Sony Vaio Tap 20 £999.99
11th Dec 2012 | 12:40
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In 2012, Ultrabooks have turned the affordable laptop market on its head, touchscreens have attached themselves to every available panel, and tablet-laptop hybrids have left us questioning whether laptops are really even a thing any more.
In a market that previously consisted of about three unique designs, things really have changed. That's where the Sony Vaio Tap 20 comes in.
Sony has been growing its own crop of game changers. The Sony Vaio Duo 11 puts its Vaio design ethos into one of the niftiest sliding tablets we've ever seen, that's more than ready to compete with the likes of the Microsoft Surface and the Asus Vivo Tab and Vivo line.
This 20-inch Sony Vaio Tap 20 does something else altogether.
It's a little bit mad, to be frank: The Sony Vaio Tap 20 is, to all intents and purposes, a 20-inch tablet. 20. Inches. Tablet. So the first thing you'll do is pick it up like you might an iPad 4 or a Microsoft Surface because, after all, it's a tablet made for a giant, and that's cool.
It certainly works as described, hefting the full version of Windows 8 and all of its apps and features.
But you'll be unsurprised to hear that the Sony Vaio Tap 20 is too big, thick and unwieldy to slot properly into the tablet niche, unless you're OK with carrying around a giant 5kg (11.46lbs) slab of barely grippable and highly expensive electronics.
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Packing in enough battery to power that massive screen - and the not-insignificant Core i5 architecture within - has led to some serious compromises in aesthetics. The Sony Vaio Tap 20 is a pretty machine, but it's fat. Fatter than a tablet should be - at 504 x 312 x 45mm (19.85 x 12.29 x 1.78 inches) - and weighty with it.
Maybe it's not a tablet at all, then. In fact, we're disappointed to admit, it isn't. The Sony Vaio Tap 20 is an all-in-one PC. It should be filed with the Toshiba LX830, the Dell XPS One 27 Touch, the Lenovo IdeaCentre A720 and the rest of that distinct category of touchable desktops.
That battery is in fact a cheeky bonus feature that turns a mid-sized touchscreen all-in-one into a mid-sized touchscreen all-in-one you can carry around wherever you go in the house.
Some might call it a gimmick. In fact, that's what we're going to do: it's a gimmick. One that's going to have to fight to justify its existence.
The Sony Vaio Tap 20 is certainly fit for purpose - as an overweight tablet and as a touchable all-in-one PC - in the sense that it's built solidly, with a versatile metal kickstand and the usual unspectacular but functional wireless accessories bundled in the box.
We should make a quick mention here of the mouse: Sony apparently builds mice for strange alien claws rather than human hands. We suppose it's a way to get people touching that screen.
It's relatively rugged, as far as this kind of machine goes, with a drop sensor and a splash-proof screen, and while there's no Gorilla Glass toughness it should be sturdy enough to withstand the rigours of family use.
Once you switch it on, it becomes apparent that the Sony Vaio Tap 20 has a few chinks in its armour. Let's start with the screen, a paltry 1600 x 900 panel stretched out to 20 inches, with a pixel density that immediately induced a headache.
As soon as we reached touchscreen distance - and we have particularly long arms - that heavily pixellated panel became a bother, making the touch element of the Sony Vaio Tap 20 difficult to use, at least for us.
You might not have the same trouble, but that doesn't mean a Full HD 1080p panel shouldn't have been included - it absolutely should. Corners have been cut compared to other all-in-one machines of the same price.
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To the Sony Vaio Tap 20's credit we found the capacitive 10-finger sensor to be absolutely fine, and the viewing angle of the screen - while not exactly world-beating - adequate for just about every task you might throw at it, whether stood on the kickstand or, excitingly, laid flat on a surface.
Another corner has been cut at the top of the screen, where the webcam resides. It has a paltry resolution of 1MP (or 0.9MP if you're using it at the same 16:9 aspect ratio as the screen) and produces mucky, washed out images. This is far from brilliant, considering that the curvature of the case will make clipping on a replacement quite difficult.
Sony deserves a lot of credit for leaving that case relatively open, though. Pulling off the panel at the back of the unit reveals the battery, memory slots and more, all ripe for upgrading.
