We had the opportunity to review the Sony VAIO Tap 11 which was recently available in Singapore at $1,999 for the i5 version, and $2,299 for the i7 version. The VAIO Tap 11 is Sony’s innovative attempt to blur the line between a tablet and a laptop with a detachable keyboard and digitiser, weighing in at just over 1kg with the keyboard.
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- Black colour
- Intel® Core™ i5-4210Y Processor
- 4GB RAM
- 128GB SATA SSD
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- White colour
- Intel® Core™ i7-4610Y Processor
- 4GB RAM
- 128GB SATA SSD
About the specifications
The full specifications of both models available in Singapore are listed on the Sony Singapore website.
Worldwide, there is only one option with 4GB RAM which feels a bit anaemic for a power user. However, I believe this to be more than sufficient for the average user unless you plan to run Photoshop on this little machine. I was able to run over 20 tabs in my Chrome browser, be on Skype and have documents opened in Word and Excel with ease. I also didn’t have problems running Windows 8.1 on the device, it was responsive and fast. I also enjoyed playing Civilization V with the touch functions through Steam.
Unfortunately in Singapore, only the 128GB SSD versions are available. I would have hoped that a more spacious SSD was available given the larger footprint of Windows 8. This is certainly one of the downsides of this product. To make it worse, there are limited expansion options with 1 USB and SD card slot, so you might have to be more frugal with how you use the space.
The Tap 11 is awesomely thin, even with the attached keyboard. I could slip it easily into many of my bag compartments, including those side compartment in sling bags and briefcases. My laptop no longer occupied the main compartment! I’m not going to compare it dimension-for-dimension against the competitors, but I dare say this device is slim enough that it will not bother, or be in your way.
The Tap 11 is awesomely light, and is even lighter if you don’t bring the keyboard out. I had gone out one of the days and totally forgot that the laptop was in my sling bag until I got home later that night, and that was with the keyboard. I can imagine people who want to travel even lighter to just travel with the tablet. Frankly, anything under about 1.2kg is barely noticeable.
The plastic make is one of the key components which make the Tap 11 awesomely light, but also makes it feel cheap at times. To be fair, only the sides, back and keyboard-side are plastic, while there is a brushed metal piece on the underneath of the keyboard, so it doesn’t look that cheap. However, the brushed metal does seem to be quick susceptible to scratches, so one should try to be careful.
Because this is a tablet PLUS a keyboard, both units are physically separable. This is where I have an issue with the design of this product. While there is a magnetic catch to ensure that both units stay together when closed, the alignment often runs when you put it in a bag. This is problematic because the keyboard unit charges when attached in a closed position to the tablet unit, so when the alignment runs, the keyboard stops charging. In fact, I sometimes have difficulties getting the keyboard to charge and have to realign the units multiple times just to get the keyboard charging. It was irritating as the keyboard connects to the tablet via Bluetooth, and no battery equals useless piece of plastic.
Another problem about this is that I can no longer work on the train or bus with the laptop open on my lap! Using the software keyboard was a pain (a Windows problem) and there was no way to could keep both units together and balanced on my lap during transit.
When Sony launched this product at IFA, I was extremely excited because of the digitiser which I use often professionally. There are just so few laptops with a digitiser, and even fewer with good digitisers (I used to swear by the Thinkpad X200t). The digitiser is good, but not the best I have used. There are input-lag issues which could have been better. The pen (included in the set) was well-balanced and solidly built. There are also buttons on the pen to allow additional input options, not like the lousy plastic S-pens from Samsung. It is also pressure-sensitive, but don’t expect it to have the full-blown feature set of a Wacom unit.
I didn’t like how the unit did not seem to have a function to ignore a palm resting on the screen for easy writing. With both multitouch- and pen- input modes, the problem with the Tap 11 was that the device started to recognise both my resting palm and the pen as legitimate inputs (sometimes even including my pinky finger) which resulted in many stray marks all over the paper. It could just be a software issue, but there has to be a better way to solve this. I ended up resorting to using the tablet on its stand, rather than flat down, to rest my palm on the table while writing which is sub-optimal. The stand of the unit was well-designed in my opinion, allowing for a good varied angle of incline, but don’t expect it to flex all the way.
