Sony's latest Windows 8 convertible, VAIO Flip , is a premium device that brings a unique form factor design to the VAIO portfolio. It features a unique hinge that makes it capable of converting between laptop, tablet, and viewer modes by flipping the display over the hinge.
The Sony VAIO Flip is available in 13-inch, 14-inch, and 15-inch sizes, and I spent a couple of weeks with the Sony VAIO Flip 13. Read on for our overall experience with the device and a comprehensive review.
There are a lot of convertibles in the market, each with a unique flip mechanism. While some of them flip or twist in a functional manner, many of these are just oddly designed or a performance compromise.
The VAIO Flip 13 though impresses with its unique design and build quality. It features an elegant double-hinged design with brushed metal finish that lets the screen flip over so the laptop can be closed with the screen facing outwards. Sony claims that the flip mechanism has undergone significant testing and the chassis can effortlessly withstand reasonable lateral pressure. The metal finish of the upper lid and the keyboard though makes it highly prone to smudges and fingerprints and because it is otherwise so beautifully designed, the fingerprints are even more of an eyesore.
While the laptop mode and the tablet mode are the obvious facets of a convertible, the VAIO Flip also offers a viewer mode where the display can be flipped over so that you can share the experience of watching a video with another person or give an instant presentation anytime. In fact, I happened to use the viewer mode more than the tablet mode, essentially because it offers the experience of a tablet with a stand.
The quality of construction is impressive and the hinge is not just well-designed, but also well executed. A rubber diaphragm at the pivot protects the screen from the hinge in case of a little rough handling. The magnets keep the screen in place and flips only when intended. There’s also a latch to lock the screen position when using as a laptop, however, once you get a hang of the flip mechanism you might never use it.
The sides, made of a soft-touch matte plastic, feature two USB 3.0 ports, one HDMI socket, an SD card reader, and a 3.5mm headset jack. There’s also the power button and the volume rocker, and a slim speaker grille is placed on the either side.
The keyboard looks beautiful, and is backlit. While the keys are well spaced out, it still doesn’t make for a very comfortable typing experience. It’s not bad, but the thin chassis restricts the press and mechanical feedback, although most people would get used to it.
Apart from the construction quality, the choice of materials is striking and at just 1.3kg, the hybrid laptop is very light. The keyboard deck is just 3mm thin at the edges and that enhances not just the appeal, but also the ergonomics of the device.
It’s unusual that a device review includes a mention of the charger but Flip 13's deserves it. The power brick is small and pretty light, and includes a USB port so you don’t have to carry a charger for your phone or other devices when traveling. The power connector has an interesting lock and while it stays intact even if you yank the wire hard, it doesn’t appear to attach firmly and feels like it’s going to fall out all the time. Maybe, it is just a matter of getting used to the thing.
The best thing about Sony VAIO Flip 13 is that it does not cut corners on hardware like most convertibles in the market. It’s a premium device not just in design, but on the specifications sheet as well.
Powered by an Intel Core i5-4200U CPU running at 1.6GHz, Intel HD 4400 GPU graphics integrated into the CPU, and 4GB of DDR3 RAM it is a solid device. The 128GB solid-state drive of course aids the performance and multitasking.
The 1920x1080 display borrows Sony’s trademark features from Bravia brand – the Triluminous display promises a wider color gamut and X-Reality claims to make moving images more clear. While those are pretty much marketing pitches, the apparent outcome is quite great. The colors are bright and vibrant, and 1080p videos played smoothly.
Sony also brings audio processing technology from their Hi-Fi brand and includes equalization settings and virtual surround sound. However, all that doesn’t transcend into impressive sound. The speaker output is decent, but not enough to watch a movie or enjoy a gaming session.
The VAIO Flip 13 gives about 6 hours of battery life which is good enough for current ultrabooks, although it’s something that I disapprove of when it comes to hybrids. Along with portability, long battery life is an advantage that tablets bring to the table and that has to transcend to a hybrid device as well.
The Flip 13 tends to get a little hot when playing HD videos or playing graphically-intensive games. It doesn’t get uncomfortable to hold in the tablet mode but the fan spins audibly.
The review unit I received ran Windows 8, although you can update to Windows 8.1 for free from the Windows Store. There are also some nifty apps like VAIO Clip (image organization), VAIO Paper (note-taking), and VAIO Care (after-sales support) pre-installed. There’s also the needless 60-day free trial of Norton Online Backup and three months of Trend Micro Titanium security.
The Sony JIVE app includes three months of unlimited music downloads. The service has a huge catalog of Indian and International music but the user experience is poor. Also, for a premium device, I’d hope Sony would include a longer complimentary subscription like Nokia does for their flagship Lumia smartphones.
Sony also packs in a very useful VAIO Control Center app that gives you quick access to settings concerning the battery, fan speed, keyboard backlight, external displays, sound effects, and others. It also allows you to save your network settings for different wireless networks that you connect to at home or at work.
The Sony VAIO Flip 13 has great aesthetics and the design and construction quality are impressive. The innovative hinge design is also quite refined as compared to the competition and nicely implemented. The performance too is reasonably good, and would accommodate most business scenarios. It’s not a developer workstation by any measure though.
However, if a convertible is not a requirement, the cost of the Flip 13 may make a more traditional ultrabook a more attractive option. At INR 99,999 in India ($1300 in US) it’s a tad expensive, no it’s actually very expensive, but it’s hard not to see value in the versatile device. If you are not on a budget and are looking for a hybrid device that is easy to lug around, the Flip 13 is a great choice.
You can buy the Sony VAIO Flip 13 directly from Sony or through various third party retailers.