Perhaps it's due to the overwhelming volume of gadgets I've got clattering around the SurfaceProArtist labs or just my advancing old age, but it's getting increasingly difficult to remember all the gear that I've reviewed and exactly when I reviewed it. Fortunately, despite the somewhat awkward design of the Squarespace template behind this site, everything I've ever posted here is only a keyword search away.

So as the year draws to a close, I thought it would be fun to revisit my last twelve months of reviews and see if my conclusions then have withstood the test of time.

In many cases, the time I invested while writing the review was about as much as I ended up spending with the device for the entire year, so I'll try to distinguish between the gear that I've really put through its paces and the stuff I only ever skimmed.

January
N-Trig DuoSensePen2
http://surfaceproartist.com/blog/2015/1/3/n-trig-now-selling-replacement-pens- The first of a couple of products on this list that disappeared shortly after their release, these replacement pens were N-Trig's first foray into standalone consumer products. It was nice to see an option in case your Surface Pro 3 or Sony VAIO pen went missing, but I didn't care for the short body. When Microsoft bought N-Trig's pen technology later in 2015, the pens vanished.

Monoprice 22" HD SmartTouch Drawing Display http://surfaceproartist.com/blog/2015/1/10/review-new-monoprice-pen-display-puts-multi-touch-within-reach - This touch capable drawing display was Monoprice's second attempt to entire the Wacom - Huion - Yiynova fray, but it also disappeared unceremoniously shortly after release. I still use it occasionally, as its attached to my second desktop. It's really not a bad value and I hope that Monoprice and its anonymous Chinese suppliers take another stab at it in 2016. UPDATE 12/24/15: In the comments section below, reader Vachel Shannon informed me that the Smarttouch pen display has resurfaced on Monoprice's website. You can find it here: http://www.monoprice.com/product?p_id=12077

TE2W8.jpg

Toshiba 8" Encore 2 Write http://surfaceproartist.com/blog/2015/1/31/massive-guest-post-8-toshiba-encore-2-write-impressions - TabletPCReview member Precurve did a great job capturing the virtues of the 8-inch version of what was the best pen computing value of the year.

February
Lenovo Thinkpad Helix 2
http://surfaceproartist.com/blog/2014/11/28/keyboard-hinders-helix-2 -
I expected to love the Helix 2, but I didn't, thanks to its high pricetag and crappy keyboard. Had it been discounted a couple hundred bucks, I might feel otherwise. When the Ultrabook Pro keyboard was ultimately released, it cost a ridiculous $400.

March
HP Pro x2 612 G1
http://surfaceproartist.com/blog/2015/3/1/hp-pro-x2-612-g1-review - Because I reviewed it so closely to the pricey Helix 2, I probably ended up inflating my rating of this tablet. I admit I grade on a curve for lower cost devices, but there's something about this ugly duckling tablet that reminds me of the Surface Pro 1 that got this blog started. UPDATE 12/24/15 : Vachel Shannon also let me know that refurbished i5/8/256 HP Pro x2 612 G1s are on sale over at Woot! for only $399 until supplies last. This is an exceptional value. http://computers.woot.com/offers/hp-pro-x2-612-12-5-intel-i5-tablet-7?ref=cp_cnt_wp_2_9

Toshiba 10" Encore 2 Write http://surfaceproartist.com/blog/2015/3/1/guest-post-10-toshiba-encore-2-write-review- I never got around to writing my own review of the TE2W, but Eric Merced did the honors here. The TE2W is the first Wacom ActiveES tablet I owned and it's an exceptional value.

Wacom Cintiq Companion 2 http://surfaceproartist.com/blog/2015/2/20/wacom-companion-2 - I'll admit I haven't gotten as much use out of the CC2 has I had imagined/hoped when I first purchased it. I'm spoiled by having so many other options at my disposal and I consider the CC2 too large and loud to use outside of the office. But performance is fantastic and it's still the one to buy if art is your foremost concern.

June
Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga 14
http://surfaceproartist.com/blog/2015/6/26/thinkpad-yoga-14-sneaks-into-best-buy- My credit cards were able to take a break during April and May, and they were taxed a little more lightly by this Best Buy-exclusive offer. The laptop is my daily driver at the office. I've changed out the slow 1TB HDD for a much more responsive 512 GB SSD. You won't need to make that additional expense if you purchase the latest model, which has been updated several times since I purchased it. The TPY14 offers the best price-performance ratio on the market. It's not a style champion, but the Skylake version is essentially an i5 dGPU Surface Book for half the price.

