Sony’s Duo 11 is one of that strange new breed of hybrid Windows 8 devices that can be used as either a tablet or a laptop computer. It’s certainly an attractive looking device, with an excellent high-definition, touchscreen. However, the method that Sony has chosen for switching between laptop and tablet modes isn’t as elegant as it could be.
Prices start at £849 for a model with an i3 processor running at 1.8GHz, 4GB RAM and 128GB solid-state drive (SSD). You can also step up to an i5 for another £100, but we tested the high-end model, which costs a hefty £1499 with an Ivy Bridge i7 running at 1.9GHz, 8GB RAM and a 256GB SSD.
The outstanding feature of the Duo 11 is undoubtedly its 11.6-inch IPS screen. This provides a 1920x1080 resolution (lower than the iPad's Retina display which has 2048x1536 pixels) and produces a really sharp image with crisp, strong colours. It also works well with the tiled interface of Windows 8, responding smoothly and quickly as you flick from app to app with your fingers.
That i7 processor scored 4931 with the PCMark 7 benchmark, which is in line with similar i7 devices such as Dell’s (cheaper) XPS 12. That will provide more than enough power for basic tasks such as surfing the web and running MS Office, and even for more demanding work such as video-editing.
There are both HDMI and VGA interfaces for connecting to a larger screen, along with two USB 3.0 ports, Ethernet, headphone socket and memory card slot – but, of course, no DVD drive.
The Duo 11 is well built, yet measures just 17.85mm thick and weighs only 1.3kg, so it’s as portable as most Ultrabooks. Even so, that’s still quite heavy for a tablet, and you can’t hold the Duo 11 in one hand for very long when you’re browsing the web, as you can with a conventional tablet.
There are also compromises when you switch into laptop mode. The hinge mechanism that allows the screen to lift away from the keyboard looks decidedly low tech, and also takes up quite a lot of room. As a result, the keyboard is reduced in size and pushed right to the front of the unit.
That leaves no room for a trackpad at all, so you get a tiny little pointer (similar to a Blackberry's) located on the keyboard instead, and a small set of mouse buttons perched right on the front edge of the unit.
You might get used to this arrangement in time, but less nimble-fingered users could find it a real stumbling block. Sony includes a stylus in the box for taking notes, but this doesn't make up for the shortcomings of the keyboard.
Battery life is respectable considering the specifications. We got just over four hours when using Wi-Fi to stream video from iPlayer, so you can probably stretch that to around five hours for lighter web browsing or using simple office software.
It’s certainly nice having the option of using the Duo 11 as a tablet from time to time. However, at this price the Duo 11 also needs to earn its keep as a workhorse laptop, and that baby-sized keyboard could deter many people who need a laptop that they can use at work.