updated 09:05 pm EST, Mon January 16, 2012
We look at Sony's Hybrid, ultrabook at CES
Sony had a surprisingly large number of prototype devices at CES 2012, including a pure tablet. Those were only a small piece of its prototypes. We revisited to catch the rest as well as to see just how Sony was gearing up what looked to be a more direct challenge to Apple for 2012.
The Hybrid had some of the most prominent attention at Sony's booth and was clearly far along enough to represent what it would likely sell as its flagship Windows 8 device for the year. The slate looks to be an extremely slim, more upscale rival to ASUS' Eee Pad Slider. It would have space for a pen built into the keyboard base and would likely make hand drawing a centerpiece. Based on the dimensions, we suspect it would use Intel's Clover Trail Atom chip.
Two other PCs looked to be direct updates to, and slight reimaginings of, existing VAIO PCs. A generic 15-inch PC looked to be an update either to the VAIO E or C series with a more subdued look than the super-bright colors of before. A brushed-metal version looked like it could be a rare touch in an industry that normally likes 'safe' looks. The trackpad looked to be more of an Apple-inspired single-piece surface than Sony's usual.
Another system, a 13-inch model, was pitched more as Sony's answer to ultrabooks and dropped any trace of an optical drive. It looked to us to be more of an ultrabook conversion of the VAIO S and had the same one-surface trackpad as well as the "full-flat" design that was unique to the S last year. Our suspicion is that this will be what Sony pitches against the larger of the two MacBook Airs.
Sony didn't give any clues as to when any of these PCs would ship, but we expect that the traditional PCs will wait for the spring, while the Hybrid and the previous tablet wouldn't arrive until late in the year with Windows 8.
The traditional notebooks looked promising to us, if not especially revolutionary or an upset to the MacBook Air. We're somewhat concerned about the Hybrid, though. If this defines Sony's entry into Windows 8 tablets, it won't necessarily give Apple much threat. In many ways, it's a continuation of the same philosophy behind Windows tablet PCs that led to them being marginalized before: it's a reshuffling of a traditional notebook, albeit a very sleek one, with a keyboard and a pen.
Windows 8 has promise, but catering to the same niche market as existing Windows tablets isn't the way to do it. We're more curious about the touch-only tablet, since it could both be cheaper and would be closer to how many actually use tablets. For now, Apple's iPad isn't in any danger; it's a fundamentally different experience, and we can't imagine the Sony Hybrid coming close enough in price to justify its likely extra bulk and desktop OS.
VAIO C/E prototype
VAIO S prototype