After having the Sony Vaio Pro 13 last week on my test bench, this week I got to play with the Sony Vaio Duo 13. Once again, this was a pre-release unit coming directly from Sony, but it’s identical to the unit in stores (except for a hardware detail, we’ll talk about that later).
I got to test the base configuration of the Pro 13, so if you’re after the top options with Core i7 processors, the things in the performances section or this review might not present big interest to you. Except for that though, you will find plenty of goodies in this post, as I’ve tried to get in depth and explained all the details that I liked on this device, and the few ones that I didn’t as well.
The Duo 13 is the second member of the Duo family, coming after the Duo 11 launched last year, which was an interesting product, but skewed by a couple of annoying issues. With the new model, Sony listened to our (the reviews and the buyers) complaints and addressed most of them, while adding a couple of extras on top of last’s year’s device.
That’s why the results are good, excellent i might say, as you will find out from this article.
Sony Vaio Duo 13 video review
But before we get to the actual review, the video below will tell you most of the things you should know about this Vaio.
The specs sheet for the Sony Vaio Duo 13 slider
||Sony Vaio Duo 13
||13.3 inch, 1920 x 1080 px resolution, IPS, Triluminos, N-Trig digitizer
||Intel Haswell Core i5-4200U CPU
||integrated Intel 4400 HD
||4 GB DDR3
||128 GB SSD
||Wireless N, Gigabit Lan, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, cellular
||2xUSB 3.0, SD card reader, HDMI
||330 x 210 x 19.5 mm (13.00″ x 8.27″ x 0.77″)
||about 1.3 kg (2.93 pounds)
||backlit keyboard, Ethernet to wireless dongle included, pen included
Design and exterior
Let’s start with the exterior. The 13 was completely redesigned. The edges are sharper, no longer chamfered, and that, plus the pointy corners, do make the new model somewhat more uncomfortable to grab and use in tablet mode.
Sony Vaio Duo 13 – a Windows 8 powered convertible ultrabook
Sony also moved the ports on the back of the laptop, which means they are now out of the way, but also more difficult to access. You’ll find here a large cooling grill, a card reader that can completely swallow an SD card, an HDMI and two USB ports, the headphone-microphone jack and the PSU.
The power button sits on the left edge, while on the right there’s a clip and a ring designed as pen holders, but more about them later. There’s no VGA, but Sony offers an HDMI to VGA extension in the pack. And there’s no Ethernet either, but you do get an Ethernet to WiFi dongle integrated within the power brick.
Flipping the machine upside down, you’ll find here an oddly placed main camera, that you can very easily cover with your fingers when using the tablet. On the front, there’s a larger grill covering some speakers, two of them from what i can tell, one on each side, plus some buttons, which are stiff and quite difficult to press, so I doubt you’ll use them much.
Those aside, I’m glad to tell you that the Vaio Duo 13 feels very sturdy. The body is made from carbon fiber, so it’s durable and offers good grip, and that helps the Duo weigh a little under 3 pounds (2.93 lbs, to be exact), despite packing plenty of features, as you’ll find out from this video. Our version comes in white and silver, but there’s also a Carbon black one available in stores.
The Duo is sturdy and beautiful
Alright, you might have noticed by now that the entire front face is a massive screen, covered by a sheet of Gorilla Glass 3. And that makes the Vaio Duo 13 a tablet, albeit it’s a massive 13 inch device and not the ideal couch buddy, but having the large screen gives you more landscape when browsing and working with documents.
The Duo is however more than just a tablet. You can lift the screen and it will slide up, unveiling a keyboard and a trackpad. The interior offers the same premium feel, as it’s made from fiber carbon as well. The palm-rest is very narrow, but the keyboard is larger than the one on the Duo 11, because the screen now slides more towards the back.
