Unifying all the devices in your home has long been a dream for home automation experts and DIY enthusiast alike and the advent of smart appliances has started to realise just some of those visions. Want to control your lights from your phone, feed the cat over the internet or literally surf the web with a silicon-based surfboard? Okay I made the last one up, but the other two are real and I’m going to try to replicate just a fraction of what’s possible today by connecting the Sony Tablet S with the other devices within my house. It’s a long and tiring journey, but the rewards are rich plentiful for those who endure it. Unbounded gratification, unparalleled convenience and infinite authority await those who succeed. Okay maybe I made that up as well.
Connecting to my home WiFi network was the first thing that I did once the tablet powered on. It’s exactly the same as connecting to WiFi on any other Android device, just tick the WiFi checkbox, tap the access point you want to connect and type in the password if there is one. The IP is then obtained from the router and you’re ready to explore the great unknown of the World Wide Web. During my testing, I noticed that the WiFi connection drops out when the screen is turned off even if WiFi sleep policy is set to never (default is when screen is turned off). This seems to be a documented bug that was introduced with the 3.2 update. On a different, but related note, Sony has bundled a WiFi testing app with the tablet, which checks the status of your connection and suggests solutions based on your settings, like whether you have WiFi turned on or airplane mode turned on. It’s not a terribly useful app, but I can imagine it could save some frustration for a new android user.
Bluetooth worked as expected, discovering and pairing up with my Nokia BH-214 quickly and effortlessly. Sound quality was identical to plugging into the 3.5mm headphone jack and connected distance is slightly less than 10m, with walls reducing it further (though that may also be influenced by the headset itself). Sharing was simple and transfers were a breeze with Android’s sharing options, giving users the freedom to connect without wires or additional hardware. Overall, Bluetooth performance was solid with no unexpected features or nasty surprises, giving the Sony Tablet S an equal footing with its competitors.
The Sony Tablet S comes preinstalled with the Remote Control app that lets you configure and use custom remotes for different devices. Upon launching the app, you will be presented with your devices list, from which you can then add a new device or choose an existing one. Adding a device can be simple or difficult depending on whether Sony has included your manufacturer in its pre-constructed list. You can choose from many of the popular brands like LG, Samsung and of course, Sony, as well as not so popular brands like Moree, TVTEXT 95 or Yoko. There’s also a fairly extensive list of devices ranging from TVs, DVD players, projectors, DVRs and even iPod docks. After choosing your device type and brand, you may be presented with multiple remotes to test if there are more than one remote available for that brand and device. Once you choose a remote, you can select a gesture option, give it a name and you’re done.
If however, your device is not on the brand list, fear not, it is still possible to use the tablet to control your device, but there is a much longer process involved. Almost all of the steps are identical, except instead of testing and choosing from a list of remotes, you will have to manually program each key into the app by pointing your real remote at the tablet’s IR blaster. It’s a time consuming process that should only be undertaken if there are no other options available. If this is the case, it may be better to just use the actual remote instead of trying to program every key in. Or just add the important keys.
The DLNA app has a pretty simple interface, with only the bare minimum that you need to access content from your servers. Launching the app will start a search for local servers and display them along the top row. Tapping on one will load the available content that is being offered and playing what you want is as simple as selecting the appropriate file. Choosing a video, track or picture will load the media in its own respective app and begin playing as soon as it finishes buffering.
The tablet’s DLNA capabilities also extend to sending or ‘throwing’ content in addition to receiving them and we see this integrated into many of the core apps that Sony has preinstalled. You can throw a song you’re listening to, a video you’re watching or even a picture that you’re looking at and have it automatically play on a correctly configured TV, computer or network speaker. You can then control the media from your tablet on a simple interface and disconnect at any time.
One of the tablet’s key features is the inclusion of an IR Blaster, which in theory should allow it to control your TV and other home entertainment system components that have an IR receiver. In practice while it is certainly workable, there is a rather lengthy setup process that one must go through if their device is not on Sony’s included list. I have a Kogan TV and despite the long list of manufacturers, Kogan was not one of them. As a result, I had to manually program each key into the tablet by pointing the TV remote at the tablet, activating the button learning mode in the app and then pressing the button on the remote until it was certain it could repeat and output the same signal. I managed to get the power and channel keys to work, but the volume buttons refused to signal correctly despite numerous attempts. I think I’ll just stick to the actual remote for this one.
We also have an old Samsung TV that dates back to the rear end projection days. After selecting Samsung from the list of manufacturers, the remote app listed 17 different remotes that supposedly work with Samsung TVs. Luckily, remote number 4 worked like a charm and saved me from going through the list any further. All the buttons worked fine and the reception and response was better than I had expected, with the signal continuing to work in excess of 8 meters. Interesting note though, it seemed that more than one remote worked with the same TV, with later trials suggesting that remotes 5,6 and possibly more all working on the old Samsung.
Our Panasonic home theatre system is the last IR compatible system in the house and it proved no challenge to the substantial database of remotes that Sony has managed to cram into the Tablet S. It succeeded in finding 6 remotes compatible with Panasonic home theatres and strangely enough, all 6 of them worked. Needless to say, that was by far the most painless setup out of all the devices that I have configured for the tablet.
Was it easy to set up 3 devices to work with the Sony Tablet S? Not really. It took a lot of sweat, toil, tears and the occasional urge to smash something. But was it worth it? Most definitely. Having the equivalent of an extra remote not only unifies the media consuming experience and reduce clutter, but when push comes to shove in the war for the remote, you can be sure that what’s on TV is what you want.
The DLNA capabilities of the tablet are as useful as they are easy to setup. Streaming from my local server was painless as it had already been set up previously. The testing of ‘throwing’ media to my computer took a bit of thinking, but after a few quick settings everything was smooth sailing. Sony is to be commended on the ease of setup and use, as well as the actual practicality and functionality of the feature itself. DLNA support is integrated into each of the core apps for images, videos and music which are gallery, video player and music player respectively.
Unfortunately I don’t have a DLNA compatible TV or network speaker to test on, but trying it out on the computer gives me a fairly good idea of its capability and potential uses. If I was looking at a photo on the tablet and I want to share it on the computer’s monitor, I can just throw it to the computer and show everyone. The same can be said for music and videos. Not only does DLNA make sharing media super easy, it also does away with wires and copying, effectively allowing you to bypass the transferring of any media that you want to view or listen to on your computer, TV and network speaker. Being able to pick up exactly where you left off is pure genius and controlling the playback from the tablet is a compelling bonus to any multimedia experience.
Sony’s tablet packs a powerful punch in the connectivity game and delivers a knockout blow to all the traditional methods we have become accustomed to. Combining many remotes into one solid package that not only streams, but also controls devices from afar is a success in my book. So whilst we can’t control the weather from our tablets or get the computer to make us a sandwich (yet), the freedom and convenience provided by the Sony Tablet S truly adds another dimension in the interconnectivity of our household. Like all good things, once you get used to it, there would always be that one question at the back of your mind. How did we ever live without it?