Vaio returns to the US with a powerful, pricey tablet for pros

Do you remember Sony's Vaio computers? Those stylish, pricy PCs that quietly disappeared when Sony sold off the brand last year? Vaio, now its own company, is returning to the US today with its first new computer. And surprise: It's a tablet.

Not just any tablet, though. Starting at $2,199, the new Vaio Z Canvas is a full Windows 10 computer with a detachable keyboard, a battery-powered stylus, and enough horsepower to run photo and video editing software as well as for creating 2D and 3D animation.

Vaio says it squeezes the equivalent performance of a 15-inch MacBook Pro into its 12-inch frame, including a Core i7 processor, up to 16GB of memory and 1TB of PCIe solid-state storage -- plus a super high-res 2,560x1,704-pixel display with a tall 3:2 aspect ratio so you can see an entire dSLR photo without cropping or letterboxing.

Doesn't that sound like Microsoft's Surface Pro 3? Sure -- but Vaio's new slate is laser-focused on artists. The screen is bright, vibrant and displays 95 percent of the Adobe RGB color spectrum. The kickstand's spring-loaded hinge is impressive: it opens with a single finger, yet puts up enough resistance to stay still when you press down with your finger or the included stylus. That stylus has 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity, and the keyboard uses RF communication so you can detach it and use it to navigate Windows with one hand while you draw with the other.

(The keyboard isn't the most comfortable ultrathin slab of keys I've tested, but it's not bad. It's pretty cool that it charges just by sitting on top of the screen, a trick it learned from the Vaio Tap 11.)

Plus, the Core i7 processor in the new Z Canvas isn't the battery-sipping one you'll find in Microsoft's Surface Pro. It's the same kind of 47-watt, H-series Intel processor that comes in Apple's 15-inch MacBook Pro, with Intel's most powerful Iris Pro graphics on tap. The tablet has three fans inside, and not just to help it stay cool: Vaio says they spin at different frequencies so that they can cancel out the noise they make.

There's even a pair of dedicated buttons on the top of the machine that can pull up a handy touchscreen menu full of cut, copy and paste shortcuts, or disable the touchscreen so you don't accidentally press anything with a stray finger while you're drawing with the stylus.

It's even built far more like a powerful laptop than a tablet PC: the 2.67-pound frame is all rigid anodized aluminum and tempered glass, and boasts a full array of ports too. I particularly like the full-size, full-depth SD card slot, which would let me pull pictures right off my dSLR...though I imagine some designers might be more excited about plugging a pair of 4K monitors into the full-size HDMI and Mini DisplayPorts.

What's missing from the Vaio Z Canvas? There's no fancy new USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 ports for charging, high-speed data or possibly an external graphics card in the future. And it's a little weird to see this computer launching with a Haswell-class Intel processor when the new Skylake processors are right around the corner, but that's probably because the Z Canvas has already been out in Japan for five months.

But my biggest concern is around just how portable this PC can truly be. Unlike a Microsoft Surface, there's nothing to keep the Vaio's keyboard in place. You can't use it like a laptop. And with a processor that powerful, will the 63-watt-hour battery hold up? (Vaio tells us it gets around 7 hours of battery life "under normal use," but wouldn't say if "normal use" included editing multimedia.)

At that starting price of $2,199, it'll be tough to justify this machine as a secondary computer if you do need a separate laptop. It might make more sense to buy a cheaper drawing surface that plugs into your existing computer, or perhaps an upcoming iPad Pro.

Also, full disclosure: I can't draw to save my life. So I can't tell you how good the stylus is yet. Still, the Vaio Z Canvas looks like a pretty potent package, and we'll be addressing all those lingering questions -- stylus and all -- in a full review. Look for it at CNET in the weeks ahead.

The Vaio Z Canvas is available to preorder today from Vaio's website, and soon at Microsoft Stores in the US. (cnet)

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