Slate vs. Convertible, Sony vs. Microsoft. Today we're comparing the Microsoft Surface Pro with the Sony Vaio Duo 11. Both are Windows 8 tablets with Intel Core i5 CPUs, fast SSD drives and 4 or more gigs of DDR3 RAM. Both have inspired designs that shout, "buy me because I look so darned good!" and use top quality materials. They can run Windows 7 apps like Photoshop and iTunes, have full 1080p multi-touch displays with digital pens. So how do you decide?
The Surface Pro sells for $899 to $999, and the Touch Cover is an additional $120 while the Type Cover is $130.
The Sony Vaio Duo 11 starts at $1,199 for the Core i5, 4 gigs of RAM and a 128 gig SSD. The Core i7 with 256 gig SSD and 8 gigs of RAM is $1,599 and $2,299 gets you a whopping 512 gig SSD.
Design and Ergonomics
This is the big differentiator: the Microsoft Surface Pro is a slate tablet with a nifty set of optional clip-on keyboards. The Sony Vaio Duo 11 is a convertible slider with a permanently attached keyboard that tucks under the display when not in use. The Surface weighs 2 lbs. (2.5 lbs. with Touch or Type Cover) and the Sony Vaio Duo weighs 2.89 lbs. including the ever-present keyboard. The Sony is larger in part due to the bigger display: 11.6" vs. 10.6" on Surface Pro. It has a bigger footprint and is a bit thicker due to the slider design.
The Sony Vaio Duo 11 feels more like an Ultrabook. That makes it more versatile as your main machine while Surface Pro feels more like your second due to the small display and keyboards that are more accessory than main feature. If you want something as powerful and portable as possible, it's the Surface Pro. If you want something that leans more toward the Ultrabook camp, it's the Sony Vaio Duo 11. There's no winner here, because it depends on your needs. Build quality is top notch on both with liberal use of metal, Gorilla Glass and attention to detail.
Performance and Horsepower
The Sony Vaio Duo 11 comes in three flavors: ours with a Core i5, 6 gigs of DDR3 RAM and a 128 gig SSD, and a Core i7 with 8 gigs of RAM and a 256 gig SSD. There's a 512 gig SSD option with a Core i7 now as well. The Surface Pro has a 1.7GHz Core i5, 4 gigs of DDR3 RAM and a 64 or 128 gig SSD. There is no higher capacity available nor is there a Core i7 (I suspect Microsoft was trying to keep Surface Pro prices affordable). We have the Vaio with the 1.7GHz Core i5-3317U, which is the same CPU in Surface. Sony, like many manufacturers, recently made a minor update with Intel's newer 1.8GHz Core i5, and you'll likely see a 5 percent improvement with that 100MHz boost.
The Surface Pro benchmarks just slightly slower than our Vaio Duo 11 in PCMark07, with the Vaio scoring 4772 vs. the Surface Pro's 4657. Keep in mind our Vaio has the 1.7GHz rather than 1.8GHz refresh CPU. Both have Intel HD 4000 graphics. Both have very fast SSD drives. Obviously with the Sony you can go up to a faster Core i7 ULV CPU for a bit better performance (it's not a huge jump with a dual core ULV i7 compared to quad core full mobile and desktop i7 CPUs).
A benefit of the larger chassis and the motherboard being in the bottom rather than directly behind the display is the Sony has more cooling opportunities. That means less thermal throttling when the machine is working hard playing 3D games or encoding HD video. Though Surface Pro throttles less than some other pure slate Core i5 Windows 8 tablets on the market, it does something cut back on CPU and GPU speeds to keep temps safe. The Vaio Duo 11 throttles less often.
Winner: Sony Vaio Duo 11 for updated CPUs, more CPU and storage options and slightly better performance
Display and Digital Pen
Both machines have 1920 x 1080 displays with very wide viewing angles and 10 points of multitouch. The Vaio's display is an inch larger, which makes viewing the traditional desktop a little easier (text and icons aren't quite as tiny), though with either you'll probably want to use desktop scaling to make things easier to read. Size is a matter of personal preference, and there is no winner for this point. Colors on both displays are natural and each achieves near 400 nits of brightness, though you'll have to disable Windows 8's auto-brightness feature to see it (you may also want to disable Sony's separate ambient light sensor feature too). The Vaio Duo 11's colors are a little bit more saturated, which I think most will prefer.
Both have active digitizers and come with digital pens. The MS Surface Pro has a Wacom digitizer and a very pen-like plastic pen with an eraser on the end and one button on the side. The Sony has an N-Trig digitizer and Duo Sense 2 pen, which is shorter than the Surface Pro pen but make of metal and it has two side buttons (one of which can function as an eraser modifier) but there's no eraser on the end (surprisingly, N-Trig told us that in user surveys not that many people wanted an eraser on the end). I suspect note takers and casual doodlers could care less if it's Wacom or N-Trig, and they're both big names in the pen digitizer business. Graphic artists tend to have stronger opinions, and I know some of you are die-hard Wacom fans. I find the inking experience to be slightly more buttery on the Surface Pro with Wacom, while the N-Trig has better pen calibration and is more accurate near the edges of the display. Wacom supports 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity vs. 256 for N-Trig, though in practice, it's less noticeable than you'd think when drawing.
Both have pressure sensitivity in modern apps that use the Windows ink API, but no WinTab drivers yet. Adobe Photoshop, Corel Painter and Paint Tool SAI require WinTab for pressure sensitivity. N-Trig has been working with Adobe to get drivers out, but we've been waiting since October 2012. Ahem. Microsoft and Wacom have said they're making WinTab drivers a priority for Surface Pro, but we don't have a date yet.
Winner: Advantage Sony for larger screen and slightly richer colors, advantage Microsoft for Wacom digitizer.
Ports, Networking and Expansion
This is where the Sony Vaio Duo 11 laughs maniacally and Surface Pro hides in a corner. The Duo 11 has more ports than you'll find on many Ultrabooks and certainly outclasses slate Windows 8 tablets that have very few ports.
- USB 3.0: MS Surface Pro has 1, Sony Vaio Duo 11 has 2. - Display out: MS Surface Pro has a mini DisplayPort, Sony Vaio Duo 11 has VGA and full size HDMI. - Audio: both have a 3.5mm combo audio jack. - Wired LAN: Sony Duo 11 has an Ethernet jack, MS Surface Pro does not - Card slot: MS Surface Pro has an SDXC microSD card slot, Sony Vaio Duo 11 has a full size SD card slot/Memory Stick Duo slot. - 3G/4G and GPS: MS Surface Pro isn't available with these features, US version of Vaio Duo doesn't either, though overseas these are available. - NFC: MS Surface Pro no, Vaio Duo 11 yes. - Expansion: MS Surface Pro has a port on the bottom for Touch and Type covers (maybe more accessories in the future?). The Sony Vaio Duo 11 has a connector for a sheet battery on the base.
- WiFi: both have dual band WiFi. Sony has Intel WiFi with WiDi wireless display. - Bluetooth: both have Bluetooth 4.0.
Winner: Sony Vaio Duo 11
Neither of these are Energizer bunnies. The Surface Pro averages 4.5 to 5 hours on a charge with WiFi on and brightness set to 50%. The naked Sony Vaio Duo 11 averages 4 hours. The $149 optional Sony sheet battery adds approximately 3 hours.
Winner: For units without add-on battery, Microsoft Surface Pro wins. Sony gets an honorable mention for offering a secondary sheet battery for those who need longer runtimes.
Here's our Microsoft Surface Pro vs. Sony Vaio Duo 11 Comparison Smackdown video: