Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
Sony VAIO Fit Multi-flip 13 hybrid notebook
Sony's Multi-flip has a screen that can turn this ordinary looking laptop into a great tablet PC
- Flip design works well as a tablet
- Thin and light design
- Full-sized HDMI and SD card slot
- Body made creaking noises and felt a little flimsy
- Reflections and backlight bleeding from the screen
- Keys feel shallow
Sony's hybrid style is in full effect on the VAIO Fit Multi-flip, which is a 13in notebook that can easily be turned into a tablet. We like it a lot due to the design and the included ports and specs, but we think the build could stand to be a little sturdier and the screen less reflective.
Price$ 1,699.00 (AUD)
Convertible Windows 8-based laptops that can also be used as tablets don’t come in one standard form factor. That is, perhaps, what makes this market segment such an interesting one to watch, with the products available ranging from interesting to whacky. Vendors seem to be continually trying to outdo each other by putting their own twist on the hybrid design — or, in Sony’s case, a flip.
Sony is no stranger to innovation, and its VAIO Fit Flip shows just how much the company is willing to develop its own style rather than implement a tried and tested formula. It has taken the conventional clam shell form factor and added a hinge half way up the screen, allowing it to ‘flip’ over and face outwards so that you can then bring it back down over the notebook’s base and use it as a tablet.
It’s all very neat, too. There aren’t any cables or connections to be seen when this action takes place, and this is one of our favourite aspects of the Flip’s design. When the screen is in its flipped position, magnets at the top and bottom hold it in place. If you want to, you can even leave the screen up, but facing outward, which will allow you to watch videos without having the keyboard in the way.
Sony has made this hybrid design as thin and as light as possible so that it actually feels comfortable when you rest it in your lap as a tablet — but it can get noticeably warm. Even though it’s a 13.3in unit, it can still be held in one hand relatively easily; it weighs 1.3kg, but it feels lighter than that due to way it’s balanced. That said, it can be tiring to hold it like a regular tablet for more than a few minutes. Basically, the VAIO Fit Flip is a tablet that’s best suited to couch or bedroom usage, rather than as an on-the-go device.
Specs and performance
On the inside, it has a configuration that’s similar to an Ultrabook. It comes with a fourth generation Intel Core i5-4200U CPU (and integrated Intel HD 4400 graphics), 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB solid state drive (SSD). You can use the Flip easily for regular office tasks and multimedia jobs — it can even be used to transcode video files in a pinch. Needless to say, the Flip isn’t a gaming machine, though it can be used to play many simple titles downloaded from the Windows Store (think titles such as Riptide GP).
In our performance tests, it took 1min 2sec to complete a workload in Blender 3D, and 35min 42sec to transcode a DVD file to MP4 format in HandBrake. The SSD recorded a read rate of 421.6 megabytes per second (MBps) in CrystalDiskMark, and a write rate of 135.9MBps. The Blender and HandBrake results are slower than expected for machine running the i5-4200U CPU. Sony’s own VAIO Pro 13, which runs the same CPU, got 50sec in Blender and 29min in HandBrake. The SSD’s results are nowhere near the speed of the VAIO Pro 13’s because that unit uses faster PCI Express-based storage, while the Flip is still based on SATA.
Nevertheless, the results from the Flip show that it has more than ample processing power in its thin chassis — and we’re not exaggerating about the thinness. It’s only 12mm at its thickest point at the rear (including the rubber feet on the bottom of the base), and 8mm at its thinnest point at the front. With the screen closed, the Flip is 19mm at its thickest point.
In our battery rundown test, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise screen brightness, and loop an Xvid-encoded video, the VAIO Fit Flip ran for 5hr 3min, which is 20min less than what the VAIO Pro 13 recorded in the same test. How much you get out of the Flip will depend on the tasks you run, and on the brightness level of the screen.
As mentioned earlier, some heat can be felt from the side where the CPU resides, but mostly when the laptop is working hard. This can make the Flip feel uncomfortable while being used on your lap, either as a tablet or as a regular notebook. A cooling fan is located on the same side as the CPU and it can be heard during these times, though we don’t think it gets excessively loud.