July
Lenovo Thinkpad Active Capacitive Pen
http://surfaceproartist.com/blog/2015/7/7/lenovos-elusive-thinkpad-active-capacitive-pen-arrives - The pen that accompanies Lenovo's Wacom ActiveES devices has since been rebranded as the Lenovo Thinkpad Pen Pro. But it remains a must-have for anyone buying one of the new penabled devices, as the bundled rechargeable pen is too small for serious artists.

October
VAIO Z Canvas
http://surfaceproartist.com/blog/2015/10/26/vaio-z-canvas-is-windows-tablet-performance-champ - I was a reluctant buyer but the performance of the VAIO Z Canvas really won me over. It's been discounted $500 in recent weeks and is really hard to pass up at that price.

November
Microsoft Surface Pen
http://surfaceproartist.com/blog/2015/11/5/man-sets-out-to-review-surface-book-settles-for-pen-instead - A must-have for any Surface Pro 3 or 4 owner. The new pen and softer nibs are a huge improvement over their predecessors.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 http://surfaceproartist.com/blog/2015/11/7/entry-level-surface-pro-4-is-the-only-ipad-pro-youll-ever-need - I purposely decided to review the low end m3 SP4 because I was looking for a fanless option. I love it and find I'm using my i5 SP3 less and less often. This is the perfect digital sketchbook Sorry Apple.

Miscrosoft Surface Book http://surfaceproartist.com/blog/2015/12/5/surface-book-is-great-but-artists-should-stay-with-the-surface-pro - Early growing pains have almost been resolved. This is a beautiful prestige device, but I think it's a less than ideal form factor for digital artists.

December
Apple iPad Pro & Apple Pencil - Coming soon. Trying to take my time so I don't come off like an Apple hater or Microsoft fanboy.

So that's it. Funny doesn't seem like so many gadgets when you put them all on one page. I don't know how many I'll get to review in 2016. You guys were great the first couple of days I began my appeal for donations, but that's all died down now and revenue is no where near where it needs to be to pay for this site. So if you haven't yet, please consider a small contribution or click on as many ads as you can. Also, remember to begin your Amazon shopping sessions with a click on one of our Amazon links and we'll receive a small kickback.

So what was your favorite gadget of 2015? What are you most looking forward to in 2016? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below. 

To properly judge some devices, you need to place them in the appropriate context.

Before Microsoft unveiled the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book lines, the VAIO Z Canvas seemed incredibly expensive to me. I was tempted to dismiss the tablet as an ill-timed, overpriced curiosity.

But now that the $2000 Windows tablet ceiling has been shattered, with highest end configurations of the Surface Book going for over $3000, the Z Canvas actually seems--dare I say it?--reasonably priced.

I was also dismissive of the Z Canvas' Haswell (fourth generation) processor until I learned that this quad core Intel Core i7-4770HQ still runs circles around the fastest sixth gen (Skylake) dual core processors shipping inside competing products.

And finally, to compare the Z Canvas head to head with general purpose tablets like the Surface Pro 3 or 4 is probably missing the point, because VAIO is actually targeting users who would otherwise be in the market for specialized devices like a Wacom Cintiq Companion 2.

From a pure power perspective, the VAIO Z Canvas is something of an engineering marvel. The former Sony engineers at the Japanese startup have managed to pack their tablet with a huge amount of performance that also runs coolly and quietly.

And while the Z Canvas still has its design quirks and limitations (like no discrete GPU), it should reign atop the Windows tablet heap for quite some time to come.

Although it's thick compared to other tablets, the VAIO Z Canvas packs a lot beneath the hood.

Although it's thick compared to other tablets, the VAIO Z Canvas packs a lot beneath the hood.

Build quality is excellent. Although the tablet is by no means heavy, it is a solid 2.67 lbs. without the keyboard and .54 inches thick. When attached, the cover adds .75 lbs. and an extra .17 inch.

The left side of the VAIO Z Canvas is chock full of ports.

The left side of the VAIO Z Canvas is chock full of ports.

All the cables connectors will quickly ruin the tablet's clean aesthetics.

All the cables connectors will quickly ruin the tablet's clean aesthetics.

