Will Sony Join Tragic History of Tablet-Laptop Combos?
The Vaio Duo 11 screen slides up to reveal a keyboard.
CREDIT: Avram Pilch
BERLIN Getting your peanut butter in my chocolate — or vice versa — is sometimes a good thing. But trying to get a laptop into a tablet computer has a long history of failure, stretching back about a decade.
Nevertheless, Sony is making a try for it with the new Vaio Duo 11, which it just introduced at the IFA electronics show in Berlin. The Duo 11 will run Microsoft's new Windows 8 operating system, which is designed to work on PCs and tablets alike. It will cost about $1,400 when it comes out later this year.
The product sounds good at first. Its 11-inch touchscreen packs enough pixels for the highest HD resolution (1920 by 1080) and responds both to finger touch and to a special digitizing pen for more precise work. As a bonus, the screen slides back and up to reveal a keyboard, giving it essentially the shape of an open laptop.
But in combining the two functions, Sony has compromised both of them. As a tablet, the Vaio Duo 11 is a heavyweight, tipping the scales at 2.9 pounds. (An iPad, by comparison, weighs about half as much, at 1.4 pounds).
Of course the payoff of that extra weight is a keyboard, but it's not a particularly good one. The keys are rather mushy, and converting from tablet to laptop mode is clunky. We pushed and yanked at the screen several times before it budged.
All these glitches might be understandable as a first-time growing pains. But the tablet-laptop convertible has been tried for more than a decade, beginning in 2002 when companies introduced devices runing Microsoft's first tablet-friendly operating system — a specialized version of Windows XP.
Called slates back then, the combos were as thick and hefty as bulky laptops of the day, due in part to a giant hinge that allowed the screen to lift up from the keyboard and spin around to face the user in a laptop configuration. The Fujitsu LifeBook Tablet T4000, for example, weighed 4.7 pounds and was 1.4 inches thick. (There were also slate-only models — obese forerunners of the tablets of today.)
Slates and slate-laptop combos found a few fans — some tech journalists and people in specialized fields, such as medicine, where it wasn't practical to carry an open laptop around. But consumers hardly noticed them, to the extent that the iPad seemed like a completely new idea when it emerged in 2010.
And since then, companies have tried combo products again, such as the new ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity TF700, which is a featherweight 1.3 pounds (and 0.33 inches thick). It's a great example of a tablet-laptop combo, but still nowhere near challenging the iPad, Google or Samsung tablets. (If iPad owners want a keyboard, they just buy one of the slew of wireless Bluetooth models — which owners only carry around when they need it.)
With the new tablet and laptop friendly Windows 8, will consumers finally embrace the combo idea? If history is a guide, it would be quite a long shot.