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Review: Sony Vaio Duo 11
The release of Windows 8 has heralded a host of new stylish tablets that make a pleasant change from the bland anonymous slates which have come to represent the Android market.
Almost daily there's a new innovative tablet-laptop hybrid device, designed to suit every user need and bag size, and this strange looking Sony Vaio Duo 11 offers more than meets the eye.
The 11.6-inch Sony Vaio Duo 11 embodies a sliding tablet design not unlike the Asus Eee Pad Slider of 2011.
It's a departure from the majority of manufacturers who have opted for docking 'transformer' style devices, such as the Samsung Ativ Smart PC and Asus Vivo Tab. Both of these have detachable keyboards so you can choose whether you want to travel light with a tablet, or increase the bulk (traditionally around 1.3kg/2.9lbs) to have the keyboard as well.
The Sony Vaio Duo 11 is different. Instead of the ARM-based processors you'll find in the iPad, Android tablets such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 or Windows RT tablets such as the Microsoft Surface, this runs a full Intel Core processor.
This means you can run full Windows programs as well as apps such as Angry Birds and TV catchup apps from the Windows Store.
It's not just the processor that's different. Instead of being a bland black slate, the screen lifts and slides back to reveal a keyboard. It's held together by a weighty hinge, meaning that wherever you go, the keyboard comes with it.
The lack of detachability indicates that Sony is aiming at the more professional end of the market. Being able to lose the keyboard means that people are more likely to use their device for playing games and browsing the web.
The Sony Vaio Duo 11, on the other hand, is built for 'doing', and the inclusion of a stylus pen puts creative types and business users in its sights. But, with a full price of £999/AU$1,499/US$1,199.99, how does it rate?
The main difference between the Sony Vaio Duo 11 and the rest of the tablet market is that x86 processor. It's an Intel Core i5 3317U chip clocked at 1.7GHz - the same low power variety found in Ultrabooks. While 1.7GHz may seem low, it can Turbo Boost itself to a whopping 2.7GHz under heavy strain, which means it's no slouch.
The Sony Vaio Duo 11 packs the power of a leading laptop into the body of a tablet. This means that advanced photo and video editing are more than within its capabilities, and you can multitask apps to your heart's content.
Windows 8 positively flies, and you can zip around the operating system using swipe gestures that never leave you waiting.
Unfortunately, all that power comes at a cost, and the Sony Vaio Duo 11's pay off is a noticeable increase in bulk and weight. The super svelte iPad or Samsung Ativ Smart PC it is not, and the Sony weighs a muscle-testing 1.3kg (2.9lbs), the same as a modern ultra-portable laptop.
To make it easier to hold and use away from a flat surface, Sony has tapered the edges, which does make a difference, but we still feel that the Sony Vaio Duo 11 is destined for use at a desk or on the sofa.
While it may lack the portability and sleekness of its rivals, it's not just power that makes the Sony unique.
The Sony Vaio Duo 11 packs an 11.6-inch 1920 x 1080 IPS panel, which looks glorious. Not only is Windows 8's new interface sumptuously represented, but also apps, games and movies too.
And it's touchscreen, which negates any need for a mouse. That's a good job, since there's no trackpad included, so you have the option of using Windows 8's touchscreen interface, the awful optical 'nipple' on the keypad that harks back to a 1990s ThinkPad, or a USB rodent.
The screen is an IPS panel that provides generous viewing angles, should you have people congregating around your screen.
The only downside is the extremely reflective coating, and like all tablets, the Duo is a magnet for fingerprints. This combination meant we were regularly reaching for a cleaning cloth.
Of course, the added bulk makes way for plenty of storage space. While a tablet may come with 16GB space and in the case of the iPad no room for expansion, the Sony is a completely different beast.
There's a 128GB SSD drive supplied as standard, as well as an SD card slot, which can offer up to 64GB more. On top of this you'll find two USB 3.0 slots, which can be used for portable hard drives that could offer 10x the capacity - and at lightning speeds, too.
