Attractive design with fold-back display; Integrated battery enables portability; Responsive touch screen with wide viewing angles; Good selection of family-friendly apps
Integrated graphics; Display has fairly low 1600 x 900 resolution; Grainy webcam; Limited port selection
The first Windows 8 all-in-one with a touch screen and integrated battery provides fun for the whole family.
The family that plays together stays together, as the old adage goes. These days, however, family members seem more interested in playing on their own devices than with each other. Sony hopes to change that with the VAIO Tap 20 ($999 as configured), the first all-in-one PC to feature an internal battery and a host of family-friendly apps. The idea is that you could transport this Windows 8 device from, say, the kitchen to the living room without having to stay tethered to an outlet. In an age of parallel play, does this big-screen machine have what it takes to bring everyone together?
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DesignWindows 8 button (which takes you to the Start Screen when pressed) is at the very bottom of the display in the middle.
Designed to be carried in your home from one room to another--but no further--the 19.9 x 12.0 x 1.8-inch, 11.2-pound Tap 20 boasts a number of portable features, including an integrated 5,000-mAh lithium ion battery, a stand that can fold flat against the back of the PC, and a weight that's less than half that of traditional all-in-one computers. Nevertheless, the Tap 20 still feels fairly heavy, and we can't imagine most users will want to lug this all-in-one around often. Just in case you do take this device on the road, though, Sony offers a custom-size carrying case for $59.
Durability features include shock sensors that protect the hard drive from sudden drops and a splash-resistant screen. Considering that the Tap 20 is designed to be used by the whole family, however, we would have appreciated a few more rugged features such as a Gorilla Glass display.
Keyboard and Mouse
If you're not a fan of the traditional layout, the keyboard can be changed to a split-screen configuration, with half of the keys on the left side of screen and the other half on the right; unfortunately, we found the keys too small in this mode for it to be useful. For those who prefer the elegance of penmanship, Windows 8 can also accurately translate handwriting into text (although a capacitive pen is not included with the Tap 20).
Thankfully, Sony doesn't expect users to compose documents with the capacitive touch screen alone. The Tap 20 ships with a wireless AA battery-powered mouse and keyboard, both of which feature the same all-white design as the rear of the device. The island-style keyboard, although small, manages to fit in a dedicated number pad, as well as discrete keys for sleep, volume and mute. The keys offer enough tactile feedback to make typing a pleasure.
The mouse, like the keyboard, seems a bit too narrow. Nevertheless, the mouse buttons and wheel proved responsive and offered a pleasing amount of feedback when pressed.
Still, thanks to the Tap 20's IPS display and integrated Mobile Bravia Engine (the same software used on Xperia phones and tablets), the all-in-one boasts lush colors and generous viewing angles. Watching HD footage of the video game "Blacklight: Retribution," the brightly lit neon signs of neo-Tokyo seemed to pop off the screen.
The Tap 20 comes with three audio presets: ClearAudio+, S-FORCE Front Surround 3D and Dolby Home Theater v4. Of the three, we found that only ClearAudio+ delivered accurate sound. Enabling S-FORCE Front Surround 3D muffled the audio, while Dolby Home Theater v4 boosted the maximum volume but caused music to sound harsh and ragged.
Windows 8 Experience
The first thing users will see when they turn on the Tap 20 is the new Windows 8 user interface. This tile-based UI, the most obvious difference between Windows 7 and 8, sits on top of the traditional windowed desktop that Windows users have grown accustomed to over the years. From the Start Screen, you can launch apps by tapping their respective tiles, or open a complete list of apps by either swiping down from the top of the screen or up from the bottom. To close an open app, swipe or drag it from the top of the screen to the bottom.
MORE: Top 25 Windows 8 Apps
You can cycle through open apps by swiping your finger from the left side of the screen toward the center. Performing the same action, while keeping your finger on the app, allows you to open two apps simultaneously in split-screen mode.
Swiping your finger from the right side of the screen toward the center brings up the Charms menu, from which you can return to the Start Screen, search for programs and files, share content, connect to devices and adjust settings. The settings sub-menu contains options to manage wireless settings, adjust volume, hide notifications, switch keyboard mode and turn off or restart the PC, but you'll need to use the control panel in desktop mode to access more settings.
One way or another, however, you'll eventually have to navigate in desktop mode. The Windows 8 desktop looks identical to its predecessor in Windows 7, with one glaring difference--there's no Start Menu. First-time users will undoubtedly find this obnoxious, as opening new applications forces you to return to the Start Screen (either by swiping from the right side of the screen and selecting the Start button, or pressing the Windows button on the display or keyboard). What's more, in the time we've spent with Windows 8 on smaller tablets, trying to tap on the tiny desktop icons can turn into a major pain.
Thanks to its massive 20-inch display, however, flicking from app to app with our fingers quickly became a joy, while navigating in desktop mode mercifully avoided becoming a finger-jabbing exercise in frustration. Touch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom, rotate and two-finger scrolling worked reliably, and the accelerometer quickly changed the orientation of the screen when we switched from landscape to portrait mode (not that you'll do this very often).
As one would expect for such a unique product, Sony bundled the VAIO Tap 20 with a number of family-friendly applications designed to take advantage of all-in-one's 20-inch, 10-point touch screen.
