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:

Update 12/19/2011: This post originally appeared in our TR Dojo blog.