Shopping for a Windows 8 convertible is difficult. You need to find something that's both an amazing laptop and a fantastic tablet. If the laptop part is rubbish you'll end up with a heavy, expensive tablet with a bad battery, and if the tablet part is rubbish you'll have a laptop with something you don't need on it that you still shelled out for. Thankfully, there's a device that is all things to all people. It's called the Sony Vaio Duo 11, and it's excellent.
What Is It?
The Vaio Duo 11 is Sony's red-hot go at a Windows 8 convertible. The prototype model we reviewed packs and 11.6-inch, 1080p screen with a widescreen aspect ratio of 16:9. Inside, it has a 1.9GHz Core i7 Intel Ivy Bridge processor, 4GB of RAM and Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics.
You can spec up the Vaio Duo 11 to carry up to 8GB of RAM and either a 128GB or 256GB solid state drive. It also has a nifty stylus so you can use the touchscreen like a graphics tablet.
It's almost a competitor to the Microsoft Surface Pro. I say almost because the keyboard on the Vaio is always docked whether you like it or not.
The flick-out keyboard form factor of the Vaio 11 is excellent, and it passes easily for a laptop or tablet wherever you go — both functions are solid, unlike the Surface RT and Surface Pro which has the annoying problem of not being able to be used on one's lap due to the design. A quick snap of the screen, however, and the Vaio converts between a great tablet and a nifty laptop.
The size and weight of the Vaio actually baffles the mind the first few times you pick it up. The device is super thin for an ultrabook with a slide-out touchscreen that it actually makes you double check when you pick it up that there's not a piece missing from the bottom.
The slew of ports available on the Vaio Duo 11 is fantastic. You've got a two USB 3.0 ports, an SD card reader, ethernet port, a full size HDMI port and a display port. There's no optical drive to speak of, but at 1.3 kg you wouldn't want any extra weight on there, especially in tablet mode.
When you get down to the business of using it, it can take a moment to adjust to the form factor and the wide aspect of the device, but once you have mastered the combination of the keyboard, touchscreen and trackpad nib in the centre of the device, getting about is a breeze, nay, a joy.
Let's be clear: the Vaio Duo 11 is not suitable for gaming or taxing processor work. Few convertibles are. Frame rates slow to a crawl on your games and Photoshop and video editing work gets frustrating after a while due to the lag between tasks. Blame that on the integrated Intel HD 4000 on-board.
Also, the design plays against the Vaio when it comes to shifting the device into portrait mode. There isn't a whole lot of screen real estate in portrait mode due to the widescreen aspect ratio.
The sliding mechanism feels sturdy when you activate it, but peer into the gap left by the screen and you'll see the guts of the device holding everything together. It can be a little disconcerting for some, seeing all the bits and pieces that keeps your expensive convertible alive, doubly so when you think about it stretching and flicking every time you activate the slider.
Finally, the Vaio Duo 11 leaves a bit to be desired in the battery department. You'll only get about four hours out of the device, which for a tablet is fairly disappointing. We'll bring it down to the curse of the convertible.
Should You Buy It?
The Vaio Duo 11 strikes a beautiful balance between ultrabook and tablet. For a great tablet and a great ultrabook, you could expect to pay at least $2000. For the Vaio Duo 11, however, you'll only have to shell out $1449. That's awesome value for a fantastic little device that straddles two form factors incredibly well. If you're in the market for a convertible, the Vaio Duo 11 should be at the top of your shopping list.