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Vaio Z Canvas review: This Windows tablet is more powerful than a Surface Pro 4

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MSRP: $2,599.00
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The Good The Vaio Z Canvas offers the performance of a 15-inch MacBook Pro in a 12-inch Windows 10 tablet, with a unique design that makes it suitable as a mobile workstation.

The Bad Vaio's included stylus isn't as responsive as those on competing tablets. It's pretty pricey for a PC.

The Bottom Line Creative professionals may be tempted by the Vaio Z Canvas, but a more comfortable MacBook Pro or Surface Pro will generally be the better buying decision.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

7.5 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 9
  • Battery 6

Review Sections

I've never wanted a tablet. Never saw the point. If I'm at home, I've got a desktop. On the go, I want a laptop for typing. But there are those people for whom the pen is mightier -- people who paint and draw and sketch. These are the people who might consider the Vaio Z Canvas.


The Vaio Z Canvas.

Josh Miller/CNET

Last year, Sony's stylish, pricy Vaio PCs quietly disappeared when Sony sold off the brand. Now, Vaio is back -- as its very own company -- with a tablet aimed at professionals. Starting at $2,200 in the United States, the new 12.3-inch Vaio Z Canvas is a full Windows 10 computer with a detachable keyboard, a battery-powered stylus, a ultra-high-res screen and enough horsepower to run video editing software and to create 3D animation.

We're talking about a 47-watt, H-series Intel Core i7 processor with Intel's most powerful Iris Pro graphics on tap, up to 16 gigabytes of memory and 1TB of solid-state storage. It's fast. I hooked it up to a pair of 1080p monitors and used it as my work desktop for a week, using its factory-calibrated screen (which displays 95 percent of the Adobe RGB color spectrum) to compare photos from different smartphone cameras while also dealing with dozens of Chrome browser tabs. It didn't break a sweat.

But again, I'm not the target audience for this computer. So I found someone better.

CBS Interactive art director Viva Tung at her workstation.

Sean Hollister/CNET

Viva Tung is an art director at CNET. She creates pieces of attractive, functional 3D art that appear in our videos, and she uses a stylus every single day. She has a Wacom Intuos4 tablet : a huge, flat drawing surface which she hooks up to her Mac Pro to control two monitors simultaneously. She's gotten so good at using that stylus that she prefers it to a mouse.

Could the Vaio Z Canvas replace her Mac Pro and Wacom Intuos 4?

The answer was no. "My Wacom is way more responsive," said Tung, the first time she took the Z Canvas stylus for a spin. Sure enough, watching her work, I could see the Z Canvas's mouse cursor lagging behind her movements. It just couldn't keep up.

Tung also didn't enjoy how small the 12.3-inch surface could feel under her pen. "Aiming at something is difficult without looking at the tablet," she related. And when she discovered that her stylus could only control one of her external monitors at a time -- not both of them -- it was pretty clear the Z Canvas wouldn't be a good desktop replacement for her.

Press this button, and up pops a menu filled with customizable touchscreen shortcuts like Cut, Copy and Paste.

Josh Miller/CNET

But what if Tung had a tough deadline and needed to take some work home? As small as her Mac Pro might be, the jet black canister isn't exactly portable, and a MacBook Pro doesn't have the stylus she prefers using. I wondered if she could work more comfortably with a Vaio Z Canvas in her bag, and figured the answer was no.

I underestimated the Vaio's potency. The key, she told me, would be if the computer could render 3D animation on the go. (Tung got her new Mac Pro when it turned out a MacBook Pro couldn't handle her intensive workflow.)

We tried rendering out nearly 2GB of animation she'd created for a CNET Smart Home video using a program called Cinema4D. We started it on the Mac Pro and Z Canvas simultaneously, and watched as each of the Core i7 processor's CPU cores lit up to render the scene. The Mac Pro finished far faster, of course, in just 2 and half minutes -- but it only took 6 minutes for the Z Canvas to complete. "It's pretty good!" Tung exclaimed. Not bad for a computer that fits in a tiny messenger bag.

The Vaio Z Canvas vs. the Wacom Intuos4.

Sean Hollister/CNET

When all was said and done, Tung still had some reservations, like the annoyance of switching to Windows 10 when she's so used to OS X on a Mac. But she could see herself taking a Z Canvas home. "Now that I see how it renders, I would. To finish up something."

So, what's the Z Canvas like to use as a general-purpose computer? That's a question I am qualified to answer.


Take the strong anodized aluminum base of a MacBook Pro, squeeze it down to 12 inches, then insert a touchscreen. That's the Vaio Z Canvas in a nutshell: a squat silver slate. You'd find it pretty thick and heavy next to a iPad, but it's actually remarkably thin and light compared to laptops with the same amount of processing power.

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