Many buyers complained about the stiff sliding mechanism on last year’s model and Sony worked on that. The Duo 13 comes with a new hinge, much more compact than before and a lot easier to operate. In fact, you can now effortlessly lift the screen with only one hand. On top of that, the new hinge feels just as sturdy as the larger one used before and the screen is mostly going to stay fixed in place as long as you make sure it perfectly attaches to the tiny hooks placed on each side of the laptop.
Sony improved the slider mechanism
The cords connecting the screen with the lower body are now integrated within the sliding mechanism so are less exposed to potential damage, again, something Duo 11 users complained about.
Screen, pen and digitizer
But how about the screen? As I mentioned already, it sits sturdily in place and the Duo’s overall balance in laptop mode is great, as long as you keep it on a desk or with the base parallel to the ground.
We have a 13.3 inch display on this Duo, a touchscreen of course, with a Full HD IPS panel that bundles Sony’s Triluminos technology. I don’t have the proper tools to test the color accuracy, but I can say that this screen feels more vibrant than the one on last year’s Duo 11. It’s also bright enough for everyday use as long as you don’t have it in very strong light, and offers good contrast and viewing angles.
Speaking of those … the slider concept has one massive issue: you can’t adjust the screen’s vertical inclination, it’s fixed. And that means that most of the time, you’re not going to look at it straight on. And while the viewing angles are very good on the Duo 13, there’s still a noticeable difference when watching it from any angle, especially when displaying whites and bright content. The video review will show you more exactly what I’m talking about.
One more thing, I’m not always using my laptops on a flat surface, sometimes I like to work while lying on the couch, with the laptop leaning on my legs. With the Duo 13, that’s not really possible, as the screen doesn’t stay in place and comes over the top of the keyboard. You might not care much about that, but it’s something to be aware of nonetheless.
The Sony Vaio Duo 13 can be more than the regular laptop/tablet
Of course, having a touchscreen has its benefits. And the Duo doesn’t offer just an ordinary touchscreen, but one that embeds an N-Trig digitizer and comes with a matching pen. So you can use this machine to draw, sketch things, takes notes, select various parts of the screen, etc. I found that using the pen on the Duo 13 is overall quite comfortable. Yes, the device is a bit tall and has those sharp edges, but I wasn’t bothered much by these.
Sony does offer a clip on the right side of the device, which can hold the pen when in tablet mode, and a retractable ring that holds it when you’re in laptop mode. This ring is specifically designed to always bring the pen towards your hand, but when trying to access the Charms menu on Windows 8, you’ll find the placement somewhat annoying, as the pen is exactly in your way. Besides that, the system knows when you’re grabbing the pen from these holders and can automatically launch an app of your choice, if you want to. Neat.
The form factor is not ideal for couch use
Keyboard and trackpad
Alright, let’s talk about the keyboard. Knowing how I didn’t like the one on the Duo 13, I didn’t have high expectations here either, but Sony actually improved it. It’s taller now, which means that you get larger, square keys. The travel is still quite shallow and you’ll need some time to get used to the feedback, but the keys feel a lot firmer, which means that they will register taps even when hitting them on the sides or on the corners. On the Duo 11, you had to always hit them in the middle, and that caused plenty of missed hits.
Overall, the typing experience is good, but the small palm-rest and the sharp edge make it worse than it could have been. Still, because of that palm-rest Sony had room to squeeze a clickpad on this Duo and it’s actually quite good, especially if you like to tap on your touchpads, and not click on them.
Decent keyboard and trackpad
The touchpad is of course tiny, but it’s accurate, responsive and works with gestures like two finger scrolling and zooming. There’s no support for Windows 8 gestures, but I don’t care much about that anyway. Still, you’ll ask me if this solution is better than the one on the Duo 11, and I’ll say… yes. Although I’m a big fan of independent click buttons myself, the trackpoint on the Duo was rubbish, which made the overall combo almost unusable for me.
Hardware and performances
We have the base version of the Sony Vaio Duo 13 here, with an Intel Core i5-4200U processor, Intel HD 4600 graphics, 4 GB of memory and a 128 GB SSD, although I noticed that on Sony’s website it does come with Intel 4400 graphics. This is after all an engineering sample and that’s why it came with this 4600 chip, but in practice there’s not a huge gap between this and the 4400, as both are part of the Intel GT2 family.
