Sony takes on the Surface Pro with the VAIO Tap 11, its first Windows 8 tablet (hands-on)

It's sort of insane to think that Sony, a goliath of the consumer electronics industry, is only just getting around to releasing its first Windows 8 tablet. But you know what they say: better late than never, right? The company today unveiled the VAIO Tap 11, a standalone tablet that seems specifically designed to obliterate the Surface Pro. Similar to Microsoft's flagship tablet, this is an 11-inch device with a kickstand, Intel Core processor and 1,920 x 1,080 IPS display that supports pen input. Also similar: it works with a keyboard that latches onto the tablet via a magnetic connector.

Here, though, the keyboard attaches on the front face, not on the bottom edge, and it's a proper wireless keyboard with surprisingly decent travel -- not at all like the flat Touch Cover that goes with the Surface. What's nice, too, is that even with the thicker keyboard attached, the Tap 11 is about as thick as the Surface Pro itself. In fact, Sony says this is the "world's thinnest tablet PC." Which it might be -- until the next-gen Surface comes along, anyway. Also worth noting: the keyboard conveniently charges through the connector on the tablet, so the odds of the battery dying on you mid-sentence are thankfully very low.

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Sony VAIO Tap 11 hands-on

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Sony VAIO Tap 11

Returning to that display for a moment, the tablet uses an N-Trig digitizer to enable pen input. Sony says it chose N-Trig over Wacom in part because N-Trig's pens put their sensors closer toward the tip, allowing for better accuracy. There is a tradeoff here, though, which is that whereas you'd normally be able to swap in any Wacom-compatible pen of your choosing, you're limited to either the pen that comes in the box, or the one that shipped with last year's VAIO Duo 11. Thankfully, there's at least a place on the tablet where you can clip the pen so that you don't lose it (basically, the same setup as on the new Duo 13). Oh, and in case you were wondering, there's pen support for Adobe Photoshop CC / Illustrator CC.

So far as we can tell, the biggest downside is that the keyboard doesn't include any extra ports or a built-in battery (the Surface doesn't either, but some models like the ThinkPad Helix do). So, you'll have to hope the tablet alone delivers good enough battery life, and make do with the ports on the device itself. These include a micro-HDMI socket and a full-sized USB 3.0 port, along with dual speakers and an NFD area. Like Sony's flagship Android tablet, the Xperia Tablet Z, this has a built-in IR remote, along with a corresponding TV SideView app for browsing TV shows (you'll need to download that from the Windows Store). In fact, much of the Tap 11's design borrows from the Tablet Z's "OmniBalance" design, with straight edges and a uniform thickness. Finally, on the rear there's an 8-megapixel camera, with an Exmor-RS sensor for improved low-light performance.

Under the hood, the Tap 11 packs either a Pentium CPU or a Haswell chip (Core i3, i5 or i7), paired with a six-hour battery and 128GB to 512GB of solid-state storage. It also has NFC, like Sony's other new VAIOs. We wish we could tell you about when it will be available in the US or how much it will cost, but Sony won't be announcing either of those details until a later date. For now, at least, we at least know the device will be offered in both black and white. Until we know more, though, you'll have to satisfy yourselves with the hands-on photos above.

Brian Heater contributed to this report.

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SONY INTRODUCES FALL LINEUP OF VAIO® PCs

New Line Features Full Range of Elegant Convertibles and the World's Thinnest (0.39")Windows 8 Tablet PC With Intel® Core™ Processor Family*

NEW YORK, NEW YORK, September 4, 2013 – Sony today introduced a bold new line for fall including a new form factor PC, VAIO® | Flip PC, featuring the flexibility of a convertible with a laptop mode that is equal to a conventional clamshell PC, the world's thinnest (0.39")Windows 8 tablet with Intel® Core™ Processor family, VAIO® Tap 11 Tablet PC*, and the next evolution of the portable all-in-one PC, VAIO Tap 21, encompassing power and beautiful design.

"Consumers want the portability and convenience of a tablet but don't want to sacrifice PC power," said Pedro LaFarga, SVP, Sony VAIO & Networked Products Division. "With Sony's new VAIO | Flip PC and VAIO Tap 11 form factors, they don't have to. Sony will continue to lead the fast changing PC industry, offering new experiences in both productivity and play while always incorporating the best technologies from our display, imaging and audio groups."

Distinctly Sony
VAIO | Flip PC and VAIO Tap models feature a sharp and gorgeous Full HD 1920 x 1080 display (select models with have a high resolution 2880 x 1620 display with 4K HDMI output). Drawing on Sony's TV heritage of delivering the best picture quality, TRILUMINOS™ Display for mobile recreates incredibly rich natural colors. With a wider color range, TRILUMINOS Display for mobile renders hard to reproduce reds, blues, and greens more accurately, giving mobile devices the ability to display intense colors better than ever before.

In addition to TRILUMINOS Display for mobile, the new VAIO PCs employ Sony's picture engine, X-Reality™ for mobile, which analyzes each image and reproduces lacking pixels to optimize quality for the sharpest videos. The combination of these technologies ensures that VAIO users experience a level of video quality that exceeds expectations.
The front-facing camera powered by Exmor RS™ for PC image sensor developed by Sony, captures sharp, clear images even in low light conditions.
Fused with ClearAudio+, the new PCs deliver a louder and clearer sound that is distinctly Sony. With unique sound processing technologies, listeners hear dynamic bass and soaring highs with ultimate clarity and presence with less distortion for an unmatched music or movie experience.

