As usual, Sony’s hardware entry into the Windows 8 tablet/convertible space is rather unusual: its VAIO Duo 11 has a touchscreen that slides up (and stays in a non-adjustable position) to reveal a full keyboard with trackpoint. It’s a pretty interesting concept, and executed rather well. The sliding mechanism is solid, and the whole device, despite being quite thick (at 17.85mm), manages to feel both high-quality and somewhat light at the same time.
As for specs, the Duo 11 is pretty full-featured: there will be models with low-voltage Core i5 and i7 processors, 4 or 8 GB of RAM, SSDs with 128 or 256 GB. You’ll also get 2 USB 3.0 ports, HDMI and VGA (!), an Ethernet connection, and an SD card reader.
The 11.6″ display is especially good, featuring a dense resolution of 1920×1080 pixels. It also comes with an active digitizer, which detects if you’re using the stylus and prevents accidental touchscreen input.
By far the biggest downside to the Duo 11, however, is the lack of a touchpad. After all, the justification for the added bulkiness compared to a regular tablet – or one with a dedicated keyboard dock – is that you can always fully use it as a notebook, without having to carry a seperate keyboard. While it’s certainly possible to make do with a trackpoint, the one in the Duo 11 has been rather difficult to use; it determines the movement of your finger through an optical sensor and is often inaccurate and hard to control. On the other hand, the mouse buttons are pretty good, and the inclusion of a dedicated middle button is a great bonus for people who like to open browser links in new tabs.
The positioning of the volume up/down and rotation-lock buttons is also rather weird. Instead of putting them on the side (where there’s more than enough space, after all), they’re located at the bottom of the device, where they seem to be a great target for accidental activation.
All in all, though, the VAIO Duo 11 is definitely a device to watch out for, especially if you absolutely need a hardware keyboard at all times. Its build quality seems great, from what we’ve seen, and whether or not it’ll be able to justify the additional thickness will depend on your own individual needs.