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As far as interesting laptops go, the transforming tablet/ultrabook (or 2-in-1s, as Intel recently renamed the category at Computex 2013) is easily the most exciting. Each manufacturer approaches the issue of transformation using radically different engineering, and Sony's attempt with the Duo 13 is a prime example. Using a sliding mechanism, it delivers one of the thinnest tablet transformers around, but it's built using intricate pieces that feel a little fragile.
Design and features
In tablet mode, this device is a mere 19mm thick. Combined with the light weight of just 1.325kg, it's one of the most mobile Haswell platforms around. Converting it to ultrabook mode simply requires the user to lift the screen upwards and back, locking it in place at a 45-degree angle. This angle is just right if the Duo 13 is sitting at waist height, but place the laptop any higher or lower, and the screen is hard to read. Accordingly, there's just one perfect viewing position thanks to the lack of adjustment in the hinge. On the flipside, it's rock solid when placed in ultrabook mode, so the screen won't wobble when touched. Closer examination of the hinge reveals a myriad of small components all working harmoniously to deliver the smooth sliding motion; if a single one was to fail, the entire mechanism would go kaput. We've seen similarly complex hinges on other Sony transformers, so their continued reliance upon complicated solutions hopefully means they aren't seeing too many returns for repairs. Still, there's a lot to be said for a simple 180-degree rotating hinge.
In either mode, the Duo 13 looks a lot smaller than it actually is, thanks to the sharp lines and inward-curving keyboard. Built primarily from plastic, only the keyboard face uses tougher aluminium. The stunning 13.3-inch display packs a full HD resolution of 1920x1080, which makes such a small screen look absolutely razor sharp. Touch controls are extremely accurate and responsive; a godsend, given that much of Windows 8's interface is very small on this HD postage stamp of a screen. As expected, image quality is sublime, par for the course for Sony laptops.
The keyboard makes good use of its limited space, but can't compare to the full-sized keys found elsewhere. With a little practice, the smaller keys will become second nature, and the lack of any flexing combines with just the right amount of travel to provide positive feedback to indicate when a key is depressed. If there's one weakness in the overall package, it's the dinky audio system; there just isn't room in such a tiny package to fit decent speakers. The touch pad is also tiny, making it hard to determine where the pad ends and the buttons begin.