Task 2: Gaming

Touchscreen gaming can be a bit of hit and miss when it comes to serious gameplay and the Sony Tablet S as a touch based device, is no exception. However with the recent explosion in the popularity of mobile gaming, there has since been a surge in touch optimized games that are designed specifically for smartphones and tablets. This alone however, says nothing about the overall gaming experience, which depends not only on to hardware, software and the availability of applications, but also personal preference. So will the Sony Tablet S dominate as a gaming device? Or will it be crushed in a shameful defeat? There’s only one way to find out. Let the games begin!

Gaming experience

One of the biggest complications arise from having no physical controls or tactile feedback, leading to more time spend looking at the controls rather than at the game. I often found myself hitting the wrong button and plunging to my death in Crash Bandicoot or jumping into a monster instead of hitting it. It should be noted that Honeycomb supports USB peripherals, so it is possible to play games via an external controller. The PlayStation One emulator on the Sony Tablet S also supports hiding the soft keys, so playing via a controller would allow an ideal gaming experience for Crash Bandicoot and other PlayStation One ports or games with more complex controls. Unfortunately I do not have a USB game controller, so I was unable to test this, but the general online consensus seems to be rather positive.

Touchscreen and tablet optimized games on the other hand work beautifully, utilizing the large screen of the tablet and providing intuitive controls and gameplay with high quality graphics. Games like Muffin Knight and Field Runners HD were a joy to play on the large 9.4” 1280×800 screen. Instead of spending my time zooming in and trying to see what was happening I could oversee the entire map with ease. This allowed me to focus on the important parts, like placing turrets and killing monsters.

Simple is often the best and that’s where Puffle Launch comes in. It’s simple to control and easy to learn, has colorful and attractive graphics and most of all, looks good on the tablet. A great example of a tablet optimized game that delivers not only great gameplay, but is also visually stunning. Being able to see so much of the map was a tremendous help in navigating the huge level, which can also be said for Angry Birds Rio. Like every other version of Angry Birds, the goal is to sling the birds at various constructs and to try to destroy/free stuff/pigs/birds. One of the advantages of playing on a large screen is being able to see the entire map without having to scroll back and forth between the targets and the slingshot, granting you the ability to aim while looking at the targets.

Top: Very furious bird. Bottom: Slightly annoyed bird.

Another game that plays very well is Majesty: Fantasy Kingdom Sim, which puts you in control of your very own kingdom. It plays a lot like many of the RTS games we see on PC and consoles, but what amazes me is that the game is able to display and convey such complex ideas and strategies as well as permitting gameplay on a purely touchscreen device. Building, researching and deploying armies all feel natural and intuitive and high resolution of the screen allows many aspects of the game to be displayed at once, giving a fluid and coherent feel to the game. The game is pretty smooth on the default settings, but once I turned up the quality to full, there was a visible drop in frame rate. Nothing too major, but if you were looking to play on the best setting you’ll have to put up with dropped frames.

An example of excellent game design and optimization.

Overall, the gaming experience on the Sony Tablet S is a very enjoyable one. The high resolution, multi-touch, 9.4” screen provided a more than adequate gaming platform. The Tegra 2 CPU and the ULP GeForce GPU kept things running smoothly for almost all the games that I tried. The only exception was when the quality on demanding games like Riptide GP and Majesty were turned up to full, which led to a bit of stuttering in the framerate. Otherwise, compatible games were buttery smooth and played like a charm.

Ecosystem

With over 300,000 apps and counting, the Android Market is brimming with choices.

The Android Market has seen a tremendous amount of growth over the past year, the majority of which are games. But since the introduction of Honeycomb and the subsequent slew of Android tablets, games optimized for a larger and higher resolution displays have not enjoyed the same rate of growth as the rest of the apps. In part due to the uninspiring sales of Android tablets, this eventuated into the chicken and egg problem, where developers have no incentive to develop for a small market and potential customers refuse to buy hardware without a well-developed list of applications. In comparison to a certain fruity product, whose ecosystem offers an abundant number of tablet optimized games and software, the Android tablet scene is not one that inspires confidence. That said the next iteration of Android Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0 should reduce fragmentation and the need for too much work on the developers’ part to adapt or develop an app for both smartphones and tablets.

The PlayStation Store offers quite a few games for certified devices.

In addition to sourcing games from the Android Market, the Sony Tablet S has one distinct advantage over its competition by being PlayStation Certified, allowing it to access exclusive content from the PlayStation Store. PS One ports such as the pre-installed Crash Bandicoot is just one example of the type of content that’s available for download.

Closing thoughts

Following the disappointment over the camera performance, the Sony Tablet S has fought back in the gaming round with its smooth performance, striking graphics and exclusive content to regain a place in our collective hearts. Despite the availability of tablet optimized gaming titles being a bit on the small side, the rapid progression of mobile gaming should more than adequately compensate on the application front. The hardware is ample for everyday gaming and the ability to plug and play USB game controllers is a bonus for dedicated and casual gamers alike. At the end of the day, it all comes down to personal taste and I found gaming on the Sony Tablet S a very pleasant and enjoyable experience. In fact so much so that I spent my time playing Muffin Knight instead of writing this review. True story.

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