While on the subject of connectivity, there's also Ethernet, HDMI and VGA ports. This gives the Sony Vaio Duo 11 an advantage over the likes of the Samsung Series 9 and the MacBook Air, where the decision to relegate Ethernet to a USB or Thunderbolt dongle has frustrated thousands of people who have had the displeasure of walking into a meeting only to find a wired connection.
If the Sony Vaio Duo 11 is fighting for its place as your main PC, performance will be a key consideration. At more than double the price of the new iPad or Microsoft Surface RT, we'd expect the Duo 11 to pack serious punch.
And we're pleased to say that the Sony Vaio Duo 11 is a heavyweight trapped inside a welterweight's body.
The Intel Core i7 processor racked up a score of 9,579 in our Cinebench 11 tests, which is staggering for an 11.6-inch tablet, ranking it among the most powerful laptops we've seen.
To put that in context, the HP Envy Spectre 14 Ultrabook managed just 7,336 on the same test under the same conditions, which shows that despite its form factor, the Sony Vaio Duo 11 offers Ultrabook power.
Thanks to the x86 Intel Core processor at the heart of this hybrid tablet the Sony Vaio Duo 11 can run Photoshop, Word and any PC app in all their glory. This puts it in a different league to iOS and Android tablets, which are limited to their own app store.
However, the extra power doesn't do the battery life any favours, and the Duo 11 hit the canvas after 2.5 hours of HD video playback.
That's less than most laptops, and way behind mainstream tablets - a black mark against the Sony's portable credentials.
As you might expect from all of the power onboard, HD video played seamlessly without stuttering or stopping, which is the least you should expect from a PC priced at £999/AU$1,499/US$1,199.99.
Unlike the iPad and Android tablets, using Windows means it plays nicely with every kind of file format, meaning you can watch movies in any manner you please, and you also get a valuable extra inch of real estate to play with.
If you are sitting back to enjoy a movie, however, you will need to invest in a decent pair of headphones. The built-in speakers are woeful, creating a tinny din that is barely audible.
Like many Windows tablets, the Sony Vaio Duo 11 ships with its own stylus, which can be used to enter text free-hand and be more creative with apps. In time we expect there to be more apps that support pen interaction, but it worked a charm with OneNote MX on the Windows Store.
The pen has a reassuring weight and two function buttons that enable you to cut out elements from a page and paste them into notes, before annotating and scribbling all over them.
The accuracy is excellent, and Windows 8 does a great job of turning even the most illegible handwriting into editable text.
If you're serious about using a stylus, then the Samsung Ativ Smart PC with its excellent S-Pen technology is worth a look first, having borrowed a bucket load of tech from the fabulous Samsung Galaxy Note 2.
However, the Sony Vaio Duo 11 is a close second place.
3D Mark: 3,684
Battery life: 163 minutes
Summing up the Sony Vaio Duo 11 is difficult, and it will certainly polarise opinions, all of which are perfectly valid.
On the one hand, the Sony Vaio Duo 11 is a £999/AU$1,499/US$1,199.99 tablet that's too heavy and cumbersome to be wielded in the way we see iPads dominating public transport.
People will dismiss it for being too costly, and comments sections of reviews will doubtlessly be filled with those who point out that the 16GB new iPad 3 can be bought for £399/AU$539/US$499 - just over 1/3 of the Sony Vaio Duo 11's mammoth price tag.
Then there's the other argument. The Sony Vaio Duo 11 packs the power and versatility of a laptop, can run Windows programs as well as Windows Store apps, all in the guise of an 11-inch tablet.
Connectivity is one of the Sony Vaio Duo 11's biggest wins, and we loved being able to plug in USB drives and peripherals to our tablet.
Editing on Photoshop and running our favourite apps was also cause for celebration, as well as being able to sit back and enjoy the latest Windows apps from what's shaping up to be a promising selection.
The Sony Vaio Duo 11 is also a solid piece of engineering, and despite its bulk it certainly turns heads. This in no small part thanks to the gorgeous 1080p screen, and if you need a device to watch a film on after a day working on the road, you have a top contender in the Sony Vaio Duo 11.
