Sony has a track record of crafting beautiful devices that form a great first impression. That’s what we sensed from the Vaio Tap 11, which was just unveiled at IFA. Here’s our initial take on the Japanese firm's latest Windows 8 tablet.
One might say that the tablet is a super upsized version of Sony’s ridiculously large phablet, the Sony Xperia Z Ultra. Design elements from Sony’s Xperia smartphones are replicated on this Windows 8 tablet, right down to the rounded edges and aluminum lining the sides.
The Windows Start button, which is thankfully a physical rather than touch-sensitive key, is inconspicuously located below the 11in display. The power and volume buttons are within easy reach on the right side.
The USB 3.0 and micro HDMI ports, however, are hidden by a cover that dangles and destroys the minimalist design. Unfortunately, the microSD slot, placed at the top right corner on the rear of the device, also gets the same cover treatment. Word of advice - get a tweezer ready, as the microSD card is insanely hard to extract from the slot.
Yank the small stand at the rear, and you can leave the tablet upright and free your hands to fiddle with the screen. The stand is adjustable, allowing you to choose an angle for the best viewing experience.
Screen, audio and camera
The 11in screen and full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution are not to be scoffed at. It might not invite the same awe delivered by the MacBook Pro's Retina Display, but the Vaio Tap 11 delivers snapshots and movies with resounding clarity. Unfortunately, the display is a tad too small and will most likely attract quizzical stares when you have to bring your face closer and squint your eyes to view the exceedingly fine text.
Sony’s Triluminos Display produced well-balanced colours. Placed side-by-side with an AMOLED display, colours are equally rich, with a natural tone that puts equal focus on the cool and warm colours. The black background is distinct but does not overshadow the wide range of colours.
Two speakers are placed on the rear, delivering a wide stereo experience from the sides of the tablet. Sony tosses in the usual audio enhancement features, including xLoud and a 3D front surround, to give your ears a treat you won't forget.
An 8-megapixel camera is attached on the rear, though why you would want to use that to take a snapshot over, say, a smartphone or even a compact camera, is anyone’s guess. For video conferencing, a decent 0.92-megapixel front camera does the job pretty well.
The Vaio Tap 11 has two variants to choose from - an Intel Core i7-4610Y processor clocked at 1.7GHz or Intel Core i5-4210Y clocked at 1.5GHz. Both variants come with a 128GB solid state drive and have 4GB of DDR3 memory to handle multitasking.
Sony claims a five-hour battery life for the Vaio Tap 11. As we are still handling an early pre-production unit, our verdict for its performance will be delivered when a review unit lands in our office.
Sony has its heart in the right place with a magnetic keyboard that attaches to the Vaio Tap 11. The keyboard, however, is unwaveringly faithful to the Vaio Tap 11 it comes with. That means you can’t use it with another Vaio Tap 11, as it uses radio frequency instead of Bluetooth to form a one-to-one connection between the tablet and accessory.
Misplace or mangle the keyboard beyond use and you’ll have to bring the Vaio Tap 11 to the nearest Sony service centre to source for a replacement. On the bright side, the messy Bluetooth setup has been eliminated.
Typing is a silent affair, and the chiclet keys are well-spaced with minimal typos. What would have been a great typing experience, was marred by the wireless touchpad. Your thumbs will inadvertently slide onto the wide touchpad while you are typing, bringing endless frustration when you have to realign the cursor to the right spot. Fortunately, you can disable the touchpad with the power slider switch, and rely on the display’s touch screen to navigate the user interface.
The keyboard acts as a cover for the Vaio Tap 11, and is joined to the display by a magnetic contact. Both components are separated without much force. In fact, it’s too easy for the keyboard to lose its grip on the display. Take it out from the bag, and it might fly apart and slip from your grasp.
The same contact point is also used to charge the keyboard, which supposedly can last up to a month on a full charge. Remember to keep the keyboard sufficiently juiced, as there are no alternative charging options other than attaching it to the tablet.
Stylus and apps go hand-in-hand
Have the urge to doodle? Sony fulfills that desire with its digitzer stylus. Two tips are provided - a soft tip that mimics the pen and paper experience with a slight friction, and a hard tip that offers minimal resistance as you scribble on the 11in screen.
On its own, the stylus is somewhat redundant, but when you use it with Sony’s apps, it shines. For example, after you snap a photo of a name card with the Cam Scanner app, the stylus’ precision lets you realign the image and do keystone correction for a perfect fit, and scribble notes onto the image with the Vaio Paper app.
While a slot is not provided to holster the stylus, a plastic holder can be clipped onto the left side, and has a firm grip on the stylus. Unfortunately, the holder blocks off access to the USB 3.0 and HDMI port. Removing the holder is a frightful affair - it’s locked so tightly to the tablet, you might snap it through sheer brute force.
The Vaio Tap 11 will be available in Asia Pacific from September onwards in two colours - black and white. The convertible will hit Singapore retail shelves in early October, priced at $1,999 for the Intel Core i5 version, while the speedier Intel Core i7 version will cost a cool $2,299.
The tablet will reach retail shelves in Malaysia shortly after the Singapore launch, while prices have not been revealed as of now.