The Sony VAIO Duo 11 is the brand's first Windows 8-toting tablet-laptop hybrid, but is it any good? Find out here...
The arrival of Windows 8 has heralded some crazy new designs, as the lines of PC and tablet, and touchscreen and keyboard are blurred. The rulebook has been well and truly torn up, and result is the Sony VAIO Duo 11.
Like the beginning of a Formula One season, every manufacturer has interpreted the rules differently: the Samsung ATIVsmart PC and Asus Vivo Tab opt for a tablet format with a keyboard docking station while the Asus Taichi retains the clamshell form of a laptop but with a second screen in the lid which can be used independently.
In comparison, the Sony VAIO Duo 11 is much more traditional, rolling back the clock to the sliding tablet format, where the screen slides back to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard. It's not unlike the ill-fated Asus EeePC Slider in its design, but can it attract better success.
Sony VAIO Duo 11: Build
There's yet to be a hybrid device that is equidistant between laptop and tablet and the final design always falls closer to one side. Make no mistake, the compact keyboard and lack of a trackpad mean that the Duo is more tablet than laptop, aimed at those who want a powerful slate with a keyboard for writing emails and working on documents.
The keys are well spaced for an 11-inch device although there's precious little cushioning for speed typing digits and spending 10 hours working with the Sony and your fingers will know about it.
The Sony VAIO Duo 11 is extremely solid when you consider that the sliding design will feel flimsy if the components aren't well made. At 1.3KG the Sony is heavy for a tablet making it slightly uncomfortable to hold for long periods.
The thickness is also an issue and although the sides have been tapered to make it easier to grip, it's still a workout for the biceps. At 320 x 200 x 18mm it's not slim for a tablet, but considering it packs in the power of a laptop, it's still impressive.
A lot of thought and effort has gone into the design of the hinge, ensuring that unwanted movement is kept to a minimum. You can open the Duo with one finger by pulling up from the back. After some initial resistance the screen glides back and rises up before slotting into place with a satisfying bump. There's no grating friction between the moving elements, a mark of the excellent build.
However, while the hinge is a triumph of functional deisgn it isn't exactly attractive and it dominates the look of the Duo 11 when open in 'laptop mode.'
Sony VAIO Duo 11: Features
Inside the Sony VAIO Duo 11 is a 3rd Generation Intel Core i5 3317U processor clocked at 1.7GHz. This low power variety of chip is most commonly found in Ultrabooks, so the Sony VAIO Duo 11 offers laptop power in a tablet form factor.
Elsewhere, there's 4GB of RAM and a 128GB hard drive, which is far more generous than you'll find on rival Android tablets or the new iPad 3. There's plenty of room for media, pictures and files and the plethora of connections means that you can connect USB storage, taking capacity into the terabytes.
While on the subject of connectivity, there's HDMI, VGA and shockingly Ethernet, which gives it the edge over many ultraportable laptops like the Samsung Series 9 and the MacBook Air.
This shows that unlike tablets such as the iPad, which is designed for sofa enjoyment, the Duo 11 is destined to be a productivity tool that can still be used for apps and games after hours, somewhat justifying the colossal price tag.
Another nod to the business and creative market is stylus, which enables you to use handwriting apps and tools.
The stylus feels weighty and sturdy in the hand and Windows 8 is excellent at recognising even the scruffiest scrawls. There are 256 levels of pressure so it feels natural to use, but Sony's pen still lags behind the advanced technology behind Samsung's Pen-S, found on the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 and outed on the Samsung ATIVsmart PC Windows tablet.
It's no gimmick, but it's a shame that you will need to invest in the official Sony case to have anywhere to store it.
Sony VAIO Duo 11: Screen
The Sony VAIO Duo 11's screen is a real triumph and despite measuring just 11-inches it still packs in a 1920 x 1080 resolution. It does mean that the traditional desktop is very small, but more than makes up for it while using the new Windows 8 user interface.
Sony has opted for an IPS panel, so colours look sharp and colours look vibrant, which make the Sony a real head turner. The sliding tablet caught many an admiring glance from passers by, thanks in no small part to the new Windows UI.
The only downside is the extremely shiny screen that made working with strong overhead lights difficult. The IPS display went some way to remedy this with the brightness turned up high, but when mixed with the greasy fingerprints that are attracted to the screen faster than John Terry to a team mate's spouse, visibility was severely impaired.
The touchscreen recognition was superb and the screen was responsive to the touch, and rarely misregistered our presses. While Windows 8 is optimised for touch, the back end hasn't changed much, but that still didn't limit the Sony Duo 11, which is just as well, as the trackpad nipple on the keyboard is unusable.
Sony VAIO Duo 11: Performance
In terms of raw performance, the Sony VAIO Duo 11 blows many full-form laptops out of the water. It achieved a score of nearly 10,000 in Cinebench, in a test where many Ultrabooks stutter at the 8,000 mark.
This processing grunt means that demanding programs and multitasking is more than within its remit, and this opens up exciting opportunities for people who need to work on the move.
Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Photoshop Elements could all be run at the same time, making it a great choice for anyone who looks at the likes of the Asus Transformer Prime or new iPad and wishing it could run full applications.
Graphics performance was also competitive, matching most Ultrabook laptops thanks to the Intel HD 4000 core, which is part of the Ivy Bridge processor. We've seen modern games running smoothly on the built-in Intel Core i7 graphics chip, albeit not at high quality, so the swathes of titles coming to the Windows Store will be easy pickings for this high-end machine.
Sony VAIO Duo 11: Battery
Despite the laptop level power, battery wasn't quite so impressive and we drained the Sony in under 200 minutes while looping a HD video.
It comes to reason that sticking a laptop processor and graphics, 4GB of RAM and an SSD into a tablet without increasing the battery size will result in shorter battery life. There's still enough power to watch a movie while on the train, and basic tasks will enable it to last for around 4 hours, but it's miniscule compared to the iPad that can last around 400 minutes under equal strain.
Sony VAIO Duo 11: Verdict
Summing up the Sony VAIO Duo 11 depends heavily on your needs. On one hand it's a £1000 tablet, which is too heavy and cumbersome to compete with the iPad or even the Tegra 3 powered Nexus 7, which is 1/5 of the price.
On the other hand, here is a new Windows device which has all the power of a laptop, that can be picked up and used like a tablet, offering a superb touchscreen experience, amazing connectivity and an enviable full HD screen.
We fell for the Sony's charms, and after throwing off the shackles of what Android and Apple tablets can't do, we started to really let it under our skin. The problem isn't price, however, it's usability, and the uncomfortable weight and cramped, unforgiving keys mean we're not quite ready to defect from our laptops, and at £1000, most people will be unable to choose both.
Sony VAIO Duo 11 release date: October 2012
Sony VAIO Duo 11 price: £1000