It features a full array of ports along the left side: power, ethernet, HDMI, mini displayPort, SD memory card reader, 2 USB 3.0, and headphone/microphone port.

The Z Canvas can be used in effectively only one orientation and it's unfortunate that power connector is so close to the Ethernet adapter. The two thick connectors are a tight fit in this location and the cables have to be routed under the kickstand to stay out of the way. It would have been ideal to move power to the right side of the tablet.

The Z Canvas has all of its venting along the top, a major improvement over many devices that force hot air into your lap.

On either side of these vents (see above) are two unique hardware buttons: the left button calls up user-configurable on-screen shortcuts while the right button toggles touch on and off.

The right side of the VAIO Z Canvas.

The right side of the VAIO Z Canvas.

The pen clip and pen grip are two simple and useful enhancements.

The pen clip and pen grip are two simple and useful enhancements.

Volume control is on the right side, along with a magnetic slot to hold the pen. But in another smart move, VAIO includes a pen holder which snaps into the slot. There's very little chance of your pen coming loose in your bag if it's clipped into place inside the holder.

Like the Surface Pro, the Z Canvas built-in has a hinge stand, but that's where the similarities end. The tablet is not really designed for "lapability." Instead, the stand will provide a variety of useful drawing angles on a desk.

The back of the VAIO Z Canvas.

The back of the VAIO Z Canvas.

Opening the stand can take some effort. You need to fit your fingers into a slit above the stand edge and apply quite a bit of force to open it. Closing it by hand is also not encouraged. Instead, you should put the stand on a flat surface and push the display into a flat position.  Conversely, when the stand is sitting on a flat surface in even a mostly closed position, it takes almost no effort to tilt the screen to a 90-degree angle.

The VAIO Z Canvas keyboard cover lies completely flat and is always detached while in use.

The VAIO Z Canvas keyboard cover lies completely flat and is always detached while in use.

The Z Canvas keyboard cover is one of tablet's quirkiest design choices. The keyboard is roomy, with good key travel and a large, good-not-great trackpad. But the keyboard lays completely flat and is always detached, so it's not ideally suited for long stretches of typing. I did write this entire review on the Z Canvas, but it was not the most comfortable experience.

When not working at a desk, the ZC is not what anyone would describe as "lap friendly." The large keyboard will lay flat on your lap, but you will need to grip the sharp metal stand between your knees in order to keep the display steady: an awkward, uncomfortable position, to say the least.

Clearly, VAIO intended its Z Canvas for pen users who only occasionally need to tap keyboard shortcuts. I appreciate that the ZC keyboard works wirelessly (not bluetooth) so that it can be stashed out of the way as you work but still function and I have long wished that Surface keyboards would follow suit. However, I think a smaller bluetooth keyboard with a better typing angle (like Microsoft's Wedge Keyboard) is a better approach.

The three-way power switch and power connector

The three-way power switch and power connector

The Z Canvas keyboard has a three-position power switch. The third position disables the trackpad. There is a small power connector in the upper right corner of the keyboard. While it can be charged separately via a micro USB port located along its top edge, whenever the cover is attached to the display, an amber light turns on to indicate that the keyboard is charging.

When it's attached, the keyboard cover is always drawing some power to recharge itself.

When it's attached, the keyboard cover is always drawing some power to recharge itself.

This is a little disconcerting if battery life is at a premium. I haven't been able to verify how long the keyboard charge lasts, but the tablet seems to hold about a six-hour charge with mixed use (high performance mode, web surfing, writing, at various display brightness levels).

One of the biggest selling points of the Z Canvas is its display and it does not disappoint. The 12.3 inch LCD WQXGA+ 2560 x 1704 IPS display boasts a wide gamut display with 95% coverage of the Adobe RGB spectrum. I have no way of verifying this claim, except to say that it looks gorgeous to me.

As I mentioned above, one of the shortcomings of the Z Canvas is its lack of a discrete GPU, but VAIO claims that its 4th generation Intel Iris Pro 5200 offers as much as 3.7 times the performance of the HD4400 processor found in the Surface Pro 3.

I purchased the $2200 "entry" level Z Canvas with 8 GB RAM and 256 GB Storage. The next model up offers 16/512 and a PCI Express x4 SSD upgrade for an additional $300. The top of the line model offers a 1 TB PCI Express x4 SSD for a whopping $3099.

Benchmark results. Click to enlarge.

