Sony’s VAIO Duo 11 takes a different approach, hiding a keyboard underneath the tablet’s 11.6-inch screen, and making it accessible by sliding the screen up into a laptop-esque position. It’s a hybrid tablet design that’s also been released by Toshiba and MSI.
Design and features
The VAIO Duo 11 is very well put together. It’s constructed from a mix of plastic, glass and aluminium, with the display’s Gorilla Glass finish particularly glossy.
Turn the tablet over, and the slightly confused design continues. The VAIO Duo 11 is a mix of straight lines and beveled-edge curves, which serves to reduce the tablet’s overall dimensions at the cost of having some elements protruding further than others.
Look at the tablet front-on, for example, and the left and right edges of the Duo 11 bulge out. We think the tablet would look much better with an entirely squared-off or entirely curved design rather than this mid-way compromise.
In tablet mode, you’ve only got two buttons to access on the whole device — power, on the right-hand rear edge, and the Windows button on the screen’s lower bezel for waking from sleep and accessing the Windows 8 Modern interface.
Flip the screen up — pull upwards from the rear centre of the screen, and the smartly-designed mechanism pops into place — and you’re presented with a proper Ultrabook-style keyboard, with an optical track-ball sensor and three mouse buttons in place of a larger touch-sensitive trackpad.
The screen of the VAIO Duo 11 is one of its killer features. The 11.6-inch, 1920×1080 pixel panel with Sony’s contrast-boosting OptiContrast technology looks absolutely great, although it has a very glossy and fingerprint-attracting finish, which may annoy anyone intending to use the Duo 11 outside. The screen’s touch sensors are very accurate, and we rarely had trouble using icons within the Windows 8 desktop mode at its default 125% zoom mode.
The slider format does introduce a major compromise: you can’t adjust the angle of the VAIO Duo 11’s screen. Once it’s flipped up into the laptop-esque mode, there’s no extra vertical adjustment, so you’ll need to move to see the screen if it’s in an awkward position. Similarly, the keyboard that’s revealed when flipping the screen up isquite cramped, with minimal key travel. It’s reasonably easy to use with practice, but first-time users will be intimidated. The same is true of the OK-but-not-great optical trackball for controlling the mouse — we would have preferred a Lenovo-style joystick.
The VAIO Duo 11 has the largest array of ports we’ve seen on a tablet of its size. It’s clearly aimed at power users or businesses, with the standard consumer setup of HDMI output, dual USB 3.0, full-size SD/Memory Stick slot and headphone jack joined by a VGA output and wired Gigabit Ethernet connector. These last two will make the Vaio Duo 11 far more useful to a traditional business than most other Windows 8 tablets. A bundled miniature power brick helps make this Sony tablet more portable than a competing Ultrabook or full-size notebook.
Sony includes a digitiser-friendly writing pen with the VAIO Duo 11, the VGPSTD1. It’s designed to be more accurate than standard capacitive pens, and includes sensors to turn off the screen’s touch input to eliminate accidental palm-presses. It works very well, and is far more accurate than using a finger or thumb — this is especially useful in the Duo 11’s non-touch-optimised Windows 8 desktop mode. The problem is that there’s nowhere in the body of the device to store the pen, so you’re forced to carry it separately, significantly increasing the chance of it getting lost.
The Sony VAIO Duo 11 was a strong performer in our Windows 8 performance tests, with performance equal to a similarly-specced Ultrabook. It’s also got very similar specifications to the upcoming Surface Pro from Microsoft — an Intel Core i5-3317U CPU with 4GB of DDR3 RAM, CPU-integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics, and a 128GB solid-state drive.
The Duo 11 returned a result of 45sec in the Blender 3D rendering test, and converted 53min of WAV files to MP3 in iTunes in 1min 13sec. These results are comparable with other Windows 8 tablets and Ultrabooks using this standardised Core i5 setup.
The VAIO Duo 11 produced decent, but unspectacular, results in our battery life test, where we maximise screen brightness, enable the High Performance power setting, turn on Wi-Fi and loop an XviD-encoded video. Sony claims up to 4hr 30min of battery life during regular use.
We saw a result of 3hr 32min from fully charged to zero power — worse results than the Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro, which has the advantage of a secondary battery in its keyboard.
Futuremark’s Powermark software also estimated a battery life under balanced load of 3hr 46min.
The Sony VAIO Duo 11 is more than powerful enough for any everyday Windows 8 tasks — basic Web browsing, productivity in Word, Excel, or Outlook, some basic light-duty 3D gaming or photo editing — and the innovative slider format fits a full ultraportable laptop’s components into a tablet-centric form factor.
It’s a big compromise to have a non-tilting screen, though, and the keyboard is cramped — if you can live with these limitations the VAIO Duo 11 is a surprisingly versatile hybrid tablet.