Sony may sold off its PC division Vaio to Japan Industrial Partners (JIP) and it remains to be seen what shape the aspirational brand will take in the hands of its new owners. But for now, let's take a look at one of the last Vaio's that left in Sony's stable, the Vaio Flip.
The Sony Vaio Flip 13 looks sleek and has managed to turn a lot of heads for the few days it is was with us. Here's a look at the promising innovative hybrid.
SCREEN 1920×1080 at 13.3" (166 ppi)
OS Windows 8 64-bit
CPU 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-4200U (Turbo up to 2.6GHz)
RAM 4GB or 8GB 1600MHz DDR3L
GPU Intel HD Graphics 4400
HDD 128GB solid-state drive
CONNECTIVITY 2x USB 3.0, HDMI, card reader, headphones, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC
CAMERA 8.0 MP
Body & Design
The machine has a brushed aluminum lid which looks elegant and classy with that diamond cut Vaio etched on it, as most of the other Vaios usually do. With the bottom half being matte finished ABS plastic, the device is delightfully light when it comes to being a ultrabook but overly bulky at the same time for a tablet. Perhaps there is still some time and compression in dimensions needed before convertibles become mainstream.
The only negative about the brushed metal finish here is that it quite easily picks up fingerprints and smudges. But it's not a deal breaker as one can clean it pretty easily.
There is a line running across the lid which is actually the second hinge for flipping the screen around and turning it into a tablet. To be honest, when we saw the Vaio Flip's first video, we thought we are looking at a device very similar to the Lenovo Yoga. But to our surprise, Sony seems to have done their homework and has come up with a unique design which allows the Flip to effortlessly transform between a ultrabook and a tablet.
Although, there is a manual switch to restrict the screen from flipping over there is a secondary mechanism of magnets in place which does the job even better and once you realise how it works you may never need to use the manual switch ever again.
The device sports a couple of USB 3.0 ports on the right side along with an HDMI socket, a slot for the SD Card reader and the power button which can be accessed very conveniently. Interestingly though the deck of the keyboard is a little longer and spreads just a little from the edges which might just be enough to prevent you from plugging in real thick pendrives. Let's just hope you don't have one. ;)
The left side is laced with a huge air vent and the 3.5mm jack which we thought could've been placed on the front for better ergonomics. There are slim speaker grilles on both sides and a volume rocker at the back below the hinge which makes total sense when the device is being used in the tablet mode. There is a camera placed on the bottom which again is to be used in the tablet mode.
I, for one, am still unable to fathom as to what purpose a Windows 8 logo sticker serves at the bottom. I only spotted it after my friend pointed it out to me. Now with use you’ll notice that the device is so thin that it is kind of flexible when you are trying to flip between the ultrabook & tablet modes. Though Sony claims that the device is rigid enough to take that flexing, I would suggest you to be little careful.
When using in the tablet mode the hinged design of the Vaio helps viewing and makes it easy to type as well.
Keyboard & Touchpad
The chiclet keyboard on the Vaio Flip is backlit and well spaced out. But the haptic feedback is not too great as the keys are too shallow. A design sacrifice to shave that few millimeters off the device has definitely resulted in a compromise of user experience.
Talking about the synaptics touchpad, there is nothing to complain. It works just fine; no lag, no drag. The clicker works perfectly as well, some of you might just feel that it is a bit shallow, but it doesn't kill the experience at all.
The display is crisp, the colours vibrant and with a 1080p resolution screen, there aren't many better displays than this one. The viewing angles are good as always on the Vaio, allowing you the freedom to move around a bit while watching videos or movies. You will be well advised to turn up the brightness above 75% to fully enjoy this display.
Sony has also added their trademark features, viz, Triluminous display & X-Reality which helps improve the experience, though it's not too significant for one to easily notice.
Something I must mention here is the fact that if you tilt the screen at more than 90 degrees you will be able to see the display is laden with some weird dots which actually is an active digitizer and as such it supports the use of a stylus on it, but Sony has not made it available for the Indian market it seems.
I've always found all the Sony Vaio speakers consistent in performance. Very clear and crisp. One can enjoy the music in small room. The speakers are not too loud and do not have much bass either.
Good enough to pretty much enjoy most of the music (except for ones that have a lot of bass in them) that wont distort even when the music is cranked up to full volume. The equalisations settings and the virtual urround sound frankly do not help much to improve the audio experience.
The less we speak about the camera here the better it will be. The 8MP shooter at the back of the Vaio Flip takes only extremely sloppy images. You will either get a washed out image or an overprocessed one. Also, it is a monumental task if you are trying to focus on the object. And it beats me why anyone would use the humongous device to take images. We tried clicking a few images initially but then gave up on the camera soon enough, reasiling the futility of it afterall.
The Vaio Flip 13 comes with Windows 8, which can be updated to 8.1 for free. I won't speak about Windows 8 but the custom apps that Sony has bundled here on the Vaio Flip - most of them are just oridinary but some of them are quite useful and fun to use.
In terms of utility the Vaio Control Center acts as a hub to control your Vaio Flip machine and provides quick access to a lot of settings on the PC like sound, display, battery and others making your life easier and changing the settings is a breeze.
We enjoyed playing with the Vaio Paper, which allowed us to draw and can even be useful to take quick notes as well. A sample that I managed to draw in no time should give you an idea of the various uses it can serve.
Sony Jive, seems to be the best custom offering, providing you with unlimited downloads for three months from a huge collection of Indian and International music. Again, where it hurts user experience is the fact that the music downloaded is only 128kbps. Navigation on the app is also a little poor and it took me quite a bit of time to find out where my music was queued up. :P
Vaio Clip is another utility app that allows you manage your photos by cropping them using different preset tools. Then there are others like Vaio Care, Vaio Movie Creator, Vaio Message Center Vaio Update among a few others.
Moving on to the performance on the Sony Vaio Flip, I thought it was good enough for normal usage scenarios. Everything functioned as per expectations except the fact that the user experience being compromised on the keyboard. Also the touchscreen sometimes didn't respond to touch and I had to tap a few times to get accurate results.
The only other problem might be of the device heating up a bit, which I mainly noticed it while using it as a tablet. Also the fan might just start whirring at times, which again was noticed while using it in the tablet mode.
Battery life on the device is good when you consider other ultrabooks. It easily lasted us about 5 hours while listening to music and working on the net for a couple of hours and ending with a movie with external speakers attached.
Wrap-up & Verdict
The hybrid has a lot of positives, unfortunately these are coupled with a few important negatives as well. While the display experience is one of the best out there, the inbuilt speakers are a little too soft to enjoy videos without an external speaker.
The neatly spaced out chiclet keyboard is spacious and accurate, but the shallowness of it hampers the experience. The tablet mode is too bulky to carry it around and makes it almost impossible to meaningfully utilise the camera which under-performs so much so that it is best left unused.
That said, the Sony Vaio Flip is the best ultrabook - laptop convertible available in the market right now and also the best looking ultrabook at the moment. The huge price tag of Rs. 99,990 makes one question the value proposition of the Sony Vaio Flip. And I think you should go for it only if you are an artist / designer with a convertible specific need or just want to own a gadget that is a head turner. For cheaper options you can look at the Lenovo Yoga 13, Dell XPS 12 or the Acer Aspire R7.