VAIO | Flip PC
The unique design of VAIO | Flip PC maintains the full functionality of a conventional notebook PC with the ability to switch between laptop, tablet and viewer modes – the perfect blend of productivity and entertainment. Utilizing a unique 2nd hinge, the display can flip, allowing the PC to change from laptop to tablet or viewer modes. Tablet mode is best for browsing the web, taking pictures and writing with the optional Active Pen. By flipping the display over, users can access viewer mode, a form that is the best for watching videos and movies or showing the screen to someone sitting opposite.
Available in 13-inch, 14-inch and 15-inch models, VAIO | Flip PC is beautifully crafted in both black and silver aluminum and features a full pitch backlit keyboard, gesture enabled touch pad and palm rest for comfortable typing. VAIO | Flip PC includes a USB 3.0 port capable of charging personal devices on the go even when the computer is powered down or in sleep mode. In addition, there is a USB charging port housed within the AC adapter (VAIO Fit 13A | Flip PC and VAIO Tap 11 models only).
VAIO Fit 13A | Flip PC weighs a mere 2.6 lbs. The 14" and 15" VAIO | Flip PC weigh 4.2 lbs., and 4.6 lbs., respectively.
VAIO | Flip PC models are equipped with fourth generation Intel® Core™ processors with up to Core™ i7, Solid State Drive (standard on 13") and Hybrid Hard Drive (standard on 15", optional on 14") as well as optional NVIDIA® graphics -- up to 2GB -- (VAIO Fit 15A | Flip PC), delivering maximized performance that masters the most demanding tasks, whether you're watching a movie, creating a multimedia presentation or gaming, all with great battery life.

VAIO Tap 11
Available in both black and white options, the new VAIO Tap 11 Tablet PC is the world's thinnest (0.39") Windows 8 Tablet PC with Intel® Core™ Processor family.*
Featuring an aluminum magnetic full pitch keyboard/cover with a touch pad, users can be as productive as they are on a conventional notebook PC. In addition, the keyboard uses magnets to easily attach to the display when it is not being used, providing a cover and charging the keyboard in this position.
VAIO Tap 11 models are equipped with fourth generation Intel Core processors with up to Core i7 and Solid State Drives for powerful performance.
Users can stay productive and entertained throughout the day on the new VAIO Tap 11 model with up to 6 hours of battery life, an SD card reader, USB 3.0 and micro HDMI as well as Intel® Wireless Display (WiDi), which easily streams the computer screen directly to your compatible HDTV.

Camera and Pen solutions
The 8-megapixel rear-facing camera on VAIO Fit 13A | Flip PC and VAIO Tap 11 features the Exmor RS for PC image sensor and makes it possible to take images of documents that are clear enough for the computer to recognize and process text. The Exmor RS for PC image sensor combined with the CamScanner application enables users to take crisp images of documents using the computer's camera as if it were a scanner and edit and organize multiple documents. CamScanner has the ability to straighten images of documents and photos taken at odd angles, allowing individuals to focus on taking photos of important material instead of lining up the perfect shot. CamScanner also uses Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to convert the words in an image to text.
The pressure sensitive Active Pen allows for an even more accurate and natural writing experience. Users can take notes in the memo taking application, VAIO Paper, or easily crop an image with VAIO Clip using intelligent edge detection technology.
In addition, VAIO is collaborating with Adobe to offer the best environment for creatives. Users will be able to enjoy Active Pen in the update of Adobe Illustrator® Creative Cloud and Adobe Photoshop® Creative Cloud (each sold separately).

VAIO Tap 21
Sony was first to market with the portable all-in-one segment with VAIO Tap 20. Now encased in aluminum with clean edges and a diamond cut VAIO logo, VAIO Tap is sleeker than ever.

The new tabletop PC now features a freestyle stand which allows users to easily change the angle of the screen with one hand. Thanks to the internal battery, VAIO Tap 21 can be carried around the home or laid flat on a coffee table for the whole family to play games on the large screen.

Users can also stand VAIO Tap 21 upright and use it as a fully-functioning desktop PC to work on documents, surf the web and check emails or use the device to display a presentation with the supplied wireless keyboard and mouse.

VAIO Tap 21 comes with applications that are optimized for responsive 10-point multi-touch operation, including Fingertapps™ Organizer, and a calendar app for family members to communicate digitally via posted to-do lists and recorded messages and videos.
VAIO Tap 21 will be available with a Intel Core i5 or i7 processor and can be configured with a Solid State Drive or Hybrid Hard Drive.

High Level of Standard Features
With NFC (Near Field Communication) one-touch technology, users can quickly stream music, download photos, and enable Bluetooth® connections by simply tapping a compatible Android™ or Windows Phone smart phone or a wireless speaker to the new VAIO | Flip PC and VAIO Tap models.

The new PCs also make great partners for your TV and home entertainment system. With the TV SideView app (available for free via the Windows Store) users can search for detailed information about the movies or programs they are currently watching as well as related content. By using an optional USB IR adapter (IR built into VAIO Tap 11), users can change the channel or control the volume via the app in the same way that one would use a universal remote control. Using VAIO Remote control application, users can operate other devices that communicate via infra-red technology, such as BluRay Disc™ players and home theaters, from their PC.

Also included with both VAIO | Flip PC and VAIO Tap models is ArtRage® Studio, the premiere digital arts software. ArtRage Studio offers natural painting tools such as oil paints and watercolors, along with utilities to make painting easier for anyone who wants to paint or draw on their computer regardless of skill level.

For those who want to try their hand at video creation and music recording, VAIO | Flip PC and VAIO Tap 21 models include a pre-installed version of Sony Imagination Studio™ VAIO Edition software, about a $200 value, including four powerful Sony applications: Movie Studio Platinum, ACID™ Music Studio, Sound Forge™ Audio Studio and DVD Studio Architect™ Studio software.

*As of Sept 4, 2013, without keyboard.

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Sony takes on the Surface Pro with the VAIO Tap 11, its first Windows 8 tablet (hands-on)