Sony entered the convertible device space in 2012 with the launch of its Duo 11 Windows 8 tablet-come-laptop. While the original Duo did have some positive points, offering decent performance and a reasonable screen, it was let down by a few niggling issues. Chief among these were its poor five-hour battery life and delicate feeling hinge.
Clearly aware of this, Sony has moved to address these problems with its follow-up model, the Duo 13, radically redesigning the hinge mechanism and loading it with a more robust battery that it claims will last at least one day's use off of one charge.
Design and build
Unlike most convertibles, the Duo 13 isn't a dockable tablet. Instead users can turn the device into a laptop by sliding out an actual physical keyboard. This means that the Duo is significantly larger and heavier than most other Windows 8 tablets, measuring in at 330x210x19.5mm and weighing 1.35kg. The Microsoft Surface Pro by comparison measures in at 275x173x13mm and weighs 907g, although this doesn't a keyboard.
While Sony's promised the hinge is far more robust than the one seen on the Duo 11 - the firm went so far as to show us videos of engineers dropping it on the floor to prove its point - during our hands on we found the hinge still felt a little rickety with it shaking and bending whenever we slid out the keyboard. Our concerns were compounded when Sony declined our request to try the drop test we saw in the video.
Outside of this though the build quality was good, with the keyboard feeling significantly larger than the slightly squished one seen on the Duo 11 and featuring a small track pad at its bottom - something the original Duo didn't.
The Pro comes loaded with a 13.3in 1920x1080 Triluminos touch screen. While this is nowhere near as good as the displays seen on most top-end Android and iOS tablets, like the 9.7in Retina LED-backlit widescreen display, 2048x1536 pixels seen on Apple's latest iPad, it is on a par with most other Windows 8 tablets. During our tests when viewing directly we found the screen was reasonable, having fairly vibrant colours. It did suffer some glare issues and didn't boast great viewing angles - however this could be down to the very bright lighting conditions on the press-expo floor.
The Duo 13 is available in Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro options. This is great as Windows 8 is far superior to Microsoft's tablet-focused RT operating system, featuring legacy application support. This means Windows 8 is compatible with applications for older versions of Windows and makes it far easier to integrate into an office environment.
We also noticed a few nice software additions designed to help users get the most out of the Duo 13's attached active stylus, with it letting you do things like set an application to automatically open when the stylus is held close to the screen. Another nice service was the preinstalled CamScanner app. The app will suit business users, letting them use the rear 8MP camera to scan written documents to turn into text files. We didn't get a chance to test the feature during our hands on, but if it works this will definitely be a selling point for business users.
Sony claims the Duo 13 will offer users ultrabook-level performance, featuring an Intel Core i7 chip and 8GB of RAM. During our hands-on we didn't get a chance to properly benchmark the device or run any demanding applications on it. However, for general purposes we found it was quite fast, loading webpages instantly and navigating between menus seamlessly.
We also found that the stylus felt slightly more sensitive than others we've tested, with it picking up even the most rapid of movements and even minor changes in pressure. Come our full review we're really excited to see how the stylus and Duo perform when running hardcore graphics programmes.
Having had a go with Sony's Duo 13 we have to say our opening impressions are positive and our brief encounter with the convertible left us wanting more. However, with there being no current word on price it remains unclear how premium a price businesses will have to pay for the super powered device. The Duo is set for release later this year, make sure to check back with V3 then for our full review.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson. Follow him on Twitter @MonkeyGuru
05 Jun 2013