(Pocket-lint) - The Vaio brand is back after half a decade in convalescence. This is the hybrid option, the Vaio A12. It is here to offer something a little different to the plain Vaio SX14 laptop.
It has some great strengths, like one of the more comfortable typing experiences you'll find in a hybrid. And it has the widest array of sockets you'll see on any hybrid for sale today, that's for sure.
But the price is the big stumbling block. The Vaio A12 starts at around £2,000, rising to £2,179 for the Core i7 version we have here. Neither is that powerful, battery life is poor for an ultraportable, and the screen looks a bit dated. Dang.
So while this is a nice laptop-tablet hybrid, it finding the right target audience is not going to be all that easy.
- Magnetised clip hybrid
- Dimensions: 305.5 x 211.9 x 21.0mm
- Weighs: 1.1kg (492g keyboard, 623g screen)
The Vaio A12 is a hybrid, and not the kind we see most often today. This is not just a normal touchscreen laptop with a hinge that flips around, for a "tablet" experience worse than one of Amazon's £50 tabs. The screen detaches, for a real tablet feel.
Vaio has taken a few cues from Windows hybrid-master Microsoft, too. The screen part has a magnesium casing. This is lighter than aluminium, and feels much better than plastic.
Compare the screen alone to a Samsung Galaxy Tab 5e or iPad Pro's, and it starts to look pretty dodgy, though. Its edges are severe, the screen borders wider than most. The Microsoft Surface Book 2 would a more like-for-like comparison, but that too has far slimmer screen borders.
On the upside, the weight is impressive. According to our scales the Vaio A12 is just 1.096kg all-in. You won't get shoulder ache from this hybrid.
When attached, the screen is kept in place with the usual combination of a magnet, lock-in clasp and metal guides on the base. It is sturdy. The keyboard part also has a clever metal guard that runs along the rear. This stops the Vaio A12 screen, or at least the thin part it docks into, from biting into your legs when you use the laptop on your knees. It's still just as liable to tip over in our experience, but this is one of the more comfortable hybrids to work on when you really can't find a table.
Vaio also uses aluminium for the keyboard surround, for that reassuringly hard and cool feel of metal. The underside of the base is plastic, though. So magnesium alloy, aluminium and plastic: it's a bit of a mish-mash. And it looks like one too. This is a two-tone hybrid without a clear design style, which is no great surprise when this is not part of a long-running series of hybrid designs.
Connectivity is the A12's most unusual aspect. There's a bizarrely comprehensive range of connectors, outdoing some laptops so thick you could use them as doorstops. The screen part has the obligatory USB-C, but the keyboard goes on a time-travelling tour of laptops past: there are three full-size USBs, an RJ45 Ethernet port, a full-size SD, full-size HDMI and even a VGA connector.
We considered throwing away the leftover VGA cables from the big mass of leads every tech follower seems to have. And that was five years ago. VGA isn't useful for everyone, but many of us are still very grateful for every SD card slot, HDMI and full-size USB we can get.
- 12-inch IPS LCD screen (1920 x 1080 resolution)
- 10-point capacitive touch
- Glossy finish
Being stuck in the past can be charming or useful, but it doesn't always come off that way. The screen isn't as up-to-date as it should be for the price either.
This is a 12-inch screen of 1080p resolution. It's an LCD. We've already mentioned the screen surrounds are quite thick, and colour depth isn't great either.
Certain Start menu icons, particularly the red ones, just don't pop on the Vaio A12 as they do on some laptops under half the price.
Brightness is around the 300nit mark, which is fine for most uses, but not notable and not powerful enough for comfortable use outdoors. For £2k we want something special, and this screen isn't it.
You do, however, get a stylus with this laptop. Much like those of Lenovo and HP hybrids, this is a pen that offers pressure sensitivity, but does not slot into the Vaio A12 itself.
Keyboard and trackpad
- Chiclet keys
- White LED backlight
- Plastic trackpad with separate mouse buttons
A so-so screen means this isn't a designer's dream machine. But is it good for on-the-go work?
The keyboard is mostly up to the task. Key travel is a slightly shallow, and you can feel there's not much mass under the keys, but the experience is still good for a hybrid. You get clearer tactile feedback than a MacBook, and tapping away for prolonged periods doesn't feel alien as it can do on some tablet accessory keyboards.