The cramped keyboard, lack of a proper trackpad and substantial weight combine to make the Sony Vaio Duo 11 a problematic hybrid tablet. While the likes of the Samsung Ativ Smart PC and Asus Vivo Tab can be detached from their docks to halve the weight, with the Sony you're stuck with the bulk.
The poor marriage of usability, cost and power mean that this is still unlikely to be anyone's dedicated PC, and at nearly £999/AU$1,499/US$1,199.99, this is a big complaint.
If you're not worried about legacy x86 apps, then this kind of tablet isn't for you. With Microsoft Surface RT debuting at a reasonable £399 /AU$559/$US499, forking out £999/AU$1,499/US$1,200 for the ability to run Photoshop - which could be introduced as a Windows Store app in the future - will be too much to stomach.
It may not be wafer thin or super-light, but it has a gorgeous Full HD screen, 128GB of storage, full connectivity and is as good for work as it is for play.
While it's not a perfect laptop-tablet hybrid, and certainly won't have mass appeal, Sony has furthered the Windows 8 cause with an exceptionally powerful device that challenges the perceptions of what tablets can achieve.
If you're a business user who wants on-the-go convenience and power then take the plunge, but for most people the Duo will be a luxury for problems that can be solved with an enormous range of cheaper, more versatile devices.
Has Apple's 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro popped up on Google early?
Google seems to have indexed some information about an as-yet unannounced 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display.
The existence of such a machine comes as no surprise – we've been expecting it for some time now – but to see it break on in Apple's Google results instead of during today's keynote speech is a little bit more unexpected.
Or is it...
It's still not exactly confirmed though; the Google results could be a tagging-based mistake for starters.
Plus the wording isn't exactly a solid gold 13-inch Retina Display hit: MacBook Pro with Retina Display is listed kind of separately from "MacBook Pro 13- and 15-inch", just as it is on Apple's retail site.
On the website, there's a section for MacBook Pro with Retina Display, and an option to click through to the MacBook Pro 13- and 15-inch non-Retina models separately.
Pricing information is given on Google.com too, ranging from $1,199 to $2,799 – these are existing prices so we're thinking it's a bit of a manic misunderstanding on the techosphere's behalf.
Still, it's Apple Event Day! All bets are well and truly off.
Lenovo bundling rara.com music streaming apps on Windows 8 devices
Not content to let Microsoft have all the fun with Xbox Music, Lenovo has formed a partnership with online streaming service rara.com to deliver pre-installed apps on the company's Windows 8 and Android devices.
Available across a wide range of Lenovo products around the globe, including all-in-one desktops, convertibles, laptops and tablets, the pre-installed rara.com app will appear on both Windows 8 and Android Lenovo devices.
Included in the lineup of products featuring the music streaming app will be certain models of IdeaCentre desktops and ThinkPad Classic and Edge laptops, IdeaTab Lynx tablets and IdeaPad laptops, the new flip and fold IdeaPad Yoga convertible PC and the IdeaTab S2110, A2105, A2107 and A2109 Android tablets.
Interestingly, the Windows 8 rara.com app will require a web and mobile subscription to work, instead of just the cheaper web option.
Big expansion plans
The news of the Lenovo deal comes at the same time as rara.com is announcing an expansion into seven new territories around the globe, taking the total availability to 27 different countries.
Brazil, Mexico, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, South Africa, Portugal have joined the UK-based streaming services global reach.
With a collection of 18 million tracks thanks to some new deals with music rights owners around the globe, and a new iOS app joining the Android and Windows 8 apps for mobile streaming, rara.com is hoping to take the fight to other music streaming services around the world.
With an introductory pricing of AUD$0.99/£0.99/$US0.99 for three months, before increasing to AUD$7.99/£4.99/US$4.99 for PC access; or AUD$2.99/£1.99/$US1.99 for three months then up to AUD$12.99/£9.99/$US9.99 for web and mobile, the service is competitively priced in what is quickly becoming a cutthroat market.