The benchmarks I ran roundly defeated nearly every mobile device I own to date. (I can't explain the two slightly better scores the Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga 14 got on Fire Strike and Sky Diver). The dramatically better scores in the Geekbench multi-core test are entirely to be expected, given the Z Canvas' two additional cores. I'll include Surface Book comparison results in that review when I publish it sometime in the coming week.

The Z Canvas N-Trig pen is nearly identical to the Sony Active Pen and is compatible with all DuoSense2 devices I've tested. VAIO includes an optional rubber pen grip that I think makes the pen much more comfortable to hold for extended drawing sessions. The two pen side switches can still be accessed through the grip and I find that they are also easier to access this way. The actual pen buttons are almost flush with the pen barrel.

The VAIO Z Canvas pen (middle) is compatible with other DuoSense2 pens like the Surface Pens (3 and 4) and Sony Active Pen.

The VAIO Z Canvas pen (middle) is compatible with other DuoSense2 pens like the Surface Pens (3 and 4) and Sony Active Pen.

The control panel applet contains very limited button settings. You can swap between clearing and right clicking and you can set whether OneNote or the VAIO Clipping tool run when you hover click. There is no eraser tip on the AAAA-battery powered pen.

Button mapping options are limited.

Button mapping options are limited.

Pen pressure settings

Pen pressure settings

Setting tip sensitivity to Normal, Hard or Soft provides three different default pressure curve which you can further modify to your liking. To get the maximum pressure range, I set the tip to Hard. There's an interaction that occurs between this global setting and your favorite paint program that you will need to monitor. If you can set your pressure curve in your favorite software, it might be better to leave your global settings at Normal.

Hard pressure curve

Hard pressure curve

Soft pressure curve

Soft pressure curve

The hardware shortcut menus are accessed by tapping the L button along the top edge of the tablet

The hardware shortcut menus are accessed by tapping the L button along the top edge of the tablet

VAIO and/or Sony clearly worked very closely with N-Trig to get the most out of that tech, which now reaches 1,024 pressure levels. It's unclear whether the improvements in the Z Canvas are the same as those in the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book, now that Microsoft owns N-Trig. I need to test them side by side when my new Surfaces arrive, but I think the two results are nearly identical.

The biggest drawback of the VAIO pen is its extremely hard nib. If you don't like the feeling of drawing on glass, you probably won't like the Z Canvas experience. I found the loud taps of the pen tip against the glass pretty annoying after a while. A screen protector that helps deaden the sound is almost a requirement. Unfortunately, VAIO doesn't yet offer its factory-installed film in the US and couldn't offer any information on when that option would be available. I tested the VAIO pen on a Surface Pro 3 with a Photodon screen protector and while it doesn't eliminate the tapping, it lowers the volume quite a bit.

The new Surface Pen is also compatible with the Z Canvas and that pen's default nib is much softer and quieter. Once again, I'll need to test more extensively, but dedicating a Surface Pen to the VAIO may be the way to go. (Although the pens are compatible, their nibs are not interchangeable.)

Setting aside my issues with the tip hardness, the pen experience is the best I've ever had on an N-Trig device.

In Clip Studio Paint, with pen stabilization off, there is very little diagonal jitter on slowly drawn lines. Speeding the stroke slightly eliminates it altogether. A stabilization setting of 15 is the most I think I would ever need. By contrast, I would often crank the setting up to 45 on the Surface Pro 3.

Drawing lag is definitely, a software-specific issue. In Clip Studio, on an A4 canvas at 350 dpi, I could draw rapidly with a 500px Colored Pencil brush. In Photoshop CC 2015 on the same size canvas, a 475px textured brush might take half a second to catch up.

Hover lag has been improved, but can still be distracting. If it bothers you too much, I recommend disabling the hardware cursor. In Clip Studio, I change the Cursor preference from Brush Size to Single Pixel Dot.

Software that I find unusable on other tablets is now an option on the Z Canvas thanks to the ability to quickly turn touch on and off with the press of the R button (located on the top edge of the tablet). Sketchbook Pro and ArtRage are among many applications that I never use on other tablets because I'm always leaving stray marks with my knuckle taps.

The L button calls up the hardware shortcuts menu (far left). This overlay is a great artist-friendly feature that eliminates the need for 90% of third-party add-ons like ArtDock, etc.

