The Vaio Tap 20 has a matte white plastic back and a glossy black plastic front. It's really a nice looking device, although some people might be turned off by the coarse surface on the back. The photo frame-style stand allows you to tilt the screen up to use it as a computer, or you can fold the stand in to use it as a tablet.
But the primary function is as a desktop computer, so the Vaio Tap 20 comes with a wireless keyboard and mouse. When you select Airplane mode to turn off the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, the keyboard and mouse stay usable. It's a good keyboard with a numerical keypad (that's a plus) and quiet chiclet keys (also a plus). Sony even gave it a light that tells you when the keyboard's AA batteries have almost run out, which is handy.
We weren't as thrilled with the mouse, though. I think Sony actually went out of its way to make the mouse non-ergonomic. It's an imaginative design, we give it that, but you'd need Martian hands to find it in any way comfortable. That, and the glossy finish quickly gets smothered in smudges. For everyday use, we suggest leaving it in the box and getting a mouse that's made for humans (here, take your pick).
The third and final man/computer interface on the Vaio Tap 20 is the touchscreen, which takes advantage of Windows 8's touch capabilities to let you navigate