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Sony reaches the Windows 8 finish line first with two quirky tablets

Loyd Case | Oct. 15, 2012
Windows 8 launches in exactly two weeks on October 26. The big day is imminent. The anticipation is palpable. Yet until two quirky devices from Sony arrived a few days ago, we hadn't yet put our hands on final, reviewable Windows 8 hardware.

The Duo 11 meets Intel's Ultrabook spec: It's light, it boots quickly from the 128GB solid-state drive, and it measures just 0.71 inch thick. The machine carries an Intel Core i5-3317U processor, and our review unit had 8GB of system RAM (the standard amount of included memory is 6GB). Since it's an Ultrabook, its graphics hardware consists of the on-board Intel HD 4000 GPU built into the Ivy Bridge low-voltage processor.

Performance

Since the Duo 11's Core i5 CPU is decidedly middle of the road, how does it fare on the performance front? PCWorld is still developing its WorldBench 8 benchmark suite, which is specifically designed to test the performance of Windows 8-based PCs. However, since part of WorldBench 8 includes FutureMark's PCMark 7, which we also use in WorldBench 7, I was able to glean a little performance information. Note that we also test boot times as well, but gaming performance tests are still in development.

The Duo 11 posted a score of 2500 on PCMark's productivity test, a considerably lower mark than the 4028 we saw from Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Carbon. That Lenovo system has a higher-end, Core i7-3667U CPU, so it's not surprising that the Sony machine is slower. Still, the delta in benchmarking performance seems inordinately large, and the Duo 11's overall real-world performance appeared to be a tad sluggish, especially for a system equipped with an SSD.

Sony rates the Duo 11's battery life at a little under 5 hours. Sleep mode seems to work particularly well, using very little power relative to other Core i5 units I've used.

Features and usability

At first, I thought the sliding keyboard seemed like a fragile gimmick, but after I used the system repeatedly, my opinion changedthe hinge and sliding mechanism are actually pretty solid (though only extended torture testing would really bear that out). You can't completely detach the tablet from its keyboard, as you can with other Windows 8 hybrid devices. This limits flexibility, but at least you don't have to obsess over carefully aligning connectors, as we've seen with a few convertibles that offer fully detachable tablet panels.

The keyboard is definitely a welcome convenience, but it's not a paragon of 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, so at least that is a step in the right direction.

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 some getting used to. It's more an adjunct to the multitouch display rather than a primary pointing device.

 

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