Review: Sony Vaio Duo 11

The war of the Windows 8 hybrids — all of which will seemingly be known as “Duo” — is finally heating up, and Sony’s taking its stand on the side of the slider.

Well, sort of a slider. Sony calls the Vaio Duo 11 a “Surf Slider,” where the screen pops up at a laptop-like angle, revealing a micro-sized keyboard underneath. (The screen angle isn’t adjustable.)

This design is the most notable aspect of the Duo, and it brings with it plenty of pros and cons to consider. First is the number of moving parts involved. Peeking behind the curtain reveals the Duo is festooned with all kinds of clips, springs, and hinges needed to make this operation work. Sadly, it is not particularly successful at that task. The screen never sits well against the backstop, causing the whole thing to rattle around when you move it. The fit just isn’t up to snuff, and I’m ultimately not convinced of the long-term viability of the design.

Sony calls the Vaio Duo 11 a ‘Surf Slider,’ where the screen pops up at a laptop-like angle, revealing a micro-sized keyboard underneath.

Performance is another problem area. Nothing amiss from the specs; the Duo 11 is equipped with the increasingly standard 1.7GHz Core i5 and 128GB SSD drive. Ports include VGA, SD/Memory Stick, Ethernet, HDMI, and two USB 3.0 ports. In an odd twist, Sony drops 6GB of RAM into the Duo instead of 4GB, but that doesn’t seem to help with app load times. The Duo performs fine on non-graphics tests, but I encountered serious lag with loading and installing apps, especially if I had to use a USB port to grab an install file. Even downloads from the Windows Store were agonizingly slow, and the Duo refused to download updates to any previously installed apps. (Sony was unable to offer any troubleshooting guidance on these issues; it’s ultimately unclear whether the difficulties lie with Sony or with Windows 8.)

On the plus side, the screen is a knockout: 11.6 inches with 1920 x 1080 resolution and plenty of brightness. It’s so detailed that using the Windows Desktop via touchscreen is difficult because the text and buttons are so much smaller than your fingertip. Sony figured this out early and supplies a stylus to save you considerable frustration. This helps immensely, but since there’s no built-in storage for the stylus, you’re on your own for safeguarding it.

Why not just use the keyboard, then? That’d be a swell option if it weren’t so incredibly tiny. Sony wedges six rows of keys into just 3.5 inches of vertical space, and there’s a surprisingly vast amount of emptiness between each key. The result is a true chiclet keyboard experience (albeit a backlit one), where touch typing is a bit of a challenge. Worse, however, is the pointing device. There’s no room left for a touchpad, so Sony uses a device that looks like a pointing stick but works like a trackpad, wedged in among the G, H, and B keys. You’ve likely seen similar pointing devices on some Blackberry handsets. And perhaps they account for one reason why Blackberry’s sales are plummeting.

The overall design is very Sony, with angular edges galore. It’s actually uncomfortable to hold for more than a few minutes, with sharp plastic and vent grilles literally digging into your hands at every turn. While it weighs just 2.8 pounds, it’s a major reason why the Duo feels “big.”

Sorry Sony, but this Duo’s a dud no matter which way you try to use it.

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