Sony VAIO Duo 13 Hybrid Laptop/Tablet Review– The Sony VAIO Duo 13 is a 2013 laptop hybrid that is a second generation Sony slider design (the first being the VAIO DUO 11 that came out a year before that). I was absolutely in love with the quirky design and after having it since January 2014, I have decided to write up my IRL (In Real Life) review of the Sony VAIO Duo 13.
Design– MAN this design is UNREAL. O.k. so I totally totally love this transformer style surfer slider design. Its called surfer slider because it slides along the rails and pops up the screen to go from tablet mode to laptop mode. Its basically the epitomy of my favorite thing of all time- hardware design over software design. It just looks fantastic popping it up. When it is in laptop mode, it looks very very unique- you won’t find anything else like it now. While the slider design was somewhat incorporated in other brands (Asus EEE slider, MSI Slider, Toshiba’s slider- I honestly don’t remember their actual names), they were never really big hits- the Asus was an Android tablet actually! The others were capitalizing on the idea of Windows 8 being a tablet/desktop focused hybrid and companies were trying to be creative in coming up with ways to have that hybrid software embodied in hardware. There is a good reason for this design not really taking off, Sony or not. I’ll get into that in the usage section. Other than that, I love this design for being such a stand out design. I also was impressed they deleted the hinge mechanism to a much smaller footprint compared to the VAIO Duo 11. On top of that, it has hidden the cables much better, so that it doesn’t look like it was half baked or a child hazard waiting to happen. I could easily see somebody yanking the cables in the Duo 11’s hinge.
You can see that all the ports are in the back- two USB 3.0 ports, power jack, HDMI out. That’s it. The previous Duo 11 had Ethernet, and VGA. I LOVE VGA out. There are still plenty of work places with VGA and its not dying anytime soon. Having all the ports in the back is a bit of a pain in the ass, but I really don’t use too many USB peripherals anymore where reaching around is cumbersome. Oh and they took away the indicator lights on the Duo 11- I really like these little LEDs for knowing battery life, disk usage, wifi…etc.
Heat- A non issue- this functions so so so cool its not a problem- its very very weird to hear it sping its fans up when it gets cooking with the CPU because it almost never happens. I can have it on my lap with no problems. The nice thing is that the intake vent for the fan is not on the bottom, so you won’t be blocking it if its on your lap. I can’t even remember when I had the fans spin up- little games like Halo Spartan Assault don’t cause it to spin up, so really typical productivity work will be fine on this.
The VAIO logo sits proudly on the hinge in the back. Its a solid piece of magnesium I think. I like it. Its a decal of pride.
Build quality– its pretty solid- it’s a metal build (llooks like aluminum) on the keyboard tray and read of the screen, and plastic body on the bottom. Normally I don’t like plastic bodies, but this does feel quite rigid and reassuring. However, I do not like the fact that the bottom scratches so easily- at least being the grey model, the scratches do not show up that strongly. However, I do know the white/silver model shows scratches very easily on the bottom because it’s a silver paint on black plastic. I think they could have gone with metal here to make it more premium. Aside from that, there are no creaks in the body- its really solid overall and feels premium. This hinge opens super super smoothly with nary a creak. Those wires are actually tucked in pretty neatly. I still think there must be a way to tuck them even more, but generally its a non-issue to me.
Screen– it’s a 13.3 inch touch screen with IPS technology. YES. I love IPS screens- while Sony has really come strides ahead with their LED/TN panels in the past (the Z1 series I am typing on right now has great color and decent viewing angles compared to mainstream laptop screens), the IPS panel blows them away with much better vertical viewing angles- this is actually really important because you cannot adjust the screen angle at all in this laptop. So hopefully you don’t mind the angle it comes with. I like the color reproduction on it- it actually has a few modes to change the colors for reading documents, making pictures vivid and so on. The document reading mode was a surprise to me- it makes it slightly yellow so that a bright white screen is not smashing your eye balls inwards. Its also quite sharp- it’s a 1920×1080 panel- years ago this was unheard of (even the 18.4 inch AW series had a 1620 screen). So its plenty sharp- I’ve never had a problem wanting more pixels on this. I HATE Windows scaling- I didn’t realize what a pain in the butt this was until I tried to move between tablet and desktop mode- you cannot change the sizing simply by switching modes in Windows 10- you must log out each time. That means its either too big or too small for work in either mode. That really kills the fluidity of switching between modes. I degress- its not an issue with the Duo 13 but Windows rather. Anyways, the screen is awesome.
Sound quality– the speakers are on the bottom. This is the worst position for speakers, aside from firing backwards, which the Duo 13 does in tablet mode. This frustrates me to no end, but TBH I can’t see how they would have put them anywhere else. Of course front firing stereo speakers is my preference on a tablet, but the screen is too thin to incorporate a set of speakers. Overall, even with the XLoud software, these sound pretty teeny- I’d upgrade to a pair of USB speakers ike the Logitech Z305 for sure. Its worth the upgrade in sound. These will do in a pinch, and they actually do sound better than some of my other Sony laptop speakers, but that’s not saying much. They have clarity for spoken videos/audio, but they just cannot do anything with music and movies.
You can see the neat slider design here, and how thin the device is despite having the mechanism. This also points out the air vents in the laptop mode that are located around the hinge- extra intake for extra cooling. You can also see how this cuts into the keyboard foot print and why the trackpad is so tiny.
