Review: Sony VAIO Tap 20

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The Sony VAIO Tap 20 is a 20″ all-in-one multi-touch PC that blurs the lines between a massive tablet and a regular Windows 8 desktop. It’s an interesting combination, but an incredibly welcome experimentation with PC form factors.

One of the requirements of a redesigned touch-enabled operating system is for hardware partners to come to the party. While launch devices were thin on the ground, it’s only now as we head into March of 2013, that we’re starting to see refreshingly new hardware designs hit the market and the Tap 20 is a prime example.

Unquestionably one of the smartest decisions on this device is its stand. It allows for a full range of motion from a monitor-like upright mode, to a more comfortable 45 degree touch position, to a fully flat coffee-table lay-flat mode. What’s more important is the stand supports every angle in between, allowing for complete adjustability not only to suit the user, but changing user’s, changing needs.

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Hardware

 

Touch / Display
The 20” multi-touch display of the Tap 20 supports up to 10 simultaneous points of contact. While you may rarely find use for all 10 points at once, certainly support for more is always welcome. 10 multi-touch points is quickly becoming the standard and means developers can begin to rely on devices supporting them. That being the case the current options are quite limited with the best use case being dual-player, simultaneous gaming at each end of the device with Air Hockey.

The screen resolution of this IPS panel is 1600×900, which is low compared to retina displays, but ultra high resolutions don’t make sense at 20” or for touching. Overall the resolution is right for the device size.

Performance
Behind that large pane of glass lies an Intel Core i5-3317U Processor, running a 1.70 GHz that boost up to 2.60 GHz when required. The device dealt with most tasks fine, but did suffer occasional slow downs which were difficult to nail down. Surprisingly a number of these occurred during gameplay of metro apps like Holo Ping Pong, a high tech version of Pong.

Overall the performance was strong, particularly if you jump into the ‘High performance’ power mode which allows the processor to boost when required. The Tap 20 has 4GB RAM, but the biggest concession on performance is the lack of an SSD. The 500GB HDD may have 4th generation shock resistance, but I don’t care, this needed an SSD for performance if nothing else.

Battery Life
Naturally with any portable (or semi-portable) device, we need to talk about battery life. There’s no way to say it, but as a tablet, the Tap 20 fails badly, but I’m not sure that was ever a serious goal of the device. No battery technology on the planet could power a 20” display for long, powering a 4” smartphone is hard enough.

The Sony VAIO Tap 20 achieved an average of around 2 hours when powered by battery. While nothing like the 9-10 hours of an iPad or Surface, it will achieve many of the intended uses. Can you move your PC from your office desk to the coffee table? What about the kitchen? or even all the way to work? Yep, the battery inside the Tap 20 does what it needs to and provides the much needed juice to keep the device awake while moving venues.

While it won’t work for an international flight, it will last long enough to entertain the kids for a couple of hours on the coffee table. You do really need to make an active decision that this portability is important to you, for the price, you could by 3 kids an iPad each.

Portability
The Tap 20 weighs in at just over 5kgs, so you’re unlikely (although I did for a while) rest it on your lap. The device is better positioned on a desk as another monitor or coffee table as the ultimate second screen. What you give up in portability, you get back in screen size. Despite the weight and cost issues, this is a 20” tablet and that’s cool every day of the week. Being able to pop it down, glance at information from a distance, or lean forward and interact with it, is a great experience.

Accessories
Sony provide a Keyboard and mouse with the Tap 20 and are pretty forgettable. The mouse is a long, skinny design which doesn’t work in the hand. It’s also a glossy black finish while the keyboard is a matt-black finish, leaving them with the appearance of being from two separate devices.

The keyboard is nice to type on with it’s now very standard chicklet, or island key style. There is no backlighting, so you’d better know your layout before the sun goes down. One saving grace for the keyboard is its number pad, although I’d suggest Sony ditch that in favour of a touch panel to remove the need for that terrible mouse all together.

As much as I wasn’t blown away with the peripherals included with the Tap 20, I often found myself positioning the Tap 20 on the coffee table and interacting with the 20” screen through the keyboard, perfect watching and contributing to twitter while watching TV.

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Software

 

Metro UI
Build specifically for touch, metro apps just simply work on a touch-enabled device. Of course operationally, but more than that, on the conceptual level, that we want to touch and interact in new ways with modern applications. Touch points are enormous, so hitting them is easy.

If only Microsoft had device like this available at the launch of Windows 8, I’m convinced that sales would be much stronger. It really is hard to think of a better example of a demo device to show off Windows 8 than the Tap 20 and living with it, is even better.

Desktop
Most Windows 8 machines require you to switch to keyboard and mouse operation when in the legacy Desktop mode. Touch point sizes are typically too small for regular 10” tablets, however the 20” display of the Tap 20, means that even the desktop targets are easy to hit. With Windows 8 x64-bit, you can enjoy all your traditional apps in all their glory, which taking advantage of the included keyboard and mouse where you like.

While touch in most people’s eyes is supposed to be a replacement for older input methods, I prefer to adjunct PC interactions with additional inputs. having keyboard, mouse, touch and at some stage voice, will provide the ultimate in control flexibility.

Included software
Sony have pre-loaded some of their own apps as OEM’s tend to do. Ultimately the pre-loaded apps are not an issue like normal vendor bloatware. Just select them uninstall or even just unpin them to make them go away. One thing you can’t make disappear is Sony’s custom section of apps in the Store.

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Price & Availability

The Sony Tap 20 retails for A$1,499 which includes the keyboard and mouse peripherals. At that price it’s one of the most expensive tablets you can buy, but if you look at it as a touchscreen PC, it’s on-par with the competition.

For more information, head to Sony Australia.

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Overall

During most product reviews I get an initial impression and understanding of wether a device accomplishes its goals, very quickly. The Tap 20 was different, I was torn between gadget lust for a new form factor and the practicality of having a tablet that lasts just over 2 hours and weighs 5.1kgs.

While the Sony VAIO Tap 20 isn’t for everyone, if it was cheaper, lighter and the battery lasted longer, it’d appeal to a lot more. Expect future revisions to hit those targets, but for now the Tap 20 is a great device that should be considered for its refreshingly new hardware design that offers virtually unparalleled flexibility of application.

Disclaimer: I did review a pre-production unit, but am assured the device you can buy will be exactly the same.

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    The very good assessment, I found it pretty accurate.