Sony Vaio Duo 13 review

Pros

  • Good performance
  • Great battery life
  • Digitiser support

Cons

  • Small touchpad
  • No screen adjustment in laptop mode
  • Narrow viewing angles

With the Sony Vaio Duo 13, Sony improves upon the design of its predecessor, the Sony Vaio Duo 11. This model offers a larger screen and a smaller hinge, and it's outfitted with a fourth-generation Intel Core i5 processor. The biggest improvement is in terms of the battery life – the Duo 13 managed over eight hours on our battery rundown test. Sony still has a few kinks to works out though; the display loses luminance when viewed from an angle and cannot be adjusted while in laptop mode, which on a hybrid tablet is a significant issue.

Design and features

As with the Sony Vaio Duo 11, the Duo 13 uses Sony's Surf Slider design to make the transition from a tablet to a laptop. It still uses a spring-loaded hinge mechanism to move the tablet into a semi-upright position, but this time around the hinge is much smaller (85mm). As was the case with the Sony Duo 11, you can't adjust the screen angle when in laptop mode. The screen is held in place by two metal studs on the keyboard deck that fit into two notches on the bottom of the tablet.

The 13.3in screen has white borders (a black version is also available) and is housed in a silver carbon fibre chassis. It weighs in at 1.32kg, and when in tablet mode it measures 330 x 210 x 20mm (WxDxH). The keyboard matches the carbon fibre case and has a clickable touchpad at the bottom. The pad is very small but it's better than no pad at all, and the chiclet-style keyboard is a bit cramped with a fairly shallow key travel, but it is full-sized and gets the job done when typing is essential.

The 1,920 x 1,080 screen uses IPS (in-plane switching) technology to deliver excellent colour quality, but its viewing angle performance was disappointing – when viewed from an angle the image loses luminance and is noticeably dimmer. On the plus side, colours remain intact, but I expected wider angles from an IPS panel. The fact that you can't adjust the screen angle while using the Duo 13 as a laptop looms large in this regard.

The Duo 13's 10-point capacitive touchscreen technology worked perfectly; gesturing, pinching, zooming, and swiping movements were smooth and accurate. It also supports digitiser technology and comes with a two-button stylus and a couple of pen-centric programs including Art Rage Studio Pro and Note Anytime. As with the Duo 11, the digitiser works well and offers pressure sensitive pen-strokes. Sony added a much needed stylus clip to the right side of the tablet as well as a pull-out holder that keeps the pen upright and ready to use.

Ports include two USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI output, a headphone jack, and a Magic Gate card reader slot. Also included is a 2-megapixel front-facing camera, along with a rear-facing 8-megapixel camera, Wi-Fi n and Bluetooth 4.0 networking, and both NFC (Near Field Communication) and Wi-Di (Wireless Display) capabilities.

The Duo13's 128GB solid-state drive (SSD) is loaded with Windows 8 and boatload of Vaio-branded apps including Vaio Care, ArcSoft Camera for Vaio, Vaio Message Centre, Vaio Update, and Vaio Movie Creator. There's also the usual assortment of web apps such as Skype. Sony covers the Duo 13 with a one year warranty.

Performance

The Duo 13 is powered by a fourth-generation (Haswell) Intel Core i5-4200u processor running at 1.6GHz, 4 GB of DDR3 RAM, and an integrated Intel HD Graphics 4400 GPU. As such, it turned in impressive scores on our productivity and multimedia benchmark tests. Its PCMark 7 score of 4,535 was 132 points higher than the Dell XPS 13, but it lagged the Microsoft Surface Pro by 233 points.

On our Photoshop multimedia test the Duo 13's time of 5 minutes and 38 seconds was eight seconds slower than the Dell XPS 13. The Duo 13 completed our Handbrake encoding test in 1 minute and 23 seconds, just ahead of Dell XPS 13 by four seconds. It also pipped the Sony Duo 11 by two seconds.

It's Cinebench score of 2.50 was among the highest for Core-i5 powered Ultrabooks, second only to the HP Elitebook Folio 9470m. The Dell XPS 13 scored 2.45, and the Surface Pro scored 2.39.

Graphics performance was predictably sluggish. The Duo 13 managed just 17 frames per second (fps) on our medium quality Aliens vs. Predators test, and only 5 fps on the high quality test. Results were similar on the Heaven benchmark. Despite being a tad quicker than the competition, the Duo 13 is not well suited to gaming.

Battery life, on the other hand, was outstanding. The Duo 13 lasted just shy of 9 hours (8 hours and 55 minutes) on our battery rundown test, blowing away the Dell XPS 13 which lasted 4 hours and 56 minutes, and the Surface Pro’s 5 hours. However, this represents the biggest improvement over the Duo 11, which lasted just three hours and nine minutes.

Verdict

The Sony Vaio Duo 13 is a compelling choice for anyone looking to join the hybrid Ultrabook movement. Its improved slider design and terrific battery life make this 13in hybrid a much better choice than its predecessor, the Duo 11, and you get a larger screen without added weight.

That said, an adjustable screen would be a welcome improvement, as would an IPS panel that doesn't dim when viewed from an angle. If you want a bit more productivity horsepower and can live with a smaller screen, the Microsoft Surface Pro remains your best bet, and it'll save you a considerable amount of money, too.

Specifications

Manufacturer and Model

Sony Vaio Duo 13

Processor Name

Intel Core i5-4200U

Operating System

Microsoft Windows 8

Weight

1.32kg

Graphics Card

Intel HD Graphics 4400

Screen Type

Touchscreen

Type

Ultraportable/Tablet Hybrid

RAM

4GB

Networking Options

802.11n

Processor Speed

1.6GHz

Screen Size

13.3in

Storage Capacity

128GB

Storage Type

SSD