Keyboard- tiny tiny tiny- There’s lots of room for more keyboard space on the sides- I wish they had used that space more. Its definitely better than the Duo 11’s keyboard (amazing they are the same size almost but with a bigger screen in the Duo 13). I don’t really like typing on it- its very shallow keys too. The nice thing is that there is minimal flex on the keyboard- its really solid. I also don’t really like the tiny dinky trackpad. I guess I’m not sure how else they would have done a trackpad- the Duo 11 had an optical button, which I also don’t really like using (had one on my Toshiba Tecra years ago and hated the nubs). I always make sure I have a mouse with me when using this laptop in particular.
Usage- ITS SO FRUSTRATING! First big problem- the power button is super dumb. Its on the side and easily pressed when in a bag- so if you are trying to have it on sleep or hibernate, it definitely turns itself on by itself. You have to be super careful what case you put this in. I have a Thule Macbook Air 13 inch case that should fit it no problem- it does fit no problem. The issue is that the case is a waterproof case so everything is sealed. When the laptop turns on by itself, it has all of the vents blocked. This is partially remediated by making sure the processor is set super low and cooling is passive (thank you registry editor and screw you Windows 10 for taking that away!) when in tablet mode. Its still annoying though. I’m always worried about turning it on with no airflow. It has happened several times and the thing is PIPING HOT coming out the case. So that’s really dumb. I’m not sure if the official case handles this better or not. Secondly, I really hate the viewing angle on this- while it seems like a best angle for general usage, its really annoying that you cannot adjust it (the Toshiba slider allowed adjustment to screen angles). While being an IPS screen lets you see the screen at multiple angles, its still not optimal. The older VAIO Duo 11 actually had little feet that could pop out from the bottom so you could adjust the angle. It’s a shame they didn’t do that on the Duo 13. I am shopping for laptop risers that are portable, so its not such a pain in the butt with the Duo 13. Oh and I don’t find the keys for the tablet very useful- vaio assist, and volume on the bottom of the machine are pretty much inaccessible in laptop mode. In tablet mode, its hard to feel out which keys are which.
As a laptop, I think its ok. Its not great. I mentioned the limited screen angles as an issue. I don’t think this actually is better than a standard laptop. I personally would have preferred the VAIO Pro 13 instead (almost similar weight and size, but with a better keyboard/trackpad/screen angles!). The unfortunate part is that as a tablet, its not that great either. Its too heavy to use as a tablet, even with both hands. You will want to rest it on something ASAP. The 16:9 screen is too narrow to be used in portrait mode, and it just feels shallow in landscape mode as a tablet. That aspect ratio is more suitable for laptop mode for side by side viewing. Overall, I don’t find its usage quite good at all. A good tablet, or a good laptop will do much better than the Duo 13. If it wasn’t for the design’s aesthetics, this really would be a bummer computer. I thought it was hilarious that there is a rear camera- shooting photos like a tablet looks ridiculous and is hard to do because its so unwieldy. Honestly, the pen is also not needed unless you are an artist. Mostly because it doesn’t really help with navigation. TBH I wish this was a hybrid OS, with Android in tablet mode and Windows in laptop mode. I really don’t find Windows 8.1 or 10 all that great of an experience in tablet mode.
I think overall the power is definitely sufficient for its intended use- it was meant to be a long battery life hybrid machine to do work on. Its clearly a thin and light portable computer that doesn’t have too many compromises for a work station. So I can throttle the CPU to 50% of its speed to save battery and its still more than adequate for office work. Seriously no complaints about overall power here. I don’t have any lag in day to day usage. It also has 8GB of RAM and an SSD and that’s been more than adequate for me. I do find that 128GB is quite small for Windows 10, and I would prefer a larger drive, but meh. Not a deal breaker. Also I thought its intorudction was pretty sanzzy- that’s the Duo 13 in the middle in silver and white, being presented alongside the VAIO Pro 11 and 13 models.
Graphics- overall not too bad- has an Intel HD4400 integrated chip and it runs basic games fine- I won’t be playing any FPS games on this, and I’m not really a gamer so that’s a non-issue for me. I do use eternal monitors with this, and haven’t run into any issues with the integrated graphics running dual screens in a office productivity environment. Honestly, it would have been neat to have a dedicated GPU, even a low end, but its not that big of a deal to me.
Here’s another pic of the innovate hinge mechanism that is more cool than functional.
I found this image online showing the different modes the Duo 13 an do, none of them really well. I honestly believe Tim Cook’s message about the Surface Book- that a hybrid really doesn’t deliver the best of both worlds. Its a neat concept, but a dedicated device just nails it out the park. I.e. I love Android as a tablet OS, and Windows as a laptop OS, and have never enjoyed using either OSes outside their native environments. Honestly, I feel the same about the Surface tablet series. I think this nails the laptop experience better but it definitely loses out on the tablet experience.
Conclusion– Its a mixed bag for me on this one. On one hand, I love the incredible build quality, great screen, eye dropping design, monster battery life, and iconic package overall (again emphasizing design). On the other hand, I think the keyboard and trackpad are crap, I hate the tablet experience, the laptop experience is meh, the screen angles are limited, and I hate that serviceability is nilch on this. TBH, this is more of a collector’s device than anything. I found out one of my baby docs uses the VAIO Duo 13 in white and silver today. That was cool. Rarely see these in the wild. And that’s it. Just eye popping design really. If I had the money again, I would buy it because of its design. Period. There’s plenty of much better tablet and laptop experiences at its MSRP, including Sony’s own VAIO Pro 13 (screen angles, similar weight, bigger keyboard, bigger trackpad, still premium design, still amazing battery life with Haswell). It just doesn’t make sense to get this really unless you like the design.
TLDR- Pros- amazing design, great battery life, great build quality, great screen; Cons- meh keyboard/trackpad, meh screen angles, meh tablet/laptop experience, port selection less than predecessor Duo 11