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Sony Duo 11 Ultrabook review: Blurring the line between tablet and laptop

Loyd Case | Oct. 15, 2012
Unpacking the Sony Duo 11 (aka the SVD1123CXB) reveals what appears to be a tablet; no keyboard is immediately visible. Yet when you pick it up, it seems a little hefty for a tablet. What's going on here? Well, the Duo 11 is not just a tablet. Lifting up the top edge tilts the display and reveals a sliding keyboard hidden beneath the panel.

Features and usability

At first, I thought the sliding keyboard seemed like a fragile gimmick, but after repeated use, the hinge and sliding mechanism both feel solid. The inability to remove the screen is made up for somewhat by the lack of a need to carefully align connectors, as we've seen with some convertibles that sport fully detachable tablet panels.

What the keyboard offers in convenience, it takes away in reduced usability. The spacing between keys is quite cramped, and the keys themselves lack a sculpted shape. Despite having been a touch typist since high school, I found myself making frequent typing errors when using the keyboard. Sony does include a backlight for the keyboard, though.

The Duo 11 also has one of the weirdest pointing devices I've ever seen. At first blush it looks like a miniature trackpoint joystick pointer, but it doesn't move. Instead, the round nub is itself a touch surface, so slight movements of your finger move the cursor. It works surprisingly well, but takes a little getting used to. It's more an adjunct to the multitouch display rather than a primary pointing device.

As a tablet, the Duo 11 seems responsive and quick, particularly in the Windows 8 Start screen. Desktop applications, particularly browsers or office-class programs, appear to run without any major performance issues. The Wacom digitizer works well with the included ArtRage Professional desktop graphics editor. The digitizer pen should also be useful in applications such as Photoshop or Illustrator, though overall performance in those programs may be a little sluggish.

Using fingers for touch interaction on the Windows desktop is a little problematic, partly because of the 1080p resolution on an 11.6-inch display. As we noted in the preview of Acer's W700, the high pixel density on a small display makes precise touch gestures on the desktop problematic. Those issues don't exist in the tile-based Windows 8 Start screen. One thing I noted was that the display would occasionally become "stuck" in portrait mode after waking up from sleep; this was true even when the starting state of the display was landscape mode when it went to sleep. I had to reboot to cure the problem.

The Duo 11 includes a software version of Sony's Bravia video engine, and video playback was relatively smooth, though we saw some speckling noise in some WMV-HD high-definition content. MPEG-2 was unplayable, since Microsoft no longer includes an MPEG-2 license with Windows 8, and Sony didn't install a playback tool that can handle MPEG-2 content.

Sony did build in Intel's antitheft technology, as well as a trusted platform module for additional security.

Connectivity and expansion

The Duo 11 boasts a pair of USB 3.0 ports, one of which can charge battery-powered smart devices while the laptop is in sleep mode. The machine also provides two video output ports, the aging VGA connector (useful for projectors), and an HDMI output port. The left side houses a flash memory card reader that can handle both SD Cards (all formats) and Sony Memory Stick. A lone headphone jack is the only concession for analog audio.

 

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