That said, the keyboard surround does flex in the centre under pressure, which can make heavier-handed typing feel slightly spongy. There's also no fingerprint scanner. But there is a handy backlight.
The Vaio A12 trackpad is not ideal either. It's tiny, and leaves big areas of blank surround that it could, theoretically, expand out into. The pad itself is plastic, not glass. This provides a jerky finger glide, particularly for a laptop this pricey.
Unlike every other non-hybrid alternative, the pad doesn't act as a mouse clicker either. You have to use the two separate buttons below, which don't have as refined a feel as a good trackpad clicker.
Vaio's A12 provides a reasonably practical way to work, but not one that fits the high price if a work laptop is really what you are after.
- Dual-core Intel Core i7-8500Y CPU
- 8GB LPDDR3 RAM
- 256GB PCIe SSD
The core specs make you wonder what the Vaio A12 is really for, too. It has an Intel Core i-series processor, but it's a Y-series model. This is the kind designed to create very little heat. Our Vaio A12 has a Core i7-8500Y.
It's easy to understand this decision if you think about the Vaio A12's design for a moment. All the key components have to fit in the screen part, which is only around a centimetre thick. There's no room for fans or big heatsinks, so a 'normal' Core i CPU wouldn't work well without some clever heat-reducing workarounds.
The practical knock-on effect is the Vaio A12 is not really well-suited to particularly intense jobs like video editing. You only get two cores, instead of the four used in a standard laptop Core i7, and limited cooling means the CPU isn't designed to use its faster Turbo mode for prolonged periods.
Gaming inevitably struggles too. A high-end Intel laptop with only integrated graphics is fairly bad at handling anything remotely demanding, but the Vaio A12 is significantly worse. You can only play old games, or ones that don't put too much strain on the GPU, which is an Intel UHD 617.
There's some good news though. Use the Vaio A12 for writing documents, video streaming and other light jobs and it feels as responsive as a more powerful laptop. But that's a lot of money to fork out for a 2-in-1 fancy Notebook.
- 24Wh battery
- 'Up to 8 hours' per charge claim
- Standard cylinder charge socket
Limited power and less-than-perfect keyboard are no surprise in a detachable hybrid. We can swallow them because hybrids aren't just made to tick off all the standard laptop criteria. Battery life does need to be solid, though, as portability is key.
The Vaio A12's stamina is bad. It only lasts three hours and 40 minutes to four hours off a charge. That's not when making the laptop wheeze by trying to play Fortnite, but just doing some light work and browsing.
It's so far off a full day of work, you have to wonder what Vaio's aims were here. Does it only need to last through a few episodes of that reality TV show your partner likes, but you hate? That's not very Vaio.
The Vaio A12's poor battery life is not a driver fluke or a power management issue either. It's down to the choice of hardware. The A12 has a small 24Wh battery, with much lower capacity the 52Wh one used in the Dell XPS 13.
There was some talk of Vaio using a second battery in the keyboard, but our laptop does not have one. Judging by current listings online, UK models do not. Vaio offers no convenience features as an apology either.
You charge the A12 using a standard cylindrical port on the side, using a charger with a standard not-exactly-tiny power brick. If we could rely on this laptop to last eight hours, we could use it pretty happily as a work machine. But it just doesn't last long enough.
That's a shame because its array of connections is unlike anything else you'll find in a hybrid. The screen part offers a USB-C port, headphone jack and SIM slot. Now the price of mobile data plan is often quite affordable, that last part is handy. And rare.
Taken as a laptop to fly solo, though, many parts of the Vaio A12 are questionable. The speakers are too. Their volume is weak, the sound thin, becoming harsh at higher volumes. Samsung and Apple have shown us how good tablets can sound these days.
It's nice to see the Vaio name back, but pinpointing the audience for the Vaio A12 is tricky, nay impossible.
Are you a rich business type who hoards old peripherals and only needs to use a laptop for around four hours at a time? It sounds more like a character from a Channel 4 documentary than a demographic, but that's the ideal A12 buyer.
Normal folk will be better off with something either a) cheaper, b) more powerful, c) longer-lasting. Or, preferably, a combo of the three.
Microsoft Surface Pro 6
Despite having a similar convertible design, the Surface Pro 6 is much more powerful than the Vaio because it uses standard U series processors. Its screen is more colourful too, and the starting price is much lower. And even when you spec it up to the standard of the Vaio and add the very expensive keyboard and stylus, the Surface is still cheaper.