The second overlay provides quick access to other innovations like fan speed control, color temperature and pen control. The settings shortcut accesses the control panel (below) that allows you to configure your own sets of shortcuts.

The device already includes shortcuts for popular Adobe CC software like Illustrator, Lightroom and Photoshop, as well as Clip Studio Paint, Corel Painter and Autodesk Sketchbook.

All of the preset shortcuts can be customized.

 

 

The hardware shortcut keys include configurations for top applications.

The hardware shortcut keys include configurations for top applications.

Limiting the Z Canvas to just drawing is also thinking too small. Based on its benchmark results, the tablet should be ideal for video and 3d applications (except those that use GPU rendering).

If you use one of those applications you'll notice the ZC's fans, because it generally runs absolutely silently. I think I've only managed to get the fans to rev up briefly during the Blender render. And despite its horsepower, the tablet stays pleasantly cool to the touch.

Compared to the Surface Pro 3, the VAIO Z Canvas is much better suited for creative users. Due to its speed, size, advanced features and very quiet operation, the ZC is even worth considering versus the Wacom Cintiq Companion 2. The latter has a slight edge thanks to its additional pressure levels, tilt support and textured screen protector. It is also available for less than the VAIO's steep starting price.

It's a shame that the new Surface releases have stolen so much of the thunder from the VAIO Z Canvas. It truly is an outstanding device that deserves a lot more attention.



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AuthorRick Rodriguez
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UPDATE: The Flip 11A is now available to order from the US Sony store

11-inch Form Factor Comes to VAIO® | Flip PC Line

PRESS RELEASE

LAS VEGAS, Nev. (CES booth #14200) – Jan. 6, 2014 – Sony today announced a new addition to its VAIO® | Flip PC lineup: the VAIO Fit 11A | Flip PC pre-installed with Adobe® Photoshop® Elements 12.

In addition, the VAIO | Flip PC 13-inch, 14-inch and 15-inch, VAIO Tap 11, VAIO Tap 21 and VAIO Duo 13 and VAIO Fit 14E and 15E models are updated with Windows 8.1 and Adobe Photoshop Elements 12 for Spring. The VAIO Pro 11 and 13, VAIO Tap 11 and VAIO Tap 21 models will include 802.11ac next generation wireless connectivity technology for Spring.

“Adobe is thrilled to provide Sony VAIO customers the ability to easily organize, edit and share their favorite photos,” said Lea Hickman, vice president, products, Creative Consumer Business, Adobe. “Photoshop Elements makes editing accessible to consumers with one-click or the swipe of a brush. With the addition of mobile albums in Photoshop Elements 12, coupled with the support for the new VAIO Active Pen, it’s easier than ever to view, edit and share photo memories while on the go.”

VAIO | Flip PC Line

The unique design of VAIO | Flip PC maintains the full functionality of a conventional Windows 8.1 notebook PC with the ability to switch between laptop, tablet and viewer modes. Available now in an 11-inch compact model for everyday use, the VAIO Fit 11A | Flip PC is a no compromise laptop/tablet enabled by a unique hinge featuring an iconic one line design.

With the power of Sony, the VAIO Fit 11A | Flip PC fuses stunning picture quality TRILUMINOS™ Display for mobile and ClearAudio+, Sony’s unique technology for enjoying high-quality sound by bringing together expertise in digital signal processing technologies. The front-facing camera and 8-megapixel rear-facing camera is powered by Exmor RTM for PC and Exmor RSTM for PC image sensors developed by Sony.

At just 2.82 lbs., the amazingly thin and light VAIO Fit 11A | Flip PC is beautifully crafted in black, silver or pink aluminum and features a full pitch backlit keyboard, gesture enabled touch pad and palm rest for comfortable typing.

To power through the most demanding projects, VAIO Fit 11A | Flip PC model is equipped with latest Intel® Pentium® Processor featuring Quad Core and Solid State Drive.

In addition, the new 11-inch model comes bundled with the pressure sensitive VAIO Active Pen. Users will feel inspired with Adobe’s updated pen pressure sensitivity support for Photoshop and Illustrator®, allowing for an even more accurate and natural creative experience.*

Best environment for creative users

Sony VAIO is collaborating with Adobe to empower people’s creative vision and turn snapshots into something spectacular. By including a pre-installed version of Photoshop Elements 12 with support for the VAIO Active Pen, about a $100 value, now everyone can easily enhance and create with their photos. Photoshop Elements 12 offers powerful photo editing with three editing modes to accommodate every skill level, multiple output options, content aware technology, an easy to use photo organizer, and mobile albums so you can access your Photoshop Elements photos on your mobile device.

