Sony Vaio Tap 20 review

Pros

  • Large 10-finger multitouch screen
  • Innovative hinge and kickstand
  • Somewhat portable, has internal battery

Cons

  • Mobile components limit performance
  • Display resolution only 1600 x 900
  • Built a little thick, and rather hefty

The Sony Vaio Tap 20 is a full-featured touchscreen all-in-one desktop PC running Windows 8, with a little portability mixed in. For 99 per cent of its use, you will be sitting in front of the Vaio Tap 20 as if it were any other midrange all-in-one desktop PC. For the other 1 per cent of the time, you can unplug the system, and it will continue to stay on and connected while you walk the system over to another room and plug it back in.

Think of the Vaio Tap 20 as a transportable all-in-one desktop that you don't have to power down to move. It'll give you a small reserve of power while it's unplugged, but it's really meant to be plugged in most of the time. It's not anywhere near a "must buy" item at this time, but this machine works well enough that early adopters might want to give the new form factor and OS a try.

Design and features

The Sony Vaio Tap 20 is small for an all-in one desktop, if a bit thick. It measures 504 x 45 x 304mm (WxDxH), although its dimensions are tempered by the fact that they haven’t been measured while the kickstand is fully deployed. When the kickstand is deployed, the Tap 20 extends back about 180mm.

Other desktops like the Lenovo IdeaCentre A720 manage to ship with a really thin (19mm) touchscreen, but that's because the A720's PC components are built into the base rather than into the screen as with the Vaio Tap. Most all-in-one desktops go for the HDTV aesthetic. The Vaio Tap 20 is trying to be noticed, with its white easel-style chassis, and contrasting black bezel around a large 20in 1,600 x 900 resolution ten-finger multi-touch screen. We wonder why Sony didn't just bite the bullet and design the Tap 20 with a 1,920 x 1,080 (full 1080p HD) screen, since that's what enthusiasts expect from their HD displays.

With its built-in battery, you might be tempted to carry the Vaio Tap 20 like a tablet, though that's obviously not something Sony intended. Your arm will get tired quickly if you try to cradle the Tap 20 in one arm like a rugby ball, mainly because of the system's 5.2kg weight. As we’ve already mentioned, the system is really designed to be carried from room to room and re-setup easily by plugging in the power cord. It's more transportable than other all-in-one desktops, but make no mistake, the Vaio Tap 20 is not a substitute for a laptop.

The Vaio Tap 20 boots into Windows 8's User Interface (UI), which was formerly known as Metro. You'll immediately see the initial tiles like Mail, Calendar, Internet Explorer, and Microsoft's app Store on the Start screen. You can bring up the Start screen at any time by pushing the physical Windows Key right under the PC’s display.

If you scroll the Start screen to the right, you'll see Sony's contributions, including a full copy of ArtRage Studio Pro, Vaio Care, Vaio Message Centre, Vaio Update, along with a 30 day trial of Kaspersky Internet Security.

There is a traditional desktop mode, but the old Start Menu with its convoluted folders system is gone, replaced by Windows 8 UI. Swiping the screen to navigate the UI is intuitive, particularly if you already own a smartphone or tablet. The system's 1,600 x 900 resolution short-changes you a bit when you're viewing HD videos, but it's fine when you're in desktop mode.

Desktop mode is where you'll run older legacy programs for Windows 7 and earlier. As we've seen on other devices with a full 1080p resolution, in the Desktop mode, user interface elements like close boxes and buttons may look small in 1,920 x 1,080. However, we had no trouble here opening and manipulating elements in both the Windows 8 and traditional desktop UI.

The Vaio Tap 20 comes with an Intel Core i5-3317U processor, Intel HD Graphics 4000, 4GB of DDR3 system memory, a 750GB 5,400rpm hard drive, and 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi. The Tap 20 has a built-in Ethernet port in addition to a pair of USB 3.0 ports, audio ports, and an SD/Memory Stick reader.

The feature set reminds us of an ultrabook laptop like the Samsung Series 9 15-inch model which also has a Core i5-3317U, integrated Intel graphics, and a 1,600 x 900 screen. The Samsung Series 9 and other ultrabooks in this price range have smaller capacity but obviously much faster 128GB SSDs, instead of the high capacity (but slow) 750GB spinning hard drive in the Vaio Tap 20.

The aforementioned kickstand lets you prop the system up like an all-in-one desktop, or lay it flat like a tablet so you can share the touch surface. The hinge holds the system up at any angle in between, so you can find one that lets you touch the screen comfortably. For example if you lean the system back at about a 70-degree angle, you can use the onscreen keyboard easily. Alternately, you can pull it up a little more vertical for painting in ArtRage Pro on the screen with a finger, stylus, or even a capacitive paint brush for precision work.

Performance

The Vaio Tap 20 is an all-in-one desktop form factor, but it has a battery and most of its internal components are notebook class components. We recently revamped our benchmark tests for Windows 8, and since this is one of our first Windows 8 systems, comparison numbers are understandably scarce.

The Tap 20 completed CineBench R11.5 with a score of 2.40 points, well in line with other Intel Core i5-3317U-powered systems. We weren't able to run PCMark 7 on the Tap 20, but doubtless the Vaio’s 5400rpm hard disk would slow down its rating here, particularly in comparison to SSD-toting systems.

The Vaio Tap 20's 3D prowess is understandably low. The system only managed a slideshow-like 5 frames per second (fps) on the Aliens vs. Predator and Heaven benchmarks at native resolution with the quality settings maxed out. Our mid-level Heaven test was also very slow: 13 fps isn't playable. That said, simpler games like Torchlight and browser games should look fine on the Vaio Tap 20.

All in all, any system with a full-blown desktop processor and discrete graphics like the Apple iMac 21.5in or Asus ET 2701INKI will certainly be able to outclass the Vaio Tap 20 in all these benchmark tests. But then again, high-end performance isn't the Vaio Tap 20's calling.

Since the Vaio Tap 20 has a battery in it, we decided to test it. We ran a video rundown test on the system to simulate the user unplugging the machine to watch a movie on their patio. Running our standard 10 hour video file, we were able to watch for 1 hour and 48 minutes with the brightness turned up to max and the Wi-Fi on (but not actively streaming data). This is barely enough for a summer blockbuster (sans credits), but it should be enough battery time for your average children's movie. The battery is good for keeping the system active while you transport it from room to room, but as we've been saying, it's not that great for an extended unplugged computing session.

Verdict

The Sony Vaio Tap 20 boasts an innovative design, and the flexibility afforded by its kickstand, and portability via its battery are certainly worthwhile boons. However, it’s heavy, only a so-so performer, and the 1,600 x 900 screen resolution is disappointing.

There’s another potential fly in the ointment, too, in terms of the price. At this point, the UK price tag still hasn’t been confirmed by Sony (despite the Tap 20’s release being just around the corner). Over in the US, this machine is a thousand bucks, which converts directly to £620. However, we’d expect to see it retail for more than this – possibly a fair bit more – at which point its value-for-money factor may be questionable. Certainly in the US, you can get a better featured and more powerful desktop for just a little more money.

Specifications

Manufacturer and Product

Sony Vaio Tap 20

Processor

Intel Core i5-3317U

Screen Size

20in

Graphics Card

Intel HD Graphics 4000

RAM

4GB

Type

Touchscreen All-In-One

Storage Capacity (as Tested)

750GB

Operating System

Microsoft Windows 8