updated 10:31 pm EDT, Fri May 31, 2013
Sony Vaio Duo 11 tries hard to offer the best of both worlds
While criticisms about the radical redesign of Windows 8 have persisted since its introduction, it has been very much responsible for ushering in a wide range of really interesting PC hardware designs. One of these is the Sony Vaio Duo 11, which is an integrated hybrid design that marries a tablet experience with a notebook-like experience. However, as with just about every piece of new Windows 8 hardware that I can think of, the Vaio Duo 11 is better at handling one aspect of the Windows 8 interface than the other without quite nailing both properly.
The Sony Vaio Duo is a really well made piece of hardware. It is clear that Sony gone to a lot of trouble to properly engineer the notebook's design. The hinges are sturdy and well made and the notebook feel solid in both tablet mode and notebook mode. At first glance, it seems to fulfill the dream of a single device that works equally well both as a tablet and as a notebook. Ever since the iPad came out, many people have been looking for a device that does the same things as an iPad, but also has the functionality of complete notebook.
The Vaio Duo clearly works best in tablet mode using the Windows modern UI tile-based interface. Although even then it still quite heavy and bulky compared to using an iPad, or a regular Windows 8 slate-only. But this said, it still works very well in this mode. Its display is one of the best I've seen on the notebook or tablet and looks simply stunning, helping to make the device of joy to use. Movies and games look great while the touchscreen is very responsive.
However where the Vaio Duo starts to run into trouble is how it feels to use in notebook mode, which is where its design is most compromised. Its keyboard is rather cramped, with small keys and its pointer/tracker is rather awkward to use when navigating around the notebook in Windows desktop mode. Its all left and right click buttons are very narrow and also difficult to use accurately. At a minimum, to use the device comfortably in desktop mode requires the addition of Bluetooth mouse.
Compared to a Windows 8 device like the Microsoft Surface, the Vaio Duo can at least be used on a lap while on a train or bus for example. This is perhaps the biggest shortcoming of the Microsoft Surface, which although being designed to embody the ultimate Windows 8 device, only properly works as a notebook when used in conjunction with a desk. So despite offering the ability to use the Sony VAIO on your lap, it still falls short of providing a satisfactory notebook experience on the go.
So what would make me want to buy the second-generation Sony Vaio Duo 11? It would have to be much lighter and thinner than it already is. It would also have to have a better keyboard as well as a more useful navigation solution for the desktop mode. Although it's true that still possible to use the touchscreen in desktop mode to help get around the interface, that does not adequately fulfill the need to be able to successfully point and click with ease in desktop mode.
If you are looking for a device that can be used as both a tablet and a notebook the Sony Vaio Duo 11 does a decent job. It is just like most other hybrid Windows 8 devices in that it shows potential, but it is not quite there yet.
By Sanjiv Sathiah