The keyboard could definitely be improved. My main problem with the keyboard was that it kept missing my keystrokes, especially for the first one. I tested to make sure it was not my typing style affecting the keyboard, but the problem was prevalent after not using the keyboard for a while. I suspect it could be due to the fact that the keyboard had gone into a low-power state to conserve energy and the first keystroke “woke” it up. Now this started to get really frustrating after a while. I had to constantly check my words to make sure letters weren’t missing instead of being able to quickly touch-type.
The trade-off for being thin was that the keystroke was limited to 1.1mm, so touch-typing becomes a challenge as the tactile-feel of a depressed key is much less. Along with the problem of the missing keystrokes, it can make for frustrating typing experience for long work periods. The keys are well-sized and comfortable, not cramped like some smaller laptops. In fact, with a key pitch of 19mm, it was equivalent of a desktop keyboard. I didn’t have any problems mistyping on the keyboard caused by wrong keypresses.
If you aren’t a fan of the stylus or a mouse or your finger, the touchpad is good enough for most work. It is a bit cramped, but I find it very useable. It also recognises multi-finger gestures like scrolling which I prefer to use over the use of my fingers on the screen.
Speaking of touch, using my fingers on the screen took a while to get used to. Yes, I admit that it feels more natural to use your fingers to scroll than a mouse but we all probably have been pre-conditioned by the iPad or another tablet. I just didn’t take to the Windows 8 interface, even after two weeks of use. Some tech writers have been converted after having first cursed at Windows’ latest incarnation, but I doubt I could ever stand it. To be fair, this issue of using a Windows touch-enabled device is a Windows discussion, not one native to the Tap 11. Remember that the Tap 11 was designed to be a hybrid device capable of being a laptop AND a tablet.
Screen and Sound
The Tap 11 features Sony’s TRILUMINOS display and it was just magnificent. The colours were beautiful and viewing videos was a joy on the Tap 11. The screen was fairly-evenly backlit and the blacks and whites were good, with good viewing angles for sharing. Some photographers might find the display too saturated or have contrast issues, and I agree that without additional calibration the display might not represent colours faithfully. But for the average consumer, I thought the screen was a joy to look at.
Sound from the inbuilt speakers was thin, but I didn’t expect much from it given the size of the laptop. I would have been truly amazed if it was good. It would serve the purposes if you really needed to play audio for a small audience, but I recommend that earphones be used as with most laptops and tablets.
With the Haswell chips in the Tap 11, I could easily reach approximately 5 hours of work at 70% brightness. I tried gaming on battery, and playing 3 hours of Civilization V drained the batteries. I managed about 4.5 hours watching a movie. The battery life is generally long enough that most people won’t need to bring their chargers with them for a day out which is a significant plus for me. I never had to bring the charger out in the two weeks of using the device. I think this would be quite the average of Windows 8 devices, with Sony’s VAIO Pro 13 series bettering it in terms of battery life at about 7 to 8.5 hours (as tested by our very own MJ).
The Sony VAIO Tap 11 is best suited for consumers who do not need a high-end portable computing device and want something that can function as a tablet and laptop. It is probably the second best hybrid device, only losing out to the new Sony Duo 13 (which costs more) in my opinion. I like having the option of whether I would want to bring the keyboard unit with me, to lighten the load if I wasn’t anticipating much typing.
If your work involves mainly using Powerpoint, Word and simple Excel along with surfing on Chrome, this will do. It has an exceptional display for multimedia consumption and general usage, but starts to show some weaknesses when put under the stress of higher-powered computing. The battery life is generally long enough that most people won’t need to bring their chargers with them for a day out and is very light and portable. The possibilities of using a digitiser are endless, but are currently limited by the software available.
Improvements can be made to the keyboard and would probably significantly affect you if you are a user requiring much keyboard time. I would recommend you consider the Sony VAIO Pro 13 or the Lenovo X240 instead for a real workhorse. Windows 8 was a real problem for me, but we don’t have many choice on this, unless you are willing to move to Apple’s OS X which has it’s own set of problems.
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