This is important because Sony isn't, at this point, offering any kind of configuration options in the UK or Australia. It's Core i5, 6GB RAM or nothing in the UK. In Australia you may only buy a Core i5 4GB RAM option. In the US, you can buy the Core i5 4GB RAM model or upgrade to a Core i7 8GB RAM version for $1,199.99.
We might also have secured that panel slightly, given that the Sony Vaio Tap 20 is the sort of machine that will end up in the hands of kids and it's only secured with plastic pegs in rubberised holes. Realistically the youngsters won't be lifting its 5kg bulk up very much, though.
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Stride past the Sony Vaio Tap 20's collection of initial disappointments - and its £999.99/AU$1,499/US$999.99 price, for which you could pick up both an RT tablet and a decent Ultrabook, or two slightly-lesser all-in-ones - and you'll find a competent machine indeed, particularly among its direct rivals.
It musters 720p video without the slightest grumble - though, of course, it can't do 1080p at full res due to its underspecified screen.
It runs Windows 8 without breaking a sweat, as well it should.
The Sony Vaio Tap 20 has swift connectivity thanks to its USB 3.0 ports, and seems to have a rather good wireless range to boot. Wherever you put it to work, the Sony Vaio Tap 20 performs just fine.
While it's up to most tasks, that doesn't mean it's a machine you'll actually want to use. Some of Windows 8's gestures feel a bit strange on such a large panel - to close an app you'll be sweeping your arm down as if performing elaborate semaphore - but it is at least helped by the fact that there's no physical bezel.
There even proper status lights, an essential feature that is becoming increasingly rare.
Real world use out of the way, let's look at the theory. Our benchmark tests weren't especially promising, if we're honest.
The Intel Core i5 3317U and Intel HD Graphics combo work well in parallel, and perform perfectly well in context, but a Cinebench multi-CPU score of 9214 and 3DMark 06 result of 5634 don't line up especially well against machines of a comparable cost.
We keep turning around and coming back to that price, but it's an important point. £999.99/AU$1,499/US$999.99 is edging into premium gaming laptop territory. It's a specced out desktop price. It's not a mediocre all-in-one price.
The battery fared worst of all, mustering a mere 1hour 12 minutes under our intense test. You might squeeze out a little more, but the portable portion of the Sony Vaio Tap 20 is a temporary prospect at best.
We're not exactly surprised - Sony readily admits that you won't get much life out of it - but it limits the extra use you're going to be able to get out of the Sony Vaio Tap 20's gimmick.
And why does the Sony Vaio Tap 20 exist, if not for that tablet-like gimmick?
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This whole review has been a big fight for us. We're torn between innovation, which is a tremendous thing, and the fact that this particular innovation just hasn't come off.
The Sony Vaio Tap 20 is an interesting machine - an all-in-one come tablet in an as-yet unique form factor. You can indeed pick it up and use it like a tablet, if you're strong enough to heft its bulk. But you won't, because it's far too big and you'll look silly.
We have to rate this as an all-in-one PC. It's faster and slicker than the majority of its competitors - the Core i5 processor within is better than the CPUs backing up most of the Sony Vaio Tap 20's ilk - and it has its battery-powered gimmick to pep it up. Full marks for uniqueness, too, even if its category isn't very likely to become a big thing.
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But its battery is, again, a gimmick. And at £999.99/AU$1,499/US$999.99, even with its power and with its battery, we feel it's a little over-priced against non-all-in-one computers. The compromises made - the non-Full-HD screen, the abysmal webcam, the bafflingly poor mouse - don't help its case, either.
We're sure these things could have been better. It's not the size of the case that's holding it back - the case is huge, so a better webcam would surely have fitted - and these components are at odds with the altogether decent specs otherwise. It's just not what we've come to expect from Sony, which has produced some of the finest PCs we've ever seen, particularly in the laptop space. This feels like an ill-conceived spin-off.
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Let's give it its due. The Sony Vaio Tap 20 is as versatile as a non-laptop gets. It has its moderate muscle, it has a hundred different places you could put it in your home, and that screen is - at least if you're thinking tablet - absolutely enormous.
We don't really feel like Sony has successfully chipped out a new foothold in the PC cliff face, but the Sony Vaio Tap 20 is interesting, at least. We have to give it that.