Family Paint, an application geared toward children, lets two users draw pictures side-by-side. Each user can select from a variety of crayons, colored pencils and markers, and draw or erase his or her picture without affecting the other's art. Like ArtRage Studio Pro, we found Family Paint highly responsive to our touch (and unlike the other program, it let us draw with all 10 fingers simultaneously). Moreover, it proved easy to play with Family Paint even while the computer was lying flat, thanks to the wide viewing angles afforded by the Tap 20's IPS display.
Music by Sony and Albums by Sony, although still in beta, function as a player, organizer and store front for music and movies. The full version of the applications will utilize DLNA, meaning that you'll be able to stream content onto the Tap 20 from other DLNA-compatible devices. Sony expects that the apps will be up and running by the time Windows 8 officially launches.
The last Sony-branded application is My Daily Clip, which was also still in beta. Designed to reinvigorate family game nights, My Daily Clip functions similarly to the board game Scene It - a new movie clip is downloaded to the Tap 20 each day and up to four players can answer trivia questions related to the clip. Points awarded to players for correct answers can then be used to rent or buy movies on iTunes. Unfortunately, you can only watch one clip per day, and the selection of movies is restricted to those from Sony Pictures.
In addition to the standard Windows 8 applications such as Mail, Calendar, People and Messaging, a few Microsoft and third-party applications have been preinstalled on the Tap 20 as well, including Skype, Kaspersky antivirus and Hulu Plus.
Ports and Webcam
Too bad HDMI-in and VGA ports have been excluded from the design. Given the size of the display, preventing users from watching movies or playing games over HDMI seems like a waste. The Tap 20 also lacks an optical drive, but seeing that many users stream movies and music through services like Netflix and Spotify, we're willing to forgive its exclusion.
Almost as disappointing as the Tap 20's port selection was its front-facing 1.2-megapixel camera. Although colors in 720p stills and video looked bright and vibrant, captured images appeared extremely grainy when viewed in full-screen mode. Thankfully, the camera didn't exhibit any lag when recording either stills or video.
To test this feature ourselves, we loaded the desktop version of "The New York Times" on our Samsung Galaxy Note. Tapping the phone against the back of the Tap 20 caused the phone to vibrate in our hands and a message appeared asking us if we'd like to transfer the URL. A similar message appeared on the Tap 20's screen asking if we'd like to receive the content. Tapping on both messages accepted the transfer, and within seconds, we were reading the news on our 20-inch display.
On Geekbench, a benchmark which measures processor and memory performance, the Tap 20 turned in a score of 5,683. This stacks up fairly well against the score of 6,985 achieved by the similarly configured Sony VAIO S Series 15 (2.5-GHz Intel Core i5-3210M CPU, 6GB of RAM, $999), but falls far behind the desktop replacement category average of 10,358.
The Tap 20 saw similar results on benchmarks designed to test its hard drive speed. While the Tap 20's 750GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive booted Windows 8 in a tolerable 44 seconds - 6 seconds faster than the average desktop replacement - it copied 5GB of mixed media files in an interminable 7 minutes and 1 second, for a rate of 12.1 MBps. The Sony VAIO S Series 15, by contrast, achieved a transfer rate of 35.1 MBps, while the desktop replacement average eclipsed the Tap 20 by more than 50 MBps.
The all-in-one struggled on the LAPTOP Spreadsheet Macro Test as well, taking 5 minutes and 47 seconds to match 20,000 names with their corresponding addresses. The average desktop replacement, in comparison, completed this task more than a minute faster.
Still, the Tap 20 performed well under a heavy workload. We noticed very little lag as we wrote this review while streaming music on YouTube, performing an anti-virus scan and browsing the Web with 10 tabs open in both Internet Explorer and Google Chrome.
Unsurprisingly, this low score translates into stuttering frame rates. When we ran "World of Warcraft" with the graphics set to Good and the resolution at 1600 x 900, the Tap 20 averaged an unplayable 22 frames per second. When we cranked up the graphics to Ultra, the framerate plummeted to a haltingly slow 12 fps.
The Tap 20 remained cool throughout our testing. After streaming video on Hulu for 15 minutes, the touch screen and the back of the computer measured a cool 82 degrees Fahrenheit. The hottest point we found on the all-in-one was the top of the display in the middle, which registered a warm 90 degrees.
In addition to our configuration, which featured a Core i5 CPU, 4GB of RAM and a 750GB hard drive, the VAIO Tap 20 can be upgraded with a Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB or 512GB SSD. For the budget-minded, the Tap 20 can also be equipped with a less expensive Core i3 processor and a 500GB hard drive.
|CPU||Intel Core i5-3317U|
|Operating System||Windows 8|
|RAM Upgradable to||8GB|
|Hard Drive Size||750GB|
|Hard Drive Speed||5,400rpm|
|Hard Drive Type||SATA Hard Drive|
|Optical Drive Speed||n/a|
|Graphics Card||Intel HD Graphics 4000|
|Wi-Fi Model||Intel Centrino Wireless-N 135|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Microphone|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Headphone|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Ethernet|
|Ports (excluding USB)||USB 3.0|
|Card Slots||Memory Stick|
|Card Slots||SD memory reader|
|Warranty/Support||1 year international limited warranty|
|Size||19.9 x 12.0 x 1.8 inches|