Review Sony Vaio Duo 11

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Design and Ergonomics - Slider designs aren't new, but we see them mostly on the occasional Android tablet and smartphone. Sony's slider design is pure Sony with their usual minimalist, clean black look married to a little Steampunk funkiness. The front is completely normal and even the back is a visual essay in clean, stark design with a black metal plate that hides the slider mechanism. Take a look at the sides and that's where the Steampunk kicks in: peek inside the triangle formed by the display, bottom surface and back metal baffle and you'll see the hinges and two ribbon cables. It's interesting Sony hides the slider mechanism so perfectly and completely from the rear, but lets you see what's going on from the sides. The slider mechanism feels sturdy and it's actually quite easy to open the tablet and deploy the keyboard if you follow the simple instructions on the sheet nestled right on top of the tablet when you unbox it. Lift up from the grab point above the display and the springs that hold it closed at first resist before springing the contraption open. When open at a fixed angle (an angle we generally find very suitable for use in the lap or on a desk), the display is stable and doesn't wobble, which we appreciate on touchscreen machines where we spend a lot of time poking the display.

Review Sony Vaio Duo 11


Full HD IPS Display

The display is a thing of beauty: it has rich and natural colors with good saturation and it's bright at 400 nits. Since it's an IPS display viewing angles are wide at 178 degrees, and that's important with a small machine/ tablet that you're likely to use in a variety of odd positions. This is a glossy display, though glare is no worse than average and color accuracy is reasonable, with reds that look red rather than orange.

With 1920 x 1080 resolution, text looks incredibly sharp and clear, and that's a good thing because when you're in desktop mode, fonts are on the small side. The Modern UI (formerly called Metro, the Live Tile touch interface) scales much more aggressively to make things bigger and more readable than does the desktop, which follows Windows 7's handling of resolution. By default, Sony sets the desktop and Internet Explorer 10 running in desktop mode to 125% font zoom, which I find readable despite having at best mediocre eyes.

It's a pleasure to watch full HD movies on the Sony display and the ambient light sensor does a good job of setting brightness (you can disable it if you wish). The display bezel is fairly large, but we suspect that makes for a more sturdy design as does the Gorilla Glass 2 on top.

Digital Pen and N-Trig Digitizer

We've seen quite a few touchscreen Windows 8 machines at launch, but few have the active digitizer with digital pen that used to be standard issue with Windows tablet PCs. The Vaio Duo 11 has a 10 point capacitive multi-touch display and an active N-Trig digitizer with a lovely metal pen included. Alas, there's no place to stow the pen in the computer unless you add on the $149 battery slide with pen silo. Why? The computer is too thin to house a silo for the ample sized pen. The digital pen has two buttons (generally assigned to right click and erase) and it's far more precise than a capacitive stylus. It also supports pressure sensitivity in apps like the included Art Rage Pro, though N-Trig is still working with Adobe to deliver drivers for apps that use WinTab drivers like Photoshop. Like other N-Trig pens, the one included with the Sony uses a single AAAA battery that should last for many months. Sony includes two pen nibs in the box so you can experiment with feel. Unlike older N-Trig pens, neither tip is overly loud (the clacking on glass isn't annoying). Given the relatively strong CPU and graphics in the Vaio Duo 11 vs. Atom and ARM tablets, the tablet can handle Art Rage, Painter 12 and other apps that artists favor. Couple that with the precise digital pen with pressure sensitivity and you have a viable digital canvas.

Horsepower and Ports

Unlike the Microsoft Surface RT tablet we recently reviewed, this is full Windows 8 running on an Intel Core i5 CPU (a Core i7 is also available) with Intel HD 4000 graphics. That means you can run Windows 7 apps and all .exe programs. In fact, The Vaio Duo 11 is equivalent to a peppy Ultrabook and it runs on the same third generation Intel Ivy Bridge ULV (ultra low voltage) CPUs. The $1,199 1.7GHz Core i5-3317U quick ship model reviewed here has 6 gigs of DDR3 1333MHz RAM and 8 gigs is max. The $1,499 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-3517U comes with 8 gigs of RAM and a 256 gig SSD. Unlike some other Sony models with SSDs like the Sony Vaio Z, the drive is a single mSATA SSD rather than a custom RAID0 dual SSD configuration. Nonetheless, it benchmarks very well. The Duo 11's price is actually reasonable vs. the Ultrabook and convertible competition, since you get a generously configured machine plus a touchscreen, full HD IPS display and active digitizer.
Ports are relatively abundant for an Ultrabook class machine, and these include two USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, VGA and RealTek gigabit Ethernet. The Sony Vaio Duo 11 has dual band Intel 6235N WiFi with WiDi, Bluetooth 4.0 +HS and NFC.

