We’ve seen all sorts of Windows 8 convertibles, from sliders and detachables to screens that bend all the way around, but Sony’s new VAIO Flip Series is one of the most intriguing hybrids yet. The Flip, which will be available in 13-inch, 14-inch and 15-inch models this fall, features a unique rubber hinge that lets you literally flip the display from Laptop mode to Viewer mode or Tablet mode.
We went hands-on with each of the Flip models ahead of their release and came away impressed with their build quality and display but not as thrilled by the conversion process.
To use the Flip’s Viewer mode, users slide a lock just above the system’s keyboard, then lift the display and flip it 180 degrees, so that the display is facing away from the keyboard. A series of magnets hold the display in place, so you can’t inadvertently flip it back to Laptop mode. Sony says this mode is meant for use while watching movies or viewing presentations. Because Viewer mode uses the Flip’s standard laptop hinge, you can position the display as far back or forward as you want to find your perfect viewing angle.
To use Tablet mode, you simply flip the display back, as you would when using View mode, and fold it down over the keyboard. We found the display easy to manipulate, but found that, if we let go of it while flipping into Viewer mode, it can slam back onto the back panel. Sony says that it has thoroughly tested the unit to withstand such movement. A bigger issue for us is Sony’s decision to force users to lock and unlock the flip hinge with a switch. The IdeaPad Yoga and Dell XPS 12 don’t require this extra step.
Fortunately, the Sony Flip’s versatility doesn’t add much weight. Sony says the 13-inch model weighs just 2.6 pounds, while the 14-inch will weigh 4.2 pounds. The 15-inch model is expected to weigh 4.6 pounds.
The VAIO Flip isn’t just a one-trick pony, though. These hybrids also offer impressive specs. Wrapped in an aluminum frame with a diamond cut VAIO logo on the lid, the Flip lineup gets Sony’s 1920 x 1080p Tri-luminous IPS display, complete with the company’s X-Reality Drive for Mobile. The 15-inch can be had with an upgraded 2880 x 1620 display. Sony says the Flip’s display will also feature active digitizers for user with a stylus. We found each of the Flips’ displays to be exceedingly bright and colorful as we swiped through the Windows 8 interface.
Inside, the VAIO Flip will feature up to an Intel Core i7 Haswell processor and 12GB of RAM. The 13-inch comes standard with a 128GB solid-state drive and rear-facing camera. The 14-inch model features a standard hard-disk drive, while the 15-inch comes with a hybrid solid-state hard drive. Both the 14-inch and 15-inch can be upgraded to solid-state drives. The 15-inch can also be had with Nvidia’s GeForce GT 735M graphics chip with 2GB of RAM.
Due to the Flip’s small size, it doesn’t offer much in the way of ports. On the right side you’ll find two USB 3.0 ports, a full-size HDMI port, an SD Card slot and the power button. Sony said it put the power button on the right side so users can reach it while the Flip is in Tablet mode without having to put it back into Laptop mode first, but we’d like to see this button on the deck. Adding to potential confusion, Sony also put its Sony Assist button just above the Flip’s keyboard, right were you’d expect to find a power button.
There’s no word yet on estimated battery life, but a Sony rep told us that the laptop would last around 9 hours. Sony has yet to announcing pricing and availability for the VAIO Flip series, but it could give similar flip-screen convertibles like the Yoga and Dell XPS 12 a run for their money.