Sony VAIO Duo 13 Review
Even with its steep asking price, Sony makes the Duo worthwhile with great performance and functionality.
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Sony's VAIO Duo 13 (MSRP $1,799.99) laptop/tablet hybrid is an odd bird. Bundled with a stylus and the company's intuitive Note Anytime software, the Duo is clearly marketed towards an artistic crowd. And as with anything "artistic," there's a premium to be paid.
That price gets you some impressive guts: a fourth-gen 1.8GHz Intel dual-core processor, 8GB of RAM, 256GB of solid-state storage, and a full 1080p display. The Duo doesn't mess around.
The non-detaching sliding screen may not be for everyone, but for the specific audience that Sony has in mind, this is one powerful tool.
Design & Screen
Chunky tablet by day, sexy laptop by night
While it lacks the super-sleekness of Sony's Pro 13, the Duo is still a perfectly portable device. When closed, the Duo is pretty much a tablet on top of a keyboard—nothing special, right? Well, slide its screen open and feast your eyes on a truly unique design.
The 13-inch Duo transforms from chunky tablet to svelte laptop before your eyes. Part of its style owes to the "Smooth Surf Slider," which positions the Duo's screen at an obtuse angle. This isn't going to appeal to everyone, though. Similar to the Microsoft Surface, you cannot adjust the screen's angle.
There's a reason for that: the included "digitizer stylus." Sony's pen is easy to use—I was comfortable navigating Windows 8 with this stylus in minutes. Of course navigation isn't what the pen is meant for. This is a great tool for artists and architects on the go; sketching a portrait or a design feels natural.
The fact that the pen and capacitive touchscreen work so well is a huge plus because the touchpad on the Duo is terrible. Sony barely gives the touchpad any real estate—this thing is tiny. Add to that the pad's poor responsiveness, and you have one more reason to use the stylus.
At least Sony continues its tradition of excellent keyboards. Like the Pro 13 and Fit, the Duo's keyboard is snappy, evenly-spaced, and a joy to type on.
On the backside, you'll find all of the Duo's ports. Sony includes two USB 3.0 jacks, a headphone/mic input, an HDMI port, and an SD card reader. The right side features a little plastic bar that serves as a stylus holster. Every time you remove the stylus from this bar, the Duo will open up its proprietary Note Anywhere software. This is kind of annoying, but you can turn it off.
Sony gives you power for a price.
At $1,800, the Intel i7-powered Duo 13 isn't cheap, but you get a laptop that can handle most tasks. The specific Intel chip used is the company's most powerful dual-core option, and it produced great results on processor-heavy tests like PCMark and Geekbench.
Test results mean nothing if a computer can't perform real-world functions, and the Duo is delightfully fast. We test laptops with an incredibly complex formula in Microsoft Excel, which the Duo devoured and spit out. Adding processor-intensive filters in Photoshop was also no problem for Sony's hybrid.
If you want a quick game in, the Duo's processor and 8GB of RAM can sate your needs. Portal 2 ran smoothly with most settings cranked, although without a dedicated graphics card, you won't be able to play newer games on high settings. I do need to give the Duo credit for its heat management—even during game play, it never got very hot and its fans stayed quiet.
What's a powerful laptop without good battery life, though? Luckily, Sony's Duo has amazing battery life. I tested almost 12 hours, which is one of the best results I've seen on a laptop this year. Your mileage will vary depending on how many programs you're running, but rest assured potential buyers: You won't see battery life this good on many other laptops.
Both note-taking and doodling are encouraged.
Sony's standout app is its Note Anytime software. Don't let the name fool you: Taking "notes" is the last thing you'll want to do. Note Anytime offers plenty of options to sketch a detailed drawing, including different brushes, pinch-zooming, and intuitive selection tools. With Sony's great stylus, this is a winning combination.
Want more customization options? Sony's ArtRage Studio Pro app includes more robust features than Note Anytime, and enables creative users to really take advantage of the digitizer stylus. It seems odd that Sony includes this same software on laptops that don't have a stylus, like the Fit. It just isn't the same using your finger to draw.
None of these apps are very useful if you absolutely can't stand Windows 8. The Duo actually uses the Pro version of Microsoft's latest OS, which doesn't differentiate very much. Windows 8 Pro allows users to set up a remote connection, meaning you can control your computer on another device. This addition probably won't matter to most users.
Hardware and software that justify the price
High-end ultrabooks aren't cheap, and Sony's Duo is no exception. With an asking price of $1,800, you're paying top-dollar for an ultra-portable laptop/tablet hybrid—the same specs would cost half as much in a desktop.
As a lightweight tool for artists, though, the Duo 13 is worth it. Its excellent touchscreen and stylus make for a great duo, but also a highly specialized device. This isn't a laptop for the average user; if casual use is what you want, look elsewhere. If a stylus is something you'd make use of, though, you can't go wrong with Sony's hybrid. Yes, it's an odd duck, but for some users, that fits the bill.
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