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The Acer Iconia W3 is available for Rs 30,499
The Acer Iconia W3 is available for Rs 30,499

What will make laptops cool again?

Competitors Sony and Acer take two different approaches to this shared worry

The PC market hasn’t really looked good for a while now, and the iPad and the subsequent wave of tablets have just made things worse. IMRB International data revealed Wednesday that the tablet market has grown by over 400%, and this is obviously starting to affect the PC market too.

So how are PC makers adjusting to these changed realities? Well, some seem to be willing to bet that brand value and design will justify the price, while others are trying to further blur the line between tablets and laptops.

Paying for design

Sony’s new Vaio Pro 13 is, in terms of specifications, a middle-rung machine. Purely on power, it isn’t going to compete with a high-end gaming device—it’s great for a business user, and should be able to handle anything you throw at it without slowing down.

The 74,990 price tag might seem a little excessive; after all, many 13-inch laptops deliver nearly the same performance for around 30,000 less, at the cost of some bulk, and largely unused features like NFC.

Sony, however, is betting on the build quality and design.

The Vaio Pro 13 is powered by the latest fourth-generation Intel i5 CPU running at 1.60GHz with 4GB RAM, and the 13.3-inch screen is operating at full HD 1,080p resolution. Everyday performance—browsing, MS Word and PowerPoint, some light gaming—are all excellent, and so is the battery life with this kind of usage, giving around 8 hours between charges.

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The Sony Vaio Pro 13 starts at Rs 74,990

However, unlike a lot of other Ultrabooks, the Sony Vaio Pro 13 does not look like the MacBook Air. Sony’s design is unique.

The design language is reminiscent of the Xperia Z tablet that Sony launched earlier this year, and the laptop feels rugged and durable. It helps that the Pro 13 keyboard is comfortable—the keys are backlit and well spaced. Unfortunately, as is standard for these super-slim laptops, there is little or no travel on the keys, and that does affect long-term usability. The trackpad is large and very responsive, and the screen is also touch-enabled.

The screen is definitely a high point, with excellent viewing angles, bright colours and rich contrast, making it great for watching movies.

The major drawback is the lack of ports, and integrated graphics. The machine’s usage will be limited to work for the most part, and at those prices it’s a little strange not to have the top-end hardware inside.

There’s also a higher-end version which bumps you up to an i7 processor from an i5, and 256 GB, up from 128 GB. These are welcome changes, but don’t come anywhere close to justifying the 109,990 price tag.

Downsizing Windows

The early response to Windows 8 tablets has been lukewarm, but the addition of the 8-inch size might drive up adoption, since this is the size where Android tablets have also been most successful.

The Acer Iconia W3 is a nice-looking tablet, and it feels durable and portable. Available for 30,499, it is a pretty good device, though there are some definite shortcomings.

Running the full Windows 8 OS, you have the tablet experience with apps and a touch-friendly interface, but it can switch to Desktop mode and classic Windows programs, letting you use any proprietary software that your work needs, instead of being stuck with only tablet applications.

The tablet is powered by a dual-core Intel Atom-based CPU running at 1.8GHz and comes with 2 GB of RAM. Internal storage of 32 GB is a little limited, considering that Windows itself uses a fair chunk of that space.

In an Android tablet, that CPU and RAM combination would be exciting, but with the W3 it feels a little sluggish at times. The experience is like using a netbook—if you focus on one task at a time (browsing the Web, typing a document, even playing a game), then the performance is fine, but start multitasking in desktop mode, trying to research something even as you are writing a report, and suddenly things don’t look so good.

The 8.1-inch screen has a display resolution of 1,280x800 pixels, which sounds good on paper, but the screen looks pretty bad. For one thing, the viewing angles are limited, and if you are trying to watch a movie on it, for example, then it can be a fairly trying experience. When you compare it to the screen on a tablet like the iPad mini or the Nexus 7 (which are around the same size), the Acer looks like it came out a full generation earlier, despite being nearly double the price of those tablets.

At 11mm thick, and weighing 500g, the tablet has a certain heft to it, but it’s still fairly portable. With support for microHDMI and USB support, the usability is better than you’d expect with most tablets this size. It helps that we got 8 hours of use out of a full charge.

The W3 is a good option if you don’t want to buy a basic laptop for work and a tablet for when you travel, but it’s a compromise, and not the best of both worlds. It’s not powerful enough to be used as a full desktop replacement, and it’s far too expensive when compared to a budget Android tablet.

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