Sony's Vaio Flip is a new take on the hybrid (hands-on)

This new Vaio laptop, with a unique horizontal hinge, works as a clamshell, kiosk, and tablet.

Dan Ackerman

Dan Ackerman

Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming

Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times

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2 min read

How do you solve the age-old (or at least a few years old) problem of building a tablet and laptop into a single device? We've seen plenty of possible solutions over the years, from fully detachable screens, to slide-out keyboards, to screens that twist or rotate around.

Sony is debuting a new Vaio line, called the Flip, and as one might guess from the name, its transformative abilities come from a screen that, well, flips. We previously saw a teaser video with a papercraft mockup of the Flip, but no concrete details.

CNET/Dan Ackerman

On paper, that sounds a lot like Lenovo's successful Yoga line, with a two-way hinge that folds all the way backward, forming a slatelike tablet. The main issue people have with that design is that the keyboard, while deactivated, ends up pointing out from the bottom of the tablet, which can be awkward and uncomfortable.

Dan Ackerman/CNET

The Flip solves that particular problem by adding a hinge to the center of the upper lid, forming a horizontal line from left to right. The lid folds back along that line, allowing the screen to tilt back. First, it flips back to form a kiosk mode, with the screen pointing out from the back of the system (away from the keyboard and touch pad). Then the lid can be pushed shut to form a slate-style tablet, and unlike the Yoga, the keyboard is on the inside.

In practice, judging from our brief hands-on time with the Flip, it works a lot more like Dell's XPS 12, which also has a horizontal center hinge, although in that case it rotates the entire screen through a static outer rim. Also unlike the XPS 12 (which has a 12.5-inch screen), the Vaio Flip is going to be available in 13-, 14-, and 15-inch models, making it one of the only midsize hybrids ever.

Dan Ackerman/CNET

The Flip, in all three sizes, is slim, well-built, and looks and feels very high-end, and is made of silver and black aluminum, with a backlit keyboard, optional active pen stylus, and optional Nvidia graphics on the 14- and 15-inch versions.

Unlike many hybrids, it wisely doesn't compromise the laptop form, and in its clamshell mode, you'd be hard-pressed to even tell that this is a part-time tablet. My main issue with the prerelease version of the Flip is that the tablet mode does not fold down exactly flat, leaving its screen at a bit on angle, which is a side effect of how the entire thing folds down.

Will that be a deal breaker? Hard to say without more hands-on time, but it's certainly a part of the system that doesn't look as deliberately engineered as it could be. Sony has not yet announced price and availability details for the Vaio Flip.

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