Pricing and Availability

VAIO Fit 14E/15E starts from $579 and is available mid-January; VAIO Flip 11 starts from $799, VAIO Flip 13 starts from $1129, VAIO Flip 14 starts from $799, VAIO Flip 15 starts from $899, all VAIO Flip | PC available from end of February; VAIO Tap 11 starts from $799, VAIO Tap 21 starts from $999, both available from mid-February; VAIO Pro 11 starts from $1149, VAIO Pro 13 starts from $1249, VAIO Duo 13 starts from $1399, all VAIO Pro and VAIO Duo available from early April at Sony retail stores (www.store.sony.com) and other authorized dealers nationwide.

Award Winning Best in Class Service and Support

Users can simply press the ASSIST button to launch VAIO Care software to  effortlessly install new software and drivers, quickly identify and troubleshoot issues, create restore and recovery media, and connect with a Sony expert via phone, chat or online. Sony will even repair select PCs in person with limited warranty Onsite/In-Home Service. Sony was awarded as the Tech Support Showdown Winner 2 years in a row by Laptop Magazine.

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AuthorRick Rodriguez
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UPDATE March 20, 2014: N-Trig today published 64-bit version of its Wintab driver. See this post for details.

* * *

ORIGINAL POST

Sony and N-Trig have taken a major step closer to Wacom-equipped competitors with the release of a hotfix for VAIO devices with active digitizers.

The "Pen Pressure Update Software" installs a driver named N-Trig Wintab x32 that enables pressure sensitivity in 32-bit versions of Adobe Photoshop. I've confirmed that the update works with Adobe Photoshop CC on my Sony VAIO Flip 15A. Other users on the Sony Community site have reported success with 32-bit versions of Photoshop ranging all the way back to CS2.

Available for download from Sony's eSupport site here, the update is dated September 26, 2013, but curiously Sony does not link to it as part of machine-specific updates. In fact, the link to the list of Applicable Products on the download page is broken. I can't fathom why the manufacturer would keep this a secret, because users of Duos, Flips and other N-Trig enabled VAIOs have all reported success with the software.

Installing the software requires a reboot and doesn't create a Control Panel entry. The only indication that the software has installed correctly is in the Programs and Features control panel, which will list the driver.

Although limited to only 256 levels of pressure, the results in 32-bit Photoshop CC are still impressive.

Without a control panel to adjust the pressure curve, it takes a bit of concentration to achieve the lightest strokes.

Without a control panel to adjust the pressure curve, it takes a bit of concentration to achieve the lightest strokes.

I haven't tested the driver with other Wintab applications, but 32-bit versions of programs like Corel Painter should also benefit from the update.

UPDATE January 10: From my limited testing with SAI 1.2 Beta 5 and ZBrush 4R6, it appears only Photoshop recognizes this driver.

UPDATE January 16: The latest version of Adobe Illustrator CC released yesterday now supports Microsoft's Ink API. I tested the 64-bit version (17.1) on the Sony VAIO Flip 15A. See this post for more details:  http://surfaceproartist.com/blog/2014/1/16/new-adobe-illustrator-cc-improves-surface-pro-windows-tablet-support

Demanding professional users will likely miss additional levels of pressure and the lack of 64-bit support is disappointing, but for hobbyists or doodlers, this update puts the Sony VAIO Flip 15A towards the top of our list of Windows 8 convertibles. It's hard not to fall in love with its ample 15.5 inch display which makes even the unscaled Photoshop UI accessible to touch.  For more details on the Flip, see our earlier post here.

Thanks to Google+ follower +IvorThomas for the heads up about this update.

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AuthorRick Rodriguez
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While picking up the Sony VAIO Flip 15A today, I had a chance to see the recently released Sony Tap 11, the Windows 8 tablet most likely to give the Surface Pro 2 a run for its money. 

Since I was focused on the convertible laptop, I didn't have the chance to really look closely at the Tap 11, but fortunately TabletPCReview forum member @ravisurdhar just posted a very interesting review of the new device with specific comparisons to the Surface Pro 2. 

