Does anyone else remember a time when Sony was just like Apple? When their products flew off the shelves with little regard to how they performed because they were almost guaranteed to blow by the competitors. Times surely have changed.
Sony has a new line of tablet PCs on the market now that try and tap into a very unique market; the space that lies between tablet PCs and netbooks. With lots of users unsure of how to get used to the lack of a keyboard on their tablets, Sony has put out a product that essentially amounts to a crossover tablet/netbook.
Sony VAIO Duo 11
It’s probably no surprise by now that the Windows 8 operating system is due out any week now. There has been a lot of experimentation with the crossover design they’ve built that works both on desktop and tablet PCs. Sony’s newest tablet-computer takes full advantage of this and offers a SSD, a full backlit keyboard, and a Core i5 processor.
What it Looks Like
From the surface, the Sony Vaio Duo 11 looks kind of like a tablet that you’d expect to come from about 5 or 6 years ago. It has a 1 inch black border all the way around the screen and a thick ¾ inch body below the screen. It’s not the most attractive of tablets in terms of size, but the material the screen is made of is pretty fingerprint-resistant, making it easier to go out in public without a bottle of Windex in your backpack.
To reveal the keyboard below the screen, there’s a tricky sliding mechanism that you have to figure out. It requires you to shift your weight just right on two depressed ridges to allow the keyboard to raise out of the darkness.
Although it’s a clever mechanism, there are some foreseeable problems that could cause trouble as you use the product. The first, and probably most glaring, is the lack of protection for the screen. If you’re supposed to carry this around as a laptop(ish) device, there should be a way to prevent scratches and dents in the screen, but there isn’t. Sony says they’re going to release a protective case for the VAIO Duo 11, but we’re not so sure that every customer is going to pick one of those up.
Next, from the front everything looks great. There’s a sleek screen and keyboard that work in perfect harmony to allow you to type on the go. But if you flip the device around, you’ll be greeted with quite a few mechanical features that A) don’t look very good and B) are very prone to break. The thin ribbons and plastic hooks that keep the screen upright are sure to get some sort of dirt or debris trapped in them, ultimately bringing the Duo 11 to its knees and making it look like it was given to a kindergarten class for a day.
The Chiclets (Keyboard) and Mouse
While we were a little harsh on the actual design of the tablet, the keyboard comes out as a bit of a redeeming factor. While some folks have been a bit disappointed with the keyboard layout, if you’re at all comfortable with a netbook keyboard, you’ll feel right at home with the Duo 11’s keyboard. The keys are comfortably spaced and there’s a bit of real estate that’s lost in trying to fit it in such a small package, but in the end it feels just as a netbook keyboard would.
The mouse is a different story. Hopefully with an update Sony can fix the functionality of the mouse, because right now it’s way too sensitive. There’s no trackpad or anything like that, but instead there’s a “pointing stick” that works well considering the fact, but it’s all too easy to brush up against it while you’re typing and have the mouse jump all over the screen.
The screen is beautiful. Hands-down. It’s a 1920×1080 full HD display that’s about twice as bright as a standard netbook or portable device display. Movies and pictures look great and the screen is readable in direct sunlight. While there are still a few problems with clicking on smaller desktop icons, Windows 8’s design works very well with this particular display.
Finally, we get to the sound quality. It’d be a shame to fault the Sony Vaio Duo 11 for having poor sound quality, so I’m not going to. The speakers are mediocre and produce loud sound, albeit so-so quality. Portable device speakers are never high quality enough to produce a theater like experience, but they’re good enough to at least hear what’s going on.
CPU: 1.7GHZ Intel Core i5
OS: Windows 8
Hard Drive: 128GB SSD
Display: 11.6” 1920×1080
Wi-Fi: 802.11 a/b/g/n
Ports: Ethernet, USB 3.0 (x2), VGA, HDMI, and Headphone
Card Slots: Memory Card reader 2 in 1
Weight: 2.8 Pounds
Sony VAIO Tap 20
Here’s another quirky device that’s trying to bridge a gap between desktop and tablet PCs. At first glance, the Sony VAIO Tap 20 is essentially a giant 20 inch tablet display. The monitor has a 1600×900 display resolution and runs Windows 8, making a giant colorful party wherever you have the device set up. In short, the ultimate goal of this device is to make a “portable” desktop PC that you can dismount from the charging station and bring it into the living room or bedroom to make the computing experience seamless across rooms. Let’s see how that works out.
The 20” display is the first noticeable thing when you lay eyes on the Tap 20. There’s a 1.3 megapixel camera that sits just above the screen, as well as a few indicator lights around the 1 inch border that outlines the screen.
While the screen is quite large, I must admit that I wasn’t thrilled with the performance. Its resolution is much higher than my current desktop monitor, but there’s something about the shininess of Windows 8 that gets lost on the big screen with a small resolution. It isn’t fully HD and it doesn’t provide the immersive experience that I think Windows 8 was going for.
On the back of the screen is a bezel that holds a stand that’s designed to keep the Tap 20 upright. It folds in and out of the device, allowing you to bring the Tap 20 to another room and easily set it back up again without having to worry about cords or keyboards in the process.
Keyboard and Mouse
Windows 8 is trying to get rid of the physical keyboard altogether. It looks a lot like the onscreen Android keyboards that many of you may be used to, but because the screen size is so large, it doesn’t feel at all cramped to type on.
Although the goal is to try and move the keyboard to exclusively on-screen, Sony knows that some users may not feel comfortable making the switch to a fully digital typing experience. They’ve included a wireless keyboard and mouse with the Tap 20 package so that you don’t feel completely overwhelmed when it comes to typing a document.
Again, there’s probably not much point in reviewing the sound quality on these devices. The tinny speakers get the job done by providing a lot of high end and loudness, but the depth of music is completely missing when you’re trying to enjoy a movie or album. This isn’t the fault of Sony’s though. To keep costs down, it’s necessary to put average speakers in the device so that costs don’t get passed on to the consumer.
CPU: Intel Core i5
OS: Windows 8
RAM: 4 gigabytes (expandable to 8)
Hard Drive: 750 gigabyte 5,400 RPM SATA
Screen: 20” 1600×900 resolution
Wi-Fi: 802.11 b/g/n
SD Card Availability
Weight: 11.2 Pounds
Although Sony VAIO Tap 20’s goal is to be ultra-portable, it’s still a bit too heavy to be considered as a portable PC. I love the idea of having a screen that I can bring to and from different rooms in the house with ease is still really appealing. I think Sony is onto something with their product idea this time and the Windows 8 experience makes it really easy to implement something like this, but there are some weight issues and display resolution issues to figure out before I’d consider making this a part of my daily routine.
The Duo 11” fell kind of short in my opinion. I liked the look of the device and the idea of having something that works as both a netbook and a tablet, but the follow-through just wasn’t there. There are too many open holes for dirt and debris to fall into, making it surely to end up as a dust trap rather than a laptop. It’s quick and light, but despite the bright screen and SSD hard drive, I don’t know that I’d be rushing out to buy it.
Sony is onto some good ideas, but they still haven’t hit a home run to get them back into competition with Apple and other high end PC manufacturers.