Tablets - they're just not very social, are they?
Sure, you could huddle around a tiny screen to watch the latest YouTube sensation, or pass the 'pad around the room when you're making a video call, but it's not exactly elegant.
Enter Sony's Xperia Touch. This portable projector effectively turns any flat surface into a giant tablet, which is perfect for sharing. Flip it round and it'll project a giant display onto your wall, too - so your mates don't have to squint to watch the viral clips that have you crying with laughter.
It's a graduate of Sony's concept program, having first made an appearance at last year's Mobile World Congress show. Now it's heading to a full retail launch, and we've already had a play to see whether it's the sci-fi future we've been waiting for.
A NEW KIND OF HYBRID
The Xperia Touch is essentially what happens when you take the guts of an Android tablet and squeeze them inside of a pico projector. It’s no bigger than a Blu-ray box set (a multi-series one, anyway), but the glossy black finish on the front makes it look quite monolithic.
The grilles around the sides cover up the built-in speakers, which sounded decent enough, given their size, during my brief hands-on session.
Power it up and the Touch projects onto whatever flat surface it’s pointed at, with sensors inside recognising where you’re tapping and turning the data into touch inputs that Android can recognise. It reacted well, accurately recognising two-finger pinch gestures as well as single digit prods and pokes. You should have no trouble playing games that need fast reactions.
Sony wouldn’t actually tell me what hardware was inside, but it felt responsive enough in most apps and when swiping around the home screens. Cut the Rope? No problem. Netflix streaming? you got it. The UI seems to be pretty close to vanilla Android 6.0, and with Google Play Store access you should be able to fill the internal memory with all your favourite downloads.
Run out of space? No worries, there’s an SD card slot in the back.
GATHER ROUND, ONE AND ALL
Using a projector instead of a traditional display has plenty of possibilities. Pop the Touch in the kitchen and you can follow along with recipes, switch to your shopping list or make online buys, without worrying about gunking up a screen with messy fingers.
It’s also ideal for getting the family involved, too. The display was easily bright enough for apps and games, even in a well-lit room, but you’ll still want to dim the lights for the best contrast when watching films.
You can also spin it around and project on a wall when you want a bigger screen. Right now, it won’t recognise your touch inputs in this mode, but Sony says it’s working on a smartphone companion app that’ll let you control it remotely. Handy on movie night, when you’re comfy on the sofa and don’t want to get up to change the film.
Sony wouldn’t confirm the resolution to me, but I’m guessing the Touch is projecting at 720p - simply because there’s not a lot of room inside the tiny body for the cooling you’d need for anything larger and more powerful. That’s kind of disappointing, given the high asking price.
At least it's well equipped in other areas, with a built-in camera for making video calls - although given where it sits on a surface, you’ll want to be level with the projector unless you want the person on the other end to get a clear video of your torso.
There’s a battery inside, so you don’t have to stay tethered to the mains, but you’ll need to plug in eventually. There’s only enough juice for up to an hour of video playback at maximum brightness - not even enough to get through an entire film.
SONY XPERIA TOUCH INITIAL VERDICT
The Xperia Touch is a neat idea: the best bits of a tablet, only on a scale big enough to get the rest of the family involved as well. It’s small enough to schlep around the house, won’t get in the way while you’re playing or watching, and can double as a big screen too.
It seems powerful enough to handle everything you’d expect a big-screen tablet to do, including games, productivity apps and streaming video, plus it’ll work on battery power - for a little while, anyway.
Sony still has work to do on a companion app, though, and there's no escaping the titanic price. Sony told us the Xperia Touch would be launching in Europe at a whopping €1499 - which is enough to buy a tablet for each member of your family and still leave you with change. You could also get a pico projector and an Android tablet, and create a similar setup yourself.
Still, it’s one step closer to the Minority Report-style interactive screens we’re all waiting for. And surely that’s what really matters?