He graciously agreed to let me reprint his story in full, but please make sure to visit his original thread if you'd like to share you thoughts on his predicament. 

 * * *

By RAVISURDHAR

I just got my Tap 11 yesterday and I've been running it through its paces this weekend. I also picked up a Surface Pro 2 a few weeks ago, with the intent of returning whichever device I didn't like. Bottom line: It's a hard choice. Both have a lot of strong positives, as well as a lot of strong negatives. (Note: When I use the term "Surface" below, I'm referring to the Surface Pro 2, not the original Surface). 

Initial impressions and build quality: WOW. You're telling me this 3/8 inch thick tablet has a dual core i5, 4GB of RAM, a 256 GB SSD, and runs Windows 8? Welcome to the future! Why can't all tablets be this thin and light? It really makes the Surface feel like a brick. However, when you start to examine it a little closer, you wonder also why Sony skimped on a lot of external design features. The port covers are incredibly flimsy, don't stay closed very well, and are ultimately unnecessary (reference the exposed ports on the Surface). The plastic casing on mine separates from the screen a little on the top, enough to wedge a fingernail in there. Same at the bottom when you press the Start button (which requires about twice as much pressure as I'd want...it's fairly hard to press. The capacitive button on the Surface is a much better solution). The pen clip is a bit finicky to get on (though once on it stays put very well), and it blocks the USB and HDMI ports. The power connector is the worst I've ever seen. It requires a lot of force to shove in, and then once it's in it's very loose in the socket. The variable kickstand is great, just very small. Works fantastic on a desk, not so much in your lap.

Screen: Wonderful. Colors look almost identical to the Surface. It's maybe very slightly less crisp than the Surface, but you don't really see it unless you've got them side by side. The screen is the same resolution, but noticeably bigger than the Surface. The Tap 11 has a 10-1/8" x 5-11/16" (257mm x 144mm) display, while the Surface has a 9-1/4" x 5-1/4" (235mm x 132mm) display. In the desktop mode I use 100% font scaling (instead of the default 150%), and its quite manageable on the Tap 11 but difficult on the Surface, due to the different display size. 

Pen: If you're an artist, you can stop here: get the Surface. In OneNote, I don't notice a difference between the two. However, NTrig uses Microsoft's pen API, whereas Wacom uses both Microsoft's and the WinTAB API. Adobe applications use only the WinTAB API. Meaning, the pen works in Photoshop/Illustrator, but there's no pressure sensitivity. I've tried installing various drivers and whatnot and I can't get it to work. I'm not an artist, so this isn't a limiting factor to me, but it is annoying that Sony went with an NTrig pen instead of a Wacom. The tracking is also far slower on the NTrig, so you still get problems like this: 

Keyboard: The Tap 11's keyboard is great. It feel almost like a normal, though maybe cheap, laptop keyboard. Key spacing is nice, stroke length is decent, and there are few "dead zones" (where you press a key but it doesn't actually register a keypress. I've noticed one area on the Enter key and that's it). Compared to the Surface keyboard, the spacing is much better, and the fact that there are gaps between the keys is so much nicer than the Surface's keyboard which has no gaps. The trackpad is almost unusably bad though. Just use your finger or the pen. The magnetic attachment works well and it keeps the keyboard/cover in place very securely. The keyboard doesn't use bluetooth, but its own radio that can be turned on and off in Windows. I'm not sure how I feel yet about the fact that the keyboard does not hinge off the screen like on the Surface. Also, you can't charge the keyboard without placing it on top of the screen, causing the computer to be unusable as the batteries charge. I imagine this could get annoying. 

Performance and battery life: I don't have any hard numbers, but performance seems to be on par with the Surface. I rarely get any hangups or pauses, even when multitasking between Chrome, Mail, Photoshop, and Reader. You can find battery life tests online, but I'm estimating about 4 hours for the Tap 11 and 6 hours for the Surface. 

Overall: I'm conflicted. The Surface has impeccable build quality, feels very sturdy, and uses a Wacom pen. The Tap 11 is far thinner and lighter and has a significantly bigger screen. But the build quality concerns me...I don't want this to break in 3 months. And for that reason, I think I'm going to be sticking with the Surface...but I'm not really sure. 

Feel free to PM or leave a reply here if you'd like to see any specific tests run. I have about 2 more weeks before I have to make up my mind!

Posted
AuthorRick Rodriguez
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