge now the left, rotate another 90 degrees and it becomes the top edge, rotate another 90 degrees and it becomes the right edge. With each 90 degree rotation the screen will auto-rotate in the opposite direction to keep it verical with respect to the viewer. It would just mean that, unlike something like the Xoom which can go round and round in either direction, you would have to rotate in the opposite direction to reverse its screen orientation.