My unit also came with 4 GB of memory, and while I couldn’t open the unit to have a peak inside, I’m pretty sure the memory is soldered onto the motherboard and there’s no extra expandable slot available. So you should get the 8 GB option from starters if you need a large amount of memory, you won’t be able to upgrade it afterwards.
You should notice that HWInfo shows that the memory works in dual-channel, but I’ don’t think we can trust such software just yet, with these configs so fresh, because at the same time, the program and Sony’s website claim there’s only one memory module.
The SSD was pretty snappy on the Duo 13 as well, as you can see from one of the pictures below. It’s a Toshiba drive and according to Sony, it’s a NGFF drive as well, so it doesn’t use any proprietary mSATA connector. Can’t say if it’s user replaceable though, since I wasn’t allowed to peak under the hood.
As for the graphics, I do got some great results here. The 3Dmark scores were a bit unexpected (Ice storm is a lot under the Vaio Pro 13 tested last week, with a similar configuration, while the other two are way better). On top of that, when running a couple of games, the Duo 13 got way better fps numbers than the other Sony.
So I’m starting to believe the results on the Pro 13 we’re a bit skewed by some faulty graphics… This unfortunately happens with engineering samples… Still, I can’t confirm which results are skewed, these or those in the Pro 13 review, until i get to test a third Core i5-4200U config, and hopefully this is going to happen soon. BTW, in both cases I got the devices on highest performances settings, of course.
Anyway, here are some benchmark results for the Duo 13:
- 3DMark 13: Ice Storm – 16581, Cloud Gate – 4196, Fire Strike – 652 ;
- PCMark 07: 4243;
- Windows Rating: 5.7;
- CineBench 11.5: OpenGL 14.78 fps, CPU 2.38 pts.
And here’s what I got with some games (a clip showing you how the Duo managed to run these games will be added in a few days):
- Fifa 13, 720p, low details – 62 fps;
- Need for Speed: Most Wanted, 720p, low details – 27fps (runs in window mode)
- Dirt 3, 720p, ultra low details – 65 fps (run in windows mode)
- Dirt 3, 1080p, ultra low details – 52 fps ;
- Skyrim, 720p, low details – 36 fps;
- Starcraft 2, 720p, low details – 63 fps .
Besides that, the Duo 13 is going to easily handle all your daily tasks, whether we’re talking about browsing, editing documents, listening to music or chatting with your friends. It can also play well all sorts of multimedia content and the sound system, while not impressive, it’s overall pretty good for an ultrabook.
The Sony Duo 13 comes with Windows 8 and besides the classic preinstalled apps, there’s also a fair amount of Sony proprietary software onboard. Mostly crapware, with few exceptions, so if I were you, I would get rid of it!
Noise, Heat, Connectivity and others
In terms of connectivity, this machine offers pretty much everything you might want, from Wireless and Bluetooth, to NFC, WiDi, GNSS and an embedded cellular modem (4G/LTE and backwards compatible, made by Huawei). The SIM tray is placed behind the screen, near the hinge.
I did notice something odd on the wireless module, a Broadcom 801.11abgn Wireless SDIO adapter : it didn’t rise to the performances of my daily driver (which comes with an Intel N6300 module) when it came to download speeds, and the gap got a lot bigger the further I was from my router (23mbps vs 13 mbps at 20 feet with 2 walls, 22 mbps vs 9 mbps at 25 feet with 3 walls). Not sure if this was an isolated problem with my unit here, but it’s definitely something worth investigating.
There might be some issues with the wireless chip
That aside, the Vaio Duo 13 runs quiet and cool. Air is sucked in from the sides and from behind the screen and then vented out through the grill on the back. In fact, the fan only kicks ON when dealing with more intensive tasks, like watching Full HD movies or playing games, and even so, it’s not very loud. It can get quite warm in these situations, on the upper-left bottom side, but it’s never too hot and this happens mainly when pushing the machine, in which case I doubt you’ll have it on your lap anyway.