Vent holes are present along the hinged area of the laptop between the base and the screen, and they are visible once the screen is in the up position. The way the hinge is mounted (it’s an L-shaped hinge that makes the screen drop down behind the chassis), a gap is also provided when the screen is in the down position, which means that the cooling system works in much the same way when the Flip is being used either as a laptop or as a tablet. There aren’t any vent holes on the bottom, which means that unless you use the Flip upside-down as a tablet, there is little chance of you blocking the vents on the left side and at the top.
The power adapter’s plug is located just near the vent, and it’s a curiosity. It doesn’t sit firmly in place when it’s attached to the chassis; instead, there is a wobble to it. But this is by design. The purpose of it is to break away easily if the cord is ever pulled or accidentally tripped over. It’s a design that makes it a little awkward to insert.
Sony has been able to include a respectable selection of ports along the sides of the chassis, and you don’t have to go fumbling for adapters to use them. Mainly, there is a headphone port on the left side, and two USB 3.0 ports on the right side (there is also a USB charging port on the small power adapter), along with a full-sized HDMI port. On the inside you get Bluetooth, dual-band Wi-Fi, and NFC (Tap and Send).
Most other Ultrabooks and hybrids of such a thin nature only possess a micro-style port for HDMI, which then requires you to go out and purchase another cable or adapter plug if you want to use that port. We’re very happy to see this full-sized port and we made use of it when connecting the Flip to watch streaming video on our TV. Another plus is the full-sized SD card slot, which enabled us to easily get photos off our camera and onto the laptop to view them on its Full HD screen.
Indeed, the screen has a Full HD resolution that comes in handy not only when viewing photos and video, but also when you want to multitask by lining up a couple of windows side by side. It can be hard to accurately tap on icons and menu items in the Windows Desktop when using the Flip as a tablet, but it we didn’t have too many issues navigating the system, especially when we used the Windows 8 Modern UI. You can also use the supplied digitiser pen for more accuracy, and for drawing and writing.
One problem, though: it’s a very reflective screen. Even at the highest brightness setting, we still couldn’t get rid of most reflections, and it was frustrating to use the Flip as a notebook or as a tablet when there were light sources behind us. Dark videos were especially difficult to watch. We also noticed backlight bleeding along the edges.
Apart from the screen reflections, our experience with the VAIO Fit Flip wasn’t all good during our evaluation period. We used a pre-production model, which meant that the software on our machine wasn’t final, and this could have contributed to the slightly slower benchmark scores we described above (we couldn’t update the drivers, for example). Furthermore, we experienced some issues with the touchscreen in the form of ‘phantom taps’.
Basically, while using the device as a notebook or tablet, the screen would somehow register taps along the left side, even while our hands were nowhere near the part of the screen that was being tapped. It sometimes caused windows to be opened and applications to be launched without any user interaction. It was an intermittent problem that we couldn’t replicate on our own; it simply just either happened, or the unit behaved itself and let us get on with our work. We’re not sure if this was a driver problem, or indeed if it was caused by the hardware
We will also point out that it’s a creaky device that, at times, feels flimsy. The chassis bends when you hold it from one side while it’s in notebook form, which can sometimes make the touchpad look like it’s about to pop out. The way the screen sits over the chassis in tablet mode leaves a gap at the top between the two parts, which can be off-putting as the two parts can bend if you put pressure on them.
The power button is also quite hard to press, mainly due to its location and because it sits flush with the edge. We’re also not fans of the keyboard, which exhibited some bouncing during our tests, and which had keys that felt too shallow. The backlight for the keys also doesn’t provide enough contrast, which can make the lettering hard to see from certain angles when using full screen brightness.
There’s no doubt that Sony’s VAIO Fit Flip is an interesting proposition if you’re looking for a device that can perform a capable switcheroo from notebook to tablet. We like the overall design and the way it works, we’re fans of the included connectivity and specifications, but we can’t help but think the unit feels a little too flimsy. We’re also a little hesitant to praise it too much because of the ‘phantom taps’ that we experienced, and we’re hoping that’s just an anomaly present in our pre-production unit.
That said, we really like the Multi-flip 13 as a tablet, and think the design is a good one as far as notebook hybrids go.
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