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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.

As a tablet, the Duo 11 was responsive and quick, particularly inside the Windows 8 Start screen. Meanwhile, desktop applications, particularly browsers and office-class programs, ran without any major performance issues. The Wacom digitizer worked 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.

And here's an odd anomaly: 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 in 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, because 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.

Network connectivity consists of a retractable gigabit ethernet connector, 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 4.0. The Duo 11 also incorporates Intel's WiDi technology for wireless display on HDTVs, provided that the large screen has the appropriate external adapter or built-in WiDi capability.

Unlike many Ultrabooks, the Duo 11 supports memory expansion. It ships with 6GB of fast DDR3; 4GB are fixed, while a SODIMM socket accommodates one more memory module. The maximum supported memory is 8GB.

As you might expect with a tablet device, front and back cameras are built in, both offering 2.4-megapixel sensors. The audio quality is surprisingly good for such a tiny system, relatively clean and balanced when Dolby Home Theater v4 is enabled. However, bass response is essentially nil, so the best listening experience will be through headphones or external speakers.

 

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