Bright and crisp full HD display; Accurate stylus; Fast SSD; Plenty of ports
Feels heavy in tablet mode; Short battery life; Keyboard feels cramped; Volume buttons hard to reach; No holster for pen
The Sony VAIO Duo 11's sliding touch screen and keyboard attempts to deliver the best Windows 8 has to offer, but it doesn't quite succeed.
Like a freight train barreling down the track, Microsoft's new Windows 8 operating system is fast approaching consumers. Its dual tablet/desktop interface has spawned some creative ideas from notebook makers, such as the $1,199 Sony VAIO Duo 11. This 11-inch tablet slides up to reveal a backlit keyboard, and boasts Core i5 power and a fast SSD. Does this device deliver the best of both worlds?
But wait! Pull up (gently but firmly) on two ridges on the upper right- and left-hand corners of the display, and the screen lifts up to reveal a keyboard. The ridges are somewhat hard to see, and it's not immediately obvious that you have to lift the lid at these spots; more than one person in our office tried pushing up on the bottom of the screen to open the device.
Secondly, the sliding mechanism, which you can see when the screen is raised, has so many parts and nooks--such as two slender ribbon cables connecting the display-- that we'd be worried about something breaking or getting stuck inside the opening.
Look really hard under the front lip, and you'll find two minuscule volume buttons, rotation lock and a VAIO Assist button. Not only are they very difficult to locate by feel, but they're hard to press, too.
In terms of size and weight, the 2.8-pound Duo 11 is almost the same size as 13-inch Ultrabooks such as the Toshiba Portege Z935 (12.4 x 8.9 x 0.3 - 0.6 inches), and is actually 0.4 pounds heavier. It's only about 3.2 ounces lighter than the ASUS ZenBook Prime UX31A (13.3 x 8.9 x 0.4 - 0.7 inches) and the Envy Spectre XT (12.4 x 8.8 x 0.7 inches).
While it was easy to select objects in the Modern UI, trying to click on minuscule icons in the desktop interface was just as difficult as it is in Windows 7.
The VAIO Duo 11 registered 402 lux on our brightness meter, which is almost twice the ultraportable average of 223; only the ASUS Zenbook Prime UX31A was brighter, at 423 lux.
Two speakers mounted on the bottom front corners of the Duo 11 produced accurate, if not very loud, audio. When we streamed Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" using the Slacker app, her voice sounded a little hollow. The bass line in the chorus of Fun's "We Are Young" barely came through, and the beat in Rihanna's "We Found Love" lacked the heart-pumping quality we're used to hearing in clubs. Neither song was able to fill our office, but was loud enough for a couple of people sitting nearby.
You can add additional tiles by swiping up from the bottom of the screen, and selecting "All Apps." Then, in the next screen, swiping down on an icon gives you options to pin it to the Start screen, taskbar, uninstall it, open in a new window, run as administrator or open file location. We highly recommend pinning the Control Panel; it's difficult to access otherwise.
Swiping from the right bezel reveals the Charms menu, which has options for Search, Share, returning to the Start screen, Devices and Settings. Swiping from the left side of the screen lets you switch between active programs; if you swipe in, then out in one motion, open programs are shown as thumbnails along the left side.
We encountered some bugs that make us wonder if Windows 8 is fully baked. The Modern-style version of Internet Explorer often had trouble loading Web pages, where the desktop version would load pages instantly. We encountered another issue: Any app should be smart enough to recognize when the keyboard is open, and not present the on-screen keyboard. This was not the case with IE.
Read our full review of Windows 8 for additional details.
At the moment, Microsoft's Windows Store for apps is pretty limited. It's divided into categories such as Sports, Music & Video, Games and Social, but each has far fewer apps than you'd find in Apple's App Store or Google Play. For instance, as of this writing, there were only 522 titles in the Games section; while "Fruit Ninja" was there, "Angry Birds" wasn't there. Also missing were apps for Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
A few of the Modern-style apps could use some work, too. In the Sports tab, when we tried to read a story, we couldn't move past the first page; we would swipe to go to the second page, but the screen would simply bounce back to the first page. We had to use the cursor keys instead.
We liked the Note Anytime app, which not only let us scribble on the screen, but had decent handwriting recognition, to boot. A small ring of circular icons lets you change pen types; pressing on one opens up a much larger control panel allowing you to change color, size, type and opacity of the brush.
After streaming a Hulu video at full screen for 15 minutes, the mouse buttons on the Duo 11 were a cool 77 degrees, the middle of the underside was 85 and the trackpoint was 82. The hottest spot, on the right corner of the bottom, hit 95 degrees, which is right at the edge of what we consider uncomfortable.
Webcam and Back Camera
The Duo 11 also has a rear-facing 2.4MP webcam. We felt ridiculous holding this 11-inch tablet up to take photos. The device snapped photos very quickly--usually less than a second after we touched the screen. Colors looked vivid, such as the blue sky and red sandstone in a building's facade, but finer details were blurry.
The Duo 11 packs a 1.7-GHz Intel Core i5-3317U, 6GB of RAM and a 128GB Toshiba SSD, a pretty common arrangement for Ultrabooks. On PCMark 7, the Duo 11 scored 4,683, which is about 1,600 points higher than the category average, but well below the Portege Z935 (5,486), which has almost the same specs.
The Duo 11 booted Windows 8 in a fast 13 seconds, even faster than the Z935, which itself took a speedy 20 seconds to boot Windows 7. The SSD was just as fast when duplicating 5GB of multimedia files, taking a mere 35 seconds, for a transfer rate of 145.4 MBps. That's more than double the 61 MBps average, and just a bit below the Z935 (164.2 MBps) and the HP Envy Spectre XT's score of 150 MBps.
So how about everyday use? Both the Duo 11's touch screen and stylus worked well within Windows 8. We were able to not only execute mulltitouch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom, but all the Windows 8 gestures were also smooth. However, when you turn the Duo 11, it takes approximately two seconds for the screen to change orientation; it shrinks slightly, pauses, then rotates. Another annoying quirk is that the screen doesn't automatically orient itself with the keyboard when it's extended. More than once, we found ourselves looking at an upside-down display.
You can game on this hybrid, but not at full HD resolution. While we were able to eke out 31 frames per second in "World of Warcraft" with the effects on autodetect and the resolution at 1366 x 768, increasing the latter to the Duo 11's native 1080p dropped performance to 24 fps. Good luck with all the eye candy on: We averaged just 13 fps.
|CPU||1.7-GHz Intel Core i5-3317U|
|Operating System||Windows 8|
|RAM Upgradable to||6GB|
|Hard Drive Size||128GB|
|Hard Drive Speed||n/a|
|Hard Drive Type||SSD Drive|
|Optical Drive Speed||n/a|
|Graphics Card||Intel HD Graphics 4000|
|Wi-Fi Model||Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6235|
|Ports (excluding USB)||USB 3.0|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Headphone|
|Ports (excluding USB)||HDMI|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Ethernet|
|Ports (excluding USB)||VGA|
|Card Slots||Memory Stick Duo|
|Card Slots||2-1 card reader|
|Size||12.5 x 7.8 x 0.75 inches|