Sony Vaio Flip 13 Laptop Review
Great performance, a beautiful screen, and a hefty battery aren't enough to push this laptop ahead of its competition.
It's not unusual for a laptop series to come in multiple sizes. What is unusual is when these different-sized laptops are practically different computers.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Sony Vaio Flip 13 (MSRP $1599.99).
We previously reviewed the 11-inch model, which suffers from an underpowered processor. The 13-inch Flip has no such problem: It uses Intel's fourth-gen i7 chip, alongside 8GB of RAM, 256GB of solid-state storage, and a 1080p touchscreen.
Unfortunately, a 13-inch hybrid is a tough sell. While "13" is the magic number for a laptop's screen-size, it's a tablet's unlucky number: At this size, a slate becomes too unwieldy for comfortable use. Couple that with some design shortcomings and the Flip 13 becomes an even tougher sell.
Usability & Screen
Revenge of the power cable
As far as laptops go, the Fit 13 is a handsome device with one of the more interesting designs on the market. As a tablet—well, it's certainly unique.
I recently reviewed Sony's 2014 Flip 11a, and the Flip 13 looks nearly identical. The metallic cover—the first thing you'll notice on this hybrid—is eye catching and inviting. Even after running it for a while, the Flip's smooth surface remains cool.
Notice a split in the cover? Don't call Sony looking for a refund—it's part of the design! When you open the laptop up, you'll see a switch above the keyboard. Flick it into the "release" position, and you can rotate the screen 180°. This allows the Flip 13 to be used in stand mode or tablet mode.
Laptops with this "stand mode" functionality seem like a solution to a problem that doesn't exist. When will you ever use a device in this mode as opposed to normal laptop mode? Okay, maybe if you want to show your kids a video without getting food on the keyboard. If I wanted a tablet on a stand, though, I'd buy one—for much cheaper, too.
Speaking of tablets, the Flip 13 doubles as an extra-large slate. Rotate the screen and collapse the laptop—the whole getup turns into one of the thickest tablets you've ever seen. I had the same complaint about the 11-inch version, but it's more egregious on the 13-inch model.
If you're holding the Flip, navigating Windows 8.1 is hard because you're balancing its weight on one arm while fumbling around a 13-inch touchscreen with your other hand. It works just fine when placed flat on a table, but don't expect any portability here.
It's a shame that the tablet functionality isn't more intuitive, because the screen on this Sony is excellent. The 1080p display fosters excellent colors, resulting in detailed images that you want to reach out and touch. And why not?
If you don't feel like using your stubby fingers, Sony includes its Active Pen, or stylus. I first used the Active Pen on Sony's Duo 13 hybrid, and it was a delight. But the Active Pen doesn't pair as nicely with the Flip 13. Users are meant to utilize the stylus while in tablet mode—which isn't the best, as I've mentioned—and writing in stand mode doesn't work well either. Since stand mode doesn't click firmly into position, the whole screen tends to fall slowly backwards as you press the stylus to the surface.
On the laptop side of things, the Flip 13 is totally functional. When I reviewed the 11-inch Flip, I hated its cramped keyboard, but the Flip 13's added size remedies this, resulting in an enjoyable typing experience. When the keys are pressed, they're firm with a good amount of travel.
I can't give the same praise to the touchpad, however. Pressing it makes the laptop's base slightly cave in—not something I want to see on a machine this expensive, let alone any laptop.
Just like on the smaller Flip, the power cable is terrible—it barely fits into the input on the laptop's left side. That means that accidentally brushing your hand against the power cable causes it to fall out of the socket. Why do no other Sony Vaio laptops have this problem? Is it the curse of the Flip line?
High-end specs, high-end price... middling performance?
Our review unit of the Sony Vaio Flip 13 comes with all the trimmings: Intel's top-of-the-line dual-core processor, 8GB of RAM, and a speedy solid-state drive. At first, performance seemed to be top-tier, as well: The Flip 13 boots up in less than 9 seconds, launches and installs programs quickly, and dominated our Photoshop and Excel tests. Not bad, right?
When I benchmarked this Sony with more demanding programs, though, it didn't perform as well as some of its competition. Laptops like the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro and the Dell XPS 13, which employ the same processor, bested the Flip 13 in all of our benchmarking tests.
Three of our core programs for testing laptops are PCMark 8, 3DMark, and Geekbench. They test overall performance, graphics performance, and processor performance, respectively. In each of these programs, the Flip 13 failed to exceed the scores achieved by the Lenovo or the Dell. While its scores weren't bad at all, the graphical performance on this Sony was much weaker. Odd, but something to consider when laptop shopping.
Compared to the Flip 11a, though, performance is night and day. Since you can only buy the diminutive Flip with a low-powered processor, performance suffers. The Flip 13, with its Intel i7 processor, feels like a sports car next to its smaller counterpart. Every performance test scored better on the 13-inch version, but then again, it costs almost twice as much.
One thing that really stands out on the Flip 13 is its loud fan. As soon as I would boot this Sony up, the fans would kick into high gear... and they wouldn't stop. Maybe there are some cooling issues with the Flip's design that warrant the blasting fans. Regardless, noise like this takes away from any laptop's appeal. If used at your local library, you might get shushed.
Potential buyers can rest assured that battery life is not an issue on this laptop. I tested slightly over 8 hours of juice on Sony's hybrid—much better than the 5 hours on the Flip 11a.
Some fun apps, but nothing life-altering
Sony doesn't package much in the way of useful software on the Flip 13—at least on our review unit. Some models come with preinstalled copies of Adobe Photoshop Elements, but you're charged more for those.
The most prominent applications on this rig are Vaio Paper, Vaio Clip, and Vaio Scan. Vaio Paper lets you create a design—with the Active Pen, of course. Vaio Clip, on the other hand, is used to import existing images and "clip" out certain shapes with an embedded tool or with the Active Pen. Finally, Vaio Scan allows you to take a picture using the Flip's camera and apply quick edits. Overall, this suite of software is fun for novice users, but professional consumers will require more in-depth editing tools.
Also included is Vaio Update, which checks for new drivers and other important system updates. If you're serious about taking care of your laptop, using this program is a no-brainer.
For music lovers, two different media players are available on the Flip 13. First is Media Go, which not only plays music and movie files, but can transfer your media to other Sony products like a PS3 or PS4. The other media player is Music by Sony, although as you might have guessed, it only plays music files. I don't care much for the interface on either player, and would rather use the included Xbox Music, which comes on every Windows 8 computer.
Other bundled programs include Socialife and Cook Book. Socialife is a news aggregator that only culls information from a few different sources—something that severely limits its usefulness. In the same vein, Cook Book only shows recipes from cooking website BigOven. Both apps have appealing interfaces, but the limited content on each is disappointing.
A decent laptop or an awkward tablet—you choose
As a laptop, the Sony Vaio Flip 13 is a solid machine for casual use and work, if a bit overpriced for what it's able to do. As a tablet, however, it's too big and awkward to be very useful. And that makes the Flip 13 hard to recommend to most consumers.
There's a lot to like about this PC. It's aesthetically pleasing, the keyboard is a joy to type on, and the screen looks terrific, not to mention its battery lasts a long time. Unfortunately, you can get a beautiful laptop with a great keyboard, screen, and battery from other companies—either for less, with better performance, or both.
I enjoyed my time with the Flip 13 more so than with the smaller 11a, mainly due to performance increases. You can easily find it for $200 less than its MSRP of $1599.99, which sweetens the deal. If you're serious about buying a capable hybrid, though, check out the Lenovo's Yoga 2 Pro or even the Sony Vaio Duo 13 before you commit to the Flip 13.
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