As its name implies, the VAIO Duo 13 Hybrid Touch Ultrabook is a hybrid Windows 8 PC designed to be used as either a tablet, or if you choose to slide out its built-in backlit keyboard, as an ultrabook.
The Duo 13 is one of the first ultrabooks to take advantage of Intel’s new Haswell chipset – in this case a fourth generation dual-core i5 processor operating at 1.60GHz. What does this mean? Well, combined with the computer’s 8GB of DDR3 RAM and it’s super fast 128GB solid state drive, you likely won’t notice any annoying lag or long wait times while using everyday software like Microsoft Office, Photoshop Elements or watching a movie on iTunes or VCL. I found that it was even possible to do a bit of serious gaming. On low settings, I was able to play perennial favourites like Skyrim, Civilization V and Starcraft II – a pleasant surprise.
One of the other great benefits of a Haswell chipset is that the hardware practically sips power compared to older laptops and ultrabooks. I was able to use the Duo 13 on nothing but battery power for an average of eight and a half hours a day. That’s shy of Sony’s 10 hour battery life estimate, but it made going back to work on my 2012 MacBook Air feel downright depressing.
The transition from tablet to laptop can be made using only one finger, thanks to a clever sliding hinge that joins the display with the rest of the computer. Place the Duo 13 on a flat surface, pull the back of the display towards you and the hybrid’s screen glides up and back to reveal the Duo 13’s full-sized keyboard.
Below the keyboard, there’s a diminutive trackpad that’s almost too small to be useful. It could be argued that the Duo 13’s touchscreen interface makes up for this, as Windows 8 was largely built with touchscreen computing in mind. I had no problem navigating through most apps and websites using nothing but my fingers. When more precision is called for, users also have the option of turning to the Duo 13’s included digital stylus, which can also be used in some programs to input handwriting directly onto the Duo 13’s display.
Speaking of the display, it’s gorgeous. At 13.3-inch in size and a resolution of 1980 x 1080p, the Duo 13’s display provides users with a rich colour palette, vivid whites and dark blacks from a wide number of viewing angles. Photos and HD video looked great.
But here’s the thing: for all of the stuff that Sony got right with the VAIO Duo 13 Hybrid Touch Ultrabook, it’s a terribly awkward (and at $1,400 fairly expensive) piece of hardware.
Weighing close to three pounds, you wouldn’t want to use it as a tablet for very long. You could lay it flat on your lap or a table, but that’s a limited usage scenario when compared to how comfortably you can hold and use smaller tablets like the Nexus 10, an iPad or even the Microsoft Surface. 13 inches just feels too large for a tablet, and the added weight of the Duo 13’s keyboard, trackpad and other ultrabook accoutrements magnify the issue.
I was also irritated by the fact that while the Duo 13’s display give good video, it can only be viewed as a tablet or locked into a single angle as an ultrabook. Unlike the “closing book” laptops we’re used to, there’s simply no in between. That fact that could be a deal breaker for anyone planning to use the hardware that’s too tall, sitting at a desk that’s too low, or thinking about doing some typing on their next cross country flight. And the hinge that connects the display to the rest of the computer? Terrifying. While it never failed to open or close smoothly, it felt so fragile that I panicked a little every time I made the switch from Tablet to laptop mode.
While both beautiful and powerful, Sony’s attempt to find the perfect balance of tablet and ultrabook functionality in the VAIO Duo 13 Hybrid Touch Ultrabook is stymied by a few design shortcomings are too large to ignore.