You have to hand it to Microsoft. The hardware running Windows software has become more diverse with the introduction of Windows 8. And one of the most intriguing new designs for a computer comes from Sony. The Vaio Tap 20 Mobile Desktop lives in a space between a touchscreen tablet and a full-fledged all-in-one PC. The machine is a pretty good choice if you’re looking for a family PC with multiple personalities.
The machine is just the sort of device that could get people interested in using a PC again, even in a world of iPads, iPhones, and all sorts of other devices. It is just the sort of thing that PC advocates had in mind when they began thinking about reinventing the PC in the age of portable electronics.
The Vaio Tap 20 has a 20-inch touchscreen that can be detached from its stand. You unplug it from the wall and carry it around the house as if it were just another tablet computer. It runs for 2 hours and 45 minutes on battery power, or you can plug it into a wall with a laptop-size power cord/AC adapter.
The possibilities for its use defy simple classification. It’s not just a kitchen computer. You can use it with a wireless keyboard and mouse on your kitchen table, or you can use it as an electronic artist’s canvas. It can be an ever-changing board game with a glass surface instead of cardboard. And you use it on battery power and stay connected on Wi-Fi as you move from one part of the house to another. I’m using one (Sony sent me a loaner) to write this review right now, near the rest of the family, whereas I would normally be stuck all by myself in an office.
The ins and outs
The screen measures 19.75 inches across by 12.inches high, and it is 1.5 inches thick. The machine weighs under 11.25 pounds. That makes it heavy enough that you’ll get plenty nervous if your young child carries it from one room to another. It has indentations on its sides that make it easier to carry. The stand is attached to the back of the device and is sturdy enough to support the machine at any angle you prefer.
This simple flexible stand gives the computer multiple user scenarios. If you tilt it all the way up, it’s just like an all-in-one desktop. If you tilt it at an angle, it invites you to touch the screen, or kick back to watch a movie. If you lay it flat on the table, you can allow multiple people to gather around the edges and use it at the same time.
The machine is made for collaboration because it has a wide-viewing angle, so more than one person can see what’s on the screen at the same time. The Tap 20 uses Sony’s Mobile Bravia Engine 2, which delivers good picture quality on an in-plane switching (IPS) panel. The Bravia technology reduces noise artifacts in videos that you watch at a resolution of 1,600 x 900. The battery is removable.
Sony’s one-touch function lets you listen to music and view photos across an array of near field communications (NFC) wireless devices. You touch one device against another to establish a wireless connection. If you happen to have a Sony Xperia smartphone, you can tap it against the Tap 20 and then transfer a YouTube video that you’re watching on the small screen to the Vaio’s bigger screen. The machine has a webcam that you can also use with simple gesture controls.
The Tap 20 has advanced audio technologies, including Sony’s Clear Phase, XLoud, and other technologies. It comes in black or white.
Apps at your fingertips
The Windows 8 touch-oriented, tile-based user interface makes it easy to scroll through different apps and try them out. It is colorful, full of visually appealing icons, and the tiles are big enough to hit accurately even if you’re using your thumb. You can get to the Start menu easily if you tap the icon in the middle of the screen at the bottom. Or you can swipe sideways from the edge of the screen to draw up a set of navigation choices, such as search. By virtue of its being a Windows 8 machine, the Vaio Tap 20 is easy to learn for any computer user.
Sony partnered with digital arts software firm ArtRage on the finger-painting app, which comes with the PC for no extra cost. The ArtRage Studio offers natural painting tools such as oil paints, watercolors, and utilities that make drawing with a finger or stylus simple. You can trace a pattern using your finger or stylus.
Sony also included Sony Pictures’ My Daily Clip, a movie-trivia game that lets four players gather around the Tap 20 PC to watch a Sony Pictures movie clip and answer trivia questions to gain points they can trade in for prizes. You can also use the family scheduling app to post memos or calendar reminders for family members.
I played with a drawing program called Family Paint (pictured at top). With that program, you can fingerpaint with someone else at the same time, coloring pages or playing simple games like tic-tac-toe. I was also mildly entertained by PuzzleTouch, where you can put together the pieces of a puzzle using your fingers.
Pluses and minuses
Pricing for the base machine starts at $879. That’s a hefty price, considering it comes with a somewhat slow, low-voltage Intel Core i3 1.8-gigahertz processor. You can tell the processor is a little weak as you wait for it to switch from one app to another, or just from one screen to another. The machine wakes up fast, but app-loading time is noticeable.
Like other Windows 8 machines, the machine can be used with keyboard, mouse, and touchscreen at the same time. If you want to switch windows from one open web page to another, you can simply swipe your finger across the screen. That’s a lot easier than using a mouse to accomplish the same task. The benefits of using a machine like this include the ability to run Microsoft Office, with all of its bells and whistles.
Other points for and against: The screen is drip resistant and has a drain in case you spill something on it. The machine uses Intel integrated graphics, so it’s not going to be satisfying for hardcore gamers.
The good thing is that this machine is unique and could be quite appealing to people who fit its usage scenarios. If you’re an artist, you’ll like it. If you like playing simple board games with the kids, you’ll like it. If you find touchscreens easier to use than a mouse sometimes, you’ll like it. And if you want to stay in touch with the family as they move from one room in the house to another, you’ll like it’s versatility. It is a well-designed machine that makes the PC more personal. It’s for people who want something different from the boring old Windows PC.
The Vaio Tap 20 is available for shipping shortly. You can order it at Sony’s online site for $879.99 for the base model with an Intel Core i3 processor and four gigabytes of random access memory (RAM) and a 500-gigabyte hard drive. A $999 version includes an Intel Core i5 processor, and an $1,199 version has an Intel Core i7 processor. The more expensive versions have bigger hard drives and more main memory. If you buy it, you’ll definitely be better off with a more expensive model that can get rid of some of the lag in loading apps and switching screens.