By SUSANNA KHOObytz@thestar.com.my
Here is an Ultrabook that functions as both tablet and laptop.
RATHER than having to choose one thing over another, why not have the best of both worlds?
This seems to be the motivating factor behind the creation of this 11.6in Ultrabook from Sony, which offers users the functionality of a touchscreen tablet as well as a full HD-screen laptop.
It certainly looked good, thanks to its swoopy styling and lots of shiny bits. And we couldn't wait to switch it on.
The notebook typically took about seven to eight seconds to boot up, and only one to two seconds to awaken from Sleep mode. Big plus here in our book.
We saw right away that the notebook performed very well in terms of image quality, offering a crisp display of vibrant colours on its 1,920 x 1,080 full HD OptiContrast panel when we ran a 140-minute HD movie on it.
In terms of sound quality, the device's Dolby Home Theatre v4 audio system delivered results we could not fault. Also, the volume level only needed to be set around 46% for music to be comfortably audible in a fairly quiet environment.
Battery life lasted about four hours on Power Saver mode after a full charge, when we performed basic Internet browsing and ran the HD movie. When the settings were changed to High Performance mode, battery power lasted only three hours when the same activities were performed. Still good, though.
We managed to keep the Ultrabook alive throughout a full working day (9am to 6pm) by opting for more energy-saving settings. However, if you'd like to enjoy longer battery life, you can purchase the extra sheet battery, which Sony said will afford you a combined battery life of up to 10 hours.
Meanwhile, heat emitted from the laptop was not excessive and you could safely place it on your lap without experiencing discomfort.
Another feature we liked was the notebook's Active Clip function, which enables users to cut, paste and crop images from any source within the computer (including the Internet), and this was a really useful tool that replaces the much more tiresome feat of performing the same actions with the aid of a mouse.
In terms of the accuracy, the results we experienced were good because we managed to crop out unwanted image backgrounds without much fuss.
As for the digitiser stylus, it was generally easy to handle and featured two buttons which enabled the pointing device to be used as a substitute for mouse clicks, and an eraser when using image-editing software.
However, it was puzzling to discover that the cap for the stylus could not be pushed all the way down when attempting to cover the tip. We also found it difficult to swap the hard and soft tips on the stylus.
Furthermore, we were disappointed to find that there was no slot on the Ultrabook for storing the stylus. This feature is on the extended sheet battery for the Ultrabook - an optional extra, remember?
Anyway, the stylus worked well for image editing and handwritten inputs.
The Ultrabook weighs 1.3kg and has a thickness of 17.85mm. Given that it has been called an Ultrabook, we felt that some consumers may be surprised at its size because the name often raises expectations for a much slimmer and smaller notebook.
Nevertheless, we felt that the screen size here was good for enjoying multimedia content. As for its weight, we found this to be ideal because it did not feel burdensome, even after we had taken the device around the city for a full working day.
Another one of the product's special features is its Surf Slider design, which enables users to switch back and forth from tablet to laptop mode. This gives users the flexibility of being able to use both these modes on a single device, which is an advantage with this product.
However, we had some issues with several aspects of the design. In keyboard mode, we didn't like that the screen could only be slid and locked into one designated position. You don't have the option of adjusting the angle of the screen to your liking.
This especially became a problem when the laptop was being used outdoors in the daytime because there was often the issue of glare on the screen. Of course, moving into a shadier spot often fixed that.
Next, the sliding mechanism worked fine overall and seems sturdy, but we had some concerns about how well it would fare over the long term.
During the short span of time that we tested the notebook, there were several occasions where the screen slid out of its position while we were in keyboard mode and had tilted the Ultrabook slightly.
The keyboard has nice backlit chiclet keys and an optical trackball with slim little buttons below the space bar which can be used to perform left and right mouse clicks.
We are used to full-sized keys, so we found it uncomfortable to type on this keyboard due to the smallish size of the individual keys (they are rectangle shaped) and the wide distance between one key and another.
Also, we think the optical trackball is redundant. Since the notebook operates on Windows 8, it is sufficient for users to either use their fingers or the stylus for screen navigation.
Moving on, there are four small buttons on the underside of the laptop: Two volume control buttons, an orientation lock button and an Assist button which brings up the VaioCare Rescue Mode that helps users recover the system in the event of a crash.
We did not like where these buttons were placed - users would have to lift the laptop up or tilt it in order to press the buttons. Furthermore, the Assist button was often pressed by accident whenever we moved the laptop around or inserted it into a bag. Putting the button behind a cover would have helped prevent this.
Also, on the downside we all too often encountered unwanted changes in the screen orientation whenever the laptop was moved around. And it took too long to reorientate the screen. But to be fair, this is a Windows 8 issue.
Of course, this could be easily fixed by locking the orientation of the laptop to your desired preference.
Next, there are two USB 3.0 ports provided on this Ultrabook.
These can be used to recharge other devices, such as smartphones, digital voice recorders and iPods, while the laptop is in use or in Sleep mode.
We found this useful since some smartphones are power hungry.
On the other hand, the full-HD front and rear facing cameras which use Sony's Exmor for PC technology aimed at reducing pixellation in photos, did not impress us.
These produced rather mediocre photo and video quality.
Then again, we don't think it's ideal to take videos or photos using an Ultrabook anyway.
Sony's design for this hybrid Ultrabook is interesting and it does look elegant, even if there are a few teething problems that need to be worked out.
But if having the flexibility to alternate between tablet and traditonal laptop mode means a lot to you, then you'll likely be willing to live with these issues.
And there are plenty of pluses to overcome the minuses, such as great HD video and audio, the Active Clip function and the laptop's relatively light weight.
Pros: Can operate as either a laptop or tablet; weight won't give your a hernia; superb HD video and great audio; Active Clip function is very useful; stylus adds more capabilities; heat dissipation very efficient; very fast boot-up times; notable battery life.
Cons: Keyboard is not full-sized, so can be cramped for some users; some buttons placed in hard-to-reach locations; screen locks into place at one angle only; lacklustre performance from built-in cameras.
Vaio Duo 11
Hybrid ultrabook (tablet + PC)
PROCESSOR: Intel® Core i5-3317U Processor 1.7GHz with Turbo Boost up to 2.6GHz
MEMORY: 4GB DDR3L 1,600MHz SDRAM
DISPLAY: 11.6in full HD 1,920 x 1,080 TFT touchscreen OptiContrast Panel with LED backlight
GRAPHICS: Intel HD Graphics 4000
CONNECTIVITY: WLAN 802.11 a/b/g/n, Bluetooth Version 4.0 + HS, Ethernet (1000BASE-T/100-BASE-TX/10BASE-T x 1)
BUILT-IN CAMERAS: Front and rear, 2.07-megapixels
OPTICAL DRIVE: N/A
PORTS/SLOTS: 2 USB 3.0 ports, VGA, HDMI, Memory Stick Duo/SD memory card combined slot, headphone jack
BATTERY: VGP-BPS31 lithium-ion
OPERATING SYSTEM: Windows 8 Single Language 64 bit (English version)
OTHER FEATURES: Digitizer stylus (with hard and soft tip), S-Master earphones
DIMENSIONS (W x D x H): 199 x 320 x 17.85mm
RATING: 3/5 stars
Review unit courtesy of Sony (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd, 1-300-88-1233