All things modern.
As a result of wanting a new laptop (I always want a new laptop) I have had the pleasure of going through most of the popular Sony Vaio models available at the end of 2013. Sony currently has a wide range of bold looking, well designed, tough, light and durable laptops from which to choose. Sony also has an example of (nearly) every form factor currently available, the only one missing being the fold over Lenovo Yoga style. This gives the customer as much choice as possible but alas I think that Sony has made numerous compromises which makes it very difficult to obtain a well-rounded computer from them.
Let start with the Vaio Pro series. These are excellent computers being thin, light and very powerful. They offer much of what you would want in a conventional laptop computer in a thin stylish chassis and if this is what you are after then by all means go for it. Unfortunately if you need a WLAN modem as I do, then you are out of luck. I would have thought that on an ultraportable laptop such as this, a wireless modem would at least be an option. Lets see if Sony includes one in the near future.
Vaio Pro: Source – cnet.
The other thing that this laptop does not have is an active digitiser pen option for the display. Now you would think that having a pen on a laptop is a bit silly. But have you tried rotating the image 90 degrees and holding the Vaio Pro like a book? I do this with my Lenovo X220 and Lenovo actually includes a reading optimiser application which makes use of the built-in accelerometer to auto-rotate it. The extreme lightness of the Vaio Pro means that this can be done comfortably making it ideal for standing on a train to read an e-book or browse the internet. If the screen was active, then it could be used like this to take notes or sketch as well.
Sony does have a model for taking notes and surfing the web, it’s the Vaio tap 11. Unfortunately here again compromises have spoilt the end product. In order to make it as light and dare I say as iPad-like as possible, Sony has sacrificed power by saddling it with an intel Y processor and 4 GB of ram meaning that this machine is ONLY good for surfing the web and taking notes, and to make matters worse here the omission of a WLAN modem hampers even this use case. Unfortunately there are far cheaper options for just browsing the web and taking notes like the cheapest Surface Pro or Dell Venues 8 and 11 which all also come with active digitisers as well.
Dell Venu Pro 11 Source – dell
Microsoft Surface 2 Source Microsoft
If you really need a WLAN modem then the only option for you is the Vaio Duo 13 as this is the only Vaio that offers this (via a micro-sim slot behind the display). In fact the Duo 13 is the only Vaio which allows you the whole range of options most consumers would want, except perhaps a fingerprint reader which isn’t available in any Vaio (my old SZ-420 had one). Unfortunately the slider form factor is inherently compromised which makes this machine makes neither a good laptop nor a good tablet. As a laptop the user is constrained in adjustability meaning that the user must adjust to the machine instead of the other way around as the first principles of ergonomics states. There is no palmrest to speak of and the trackpad is small and cramped. As a tablet, it is just too thick and heavy and it is also just expensive. Honestly if I needed to use this standing on a train I would quickly get tired and need to put it down.
Vaio Duo 13: Source – sony
This brings us finally to the last option, the Vaio Fit Flip. When looking for an all-round laptop, this is probably the best option. Although it is a bit thicker than the Vaio Pro, it does have the active digitiser. As a laptop it is more or less uncompromised, unless you like your display opened a bit further back, the maximum was not enough for me. If you want to know why people like me insist on a display that opens fully flat just have a look the picture of me below typing up this article! Yes this is not very ergonomic but on a train where an ideal posture is impossible to attain the best control is frequent change of position.
Vaio Fit-Flip Source – Sony
However the machine does not work well as a tablet due to it’s weight and thickness in tablet mode. The flip screen works but the display itself is very thick, the folding mechanism looks weak and in tablet mode ungainly folds are visible underneath adding to the bulk. Again you don’t get WLAN as an option but you do have the option of a 13, 14 or 15 inch display the latter having a very high resolution. Despite the positives, I can’t help but feel that this is a stop gap model waiting till Sony does the proper job next year. Remember the Duo11 to Duo 13 redesign?
Me using my Lenovo X220 with display tilted back; more than any of the Vaios could manage.
In conclusion, I decided to forgo a Vaio laptop this year as I felt that all of the designs were compromised. If I really needed a computer, which I don’t, I would probably buy the Vaio Pro. If you will predominantly be using the machine in tablet mode on the other hand, the Microsoft Surface Pro 2 is very competitive performance/price.