If you're willing to remove 18 Philips head screws from the bottom, you can access the single RAM slot and drive bay for upgrades. The machine has 4 gigs of RAM soldered to the motherboard and a RAM slot. That bad news is that it's a Sony proprietary module. The stated max RAM is 8 gigs (4 soldered on board + a 4 gig DIMM). That said, 8 gigs is generally speaking as much memory as you'll ever need on an Ultrabook class device whose primary purpose in life isn't professional HD video editing or running several VMs concurrently.

The Sony Duo 11 runs remarkably cool and quiet. In fact, it's the quietest Ultrabook we've used, and Ultrabooks tend to be cool and quiet with a few exceptions. Surface temperature stay well below body temperature and when viewing web pages and working on MS Office documents you won't even hear the fan in a quiet room. When streaming YouTube video and Netflix HD video the fan is very quiet and 3D games like Left4Dead 2 and Civ V ramp up fan speeds well within reason (you'll hear them, as expected). When doing a mix of productivity tasks, the CPU temp averages 44 degrees Centigrade, which is a perfectly acceptable temp, so the fans aren't being throttled at the expense of internal component temperatures.


Keyboard and Optical Nav

The convertible tablet has a backlit island style keyboard and an optical navigation device. The keyboard is small given the 11.6" size, but I find it quite usable. When the slider is closed, the keyboard is tucked safely under the display section. Key travel is good for such a thin device and the keys have satisfying tactile feedback. That said, it is a small keyboard and you may need a day or two to adjust. After a day of use I was typing at 80 WPM with a low error rate, and that's similar to what I manage with my desktop keyboard. I do have large hands, though my fingers are slim. Men with large, thick fingers may find it hard to adjust. Keyboard backlight can be controlled manually or via the ambient light sensor that also controls display brightness. Both the letters and the rings surrounding each key illuminate with white light when backlighting is active.

Review Sony Vaio Duo 11

Wireless

Wired Gigabit Ethernet is a rare treat on a tablet and Ultrabook, and we're thrilled that Sony has included it. Business travelers know that Ethernet is a must have, and the same is true for those who are security minded. The drop-down Ethernet jack is located on the back edge of the tablet and it's a RealTek WiFi module. The tablet has dual band Intel WiFi 6235N, and in our tests it had both good range and throughput on our 802.11N network (we tested both the 2.4 and 5GHz bands). We suffered no connection dropouts and WiFi connected quickly after each boot and reboot. Intel WiDi wireless display is included so you can send your desktop or a movie to your HD TV if you have a WiDi adapter for your TV like the NetGear Push2TV HD PVT2000. Want to use Bluetooth speakers, mice or keyboards? The Vaio Duo has Bluetooth 4.0 +HS. Though NFC isn't yet common on laptops (it's becoming increasingly common on smartphones), the tablet has NFC whose main job in life at the moment is transferring data with other NFC devices.

Battery Life

Battery life for Windows 8 touchscreen notebooks hasn't been stellar and the Sony Vaio Duo 11 is no exception. Though the portable has a generous 4960 mAh Lithium Ion Polymer battery, Sony claims a mere 4 hours and 45 minutes of runtime with auto-brightness active. Compared to non-touchscreen Ultrabooks, which manage 5 to 6 hours, that's not terribly impressive. In our tests with typical productivity use, the Vaio did live up to Sony's expectations and we averaged 4.0 to 4.5 hours of use with WiFi on and brightness set to 50% (that's actually quite bright given the 400 nits of max brightness).


Specs:

  • Display: 11.6", 1920 x 1080 IPS LED backlit display with Gorilla Glass. 10 point multi-touch plus active N-Trig digitizer with digital two button pen. Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics. HDMI and VGA ports. Has Intel WiDi wireless display.
  • Battery: 4960 mAh Lithium Ion Polymer rechargeable, sealed inside. Optional sheet battery available that doubles runtimes.
  • Performance: 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U or 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-3517U CPU (both with Turbo Boost). 6 or 8 gigs DDR3 1333Mhz RAM (4 gigs soldered on motherboard and one RAM slot). 128 or 256 gig SSD drive.
  • Size: 12.60 x7.84 x .71 inches. Weight: 2.87 pounds.
  • Camera: 1.3MP webcam with mic.
  • Audio: Built in stereo speakers, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone jack. Dolby audio plus xLoud audio.
  • Networking: Integrated dual band Intel 6235N WiFi 802.11b/g/n with WiDi and Bluetooth 4.0 +HS. Has NFC.
  • Software: Windows 8 64 bit. Various Sony utilities, MS Office 2010 trial and Art Rage Pro.
  • Expansion and Ports: HDMI, VGA, Ethernet, two USB 3.0 ports (one charging USB port), 3.5mm combo audio jack and 1 SD/Memory Stick HG Duo card slot.

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