Sony also bundled two cameras on the Duo. The front shooter is alright for chatting and video calls, but it could have been sharper.
The one on the back has an 8 MPx sensor and takes decent shots and Full HD clips. It lacks Flash, so it doesn’t do well in poor-light. And on top of that, the cameras in oddly placed and can be easily covered with your hand when grabbing the device. Still, I doubt any of you would actually use this for taking pics unless really really needed…
Below you’ll find a bunch of pictures taken with the Duo 13, some indoors and some outside, resized to 1000 px.
But while I don’t care much about the camera, I do care a lot about battery life. The Vaio Duo 13 comes with a 50Wh battery and that, bundled with that Haswell hardware, means that it will last from anywhere between 6 to 10 hours of everyday use.
I didn’t have time to conduct too many battery tests, but, i got around 8 hours of continuously looping a 1080p clip in Power Saver with the screen at 50% and Wi-Fi Off, I got around 7 hours with everyday use that included, browsing, editing texts, listening to some music, watching some Youtube clips, etc. And last but not least, while writing this review during the night, with the screen at 30%, Wi-Fi ON and the keyboard’s illumination ON, I depleted about 33% of the battery in nearly 3 hours of use.
Bottom point: this is GREAT.
On the other hand, the battery takes quite a while to fully charge itself (close to 3 hours) and Sony no longer offers a compatible slice battery for the 13, like it did on the Vaio. But to be frank, that’s OK, it’s not needed anymore.
Prices and availability
The Duo 13 starts at $1400 dollars and can quickly get over 2 grand and even close to 3000 dollars for the beefiest configurations.
However, some webstores list the Duo 13 discounted, as you’ll see from this post.
The base version comes with an Intel Core i5-4200U CPU with 4400 Intel graphics, 4 GB of RAM and a 128 GB SSD.
A better specced version with an Intel Core i7-4650U processor and Intel 5000 graphics, plus 8 GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD sells for just under $2000, and it looks like this will only start shipping in a couple of weeks. And you can add extras, like the LTE module for $150, Windows 8 Pro for $50 and so on.
Besides that, it’s worth mentioning that these are the configs available on Sony’s US website. If you’re living somewhere else, you might not get the same options.
Wrapping it up, the Sony Vaio Duo 13 is an awesome machine.
Sony gathered all the complains on their 11 inch version and addressed in some way or another pretty much all of them, without screwing up anything else in return. See my video comparison between the two Duo lines for more details.
The new Intel platform offers a nice performance boost and an even greater battery life increase, combined with the larger battery bundled on this machine. On top of that, the Duo 13 is only marginally larger and heavier than last year’s model, despite packing a bigger screen.
For some of you, the Sony Vaio Duo 13 might be the perfect hybrid
However, the Duo 13 is still a slider. If you’re planning in using it a lot in tablet mode and put that pen to good use, you’ll love that. Otherwise, in laptop mode, you have to get by with a cramped clickpad and arm-rest, plus the fixed angle screen, which I for one find very annoying.
Those being said, the Vaio Duo 13 is not for everyone. In fact, it addresses a rather limited segment of potential buyers. If you’re among them, you’ll be glad to know that this machine is a much improved take on last year’s Duo 11 and one of the best hybrids available out there. Otherwise, there are and there will be plenty of other options for you too. See my list of recommended convertibles, my post on the best ultrabooks of the moment, and if you’re a Sony fan, this comparison between the Duo 13 and the Pro 13, the other premium Vaio available these days.
Alright, that’s about it for now. Thanks for tagging along, this has been a long article, but if you found this useful, go ahead and share it wherever you can (facebook, twitter, forums – this greatly helps me and this site), maybe others will as well. And of course, if you have any questions, things to add, etc, leave your comments below, I’ll be around to reply.
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