With Windows 8's touch-capable interface now fully launched it was inevitable that we'd see all manner of touchscreen devices appear, from the obvious to the more unusual. The Sony Vaio Tap 20 is one that's knocking firmly on the latter door.
Hidden behind the Tap 20's otherwise fairly usual 20-inch desktop-like facade is a tablet waiting to get out, complete with battery and all. Well, we say tablet, but at over 5kgs in weight it's more "tabletop" really.
People like to try new things and there's always someone out there to cater for it. Somewhere down the line some smart chap decided that strawberries with basil and black pepper might work together. Wrong though it may sound, but it's oh so right. Is Sony's Tap 20 the technological equivalent; can this humungous tablet-meets-desktop succeed in merging together individually adept ideas into one coherent, albeit unusual concept?
Strawberries and cream
The Vaio Tap 20's ability to act as more than just a standard desktop is definitely a talking point. But, for the majority, it's unlikely ever to really be used as a tablet-like device all that often. It's too thick and too heavy and the battery will only last to around two hours maximum per charge. Its 4.1cm flat "height" may not sound much, but think about that in tablet terms, or take a look at how slender the latest iMac is, for example, and the Sony is considerably fatter.
We do see benefits though: on a practical level if there's a power-outage then at least you won't lose work; on a more fun level the kids may have a cool game to play against one another that the large 10-point touchscreen can cater for. Occasional programs may also demand the physical hands-on treatment, although doing so can dirty-up the screen which won't look so neat.
But it's the more "normal" side of things that dominates. Set up like a desktop PC and we've found the Tap 20 to be proficient. Yes, it's a little thick by design and the rear is rather plasticky - both points certainly preventing it from looking super-modern or as elegant as it could from all given angles - but it looks like plenty of other standalones when plugged in at the mains with the wireless keyboard and mouse arranged around it. This is probably how the Tap 20 will exist for 98 per cent of its life. You know, classic, none of the extras or experimentation required. Just strawberries and cream, hold the pepper.
And that's the thing. For all its trying, we're just not totally taken by a giant tablet-like device. It's novelty really, more because it can rather than should. The ingredient that pushes this tablet-meets-desktop a touch too far is the sheer scale and, therefore, the weight as we've mentioned. It does bring rise to comical tidbits such as the Wi-Fi's "Airplane mode" option which did rather tickle us.
There are some clever features built into the Tap 20. The rear kickstand, for example, holds up the display's weight with ease, yet press down on the screen and it will fold neatly to any given angle all the way through to flat. Popping it back up is a little less graceful, however, as you'll need to intervene with a hand.
The screen has a medium-sized black bezel around it with rounded edges that look neat and tidy. It lets the screen dominate, although the 1600 x 900 pixel resolution at this scale isn't high enough, we don't think - this ought to be at least Full HD or higher by any necessary denomination based on the screen's ratio: ie, we're not pining for a 16:9 letter box format, just a higher resolution.
However the screen does look great in terms of brightness, colour and, most importantly, viewing angle. As this is a device that intends to be used from all kinds of unusual angles the wide angle of view is an essential, and even steep viewing angles look just as punchy. Top stuff. If only it was more resolute.
Included in the box are a wireless Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, both of which are straightforward plastic constructions, nothing particularly special. The keyboard is cropped in tightly to the individual keys so there's little spacing around or between each, but it's really comfortable and almost "bouncy" to type on, thanks to a spot-on resistance.
At its £1,000 asking price, most cash is going into the Tap 20's physical screen size. Other specs are good but not quite top tier. This model came loaded with the latest 1.7GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 6GB of RAM, a 1TB hard disk drive but no dedicated graphics card. That last part rules out higher-spec games - the kind of thing you might want a desktop-like machine for.
The Tap 20 is quick to load up and all those Windows 8 goodies are at your fingertips - whether quick-access tile apps or more heavyweight applications. We've watched movies, edited documents and photos, even played touchscreen games such as Fruit Ninja on the big screen. It's the touch capability that makes such gaming endearing, but with the same game on a pocketable smartphone or tablet the ultra-large-screen version doesn't feel any better in our view. Still, it is fun, and it's more than the basic "boring" set of desktops can offer, that's for sure.
Visuals are also assisted by some of Sony's smoothing processing, as lifted from its Bravia telly range. This can make motion look a little too smooth and clean, but it can be switched off or on from within the menus. However, this does mean there are less of the detailed motion controls that a Bravia TV, such as the Sony Bravia KDL-HX850 offers.
The Tap 20's connectivity includes built-in Wi-Fi, an SD slot, two USB 3.0 ports, Ethernet and both headphone out and microphone inputs. There's not much missing here.
The Sony Vaio Tap 20 is big, bold and unlike much else on the market, but it's also just a bit strange.
Arranged in the desktop-like position we have few qualms - it delivers enough power to cater for most tasks, though is nothing special for the £1,000 asking price, and won't cater for demanding gamers.
If you're after a standalone desktop or all-in-one then there are plenty of other dedicated machines out there that don't have the touchscreen facility. So that's a considerable, if not the only, reason to want to buy a Tap 20. It definitely has its purpose, it's responsive and useful for some tasks, yet we don't see it appealing to a huge audience nor being necessary for a lot of work.
There are glimmers of goodness though: the bright screen, wide viewing angle and the easy-to-adjust stand are all positives. But the resolution and the device's overall thickness in weight are a counter to those in many respects.
We'll take our hats off to Sony for being original, but this little - well, rather large - experiment doesn't gel particularly well owing to its size. There's some good to be taken away, as the ideas are solid, but otherwise all its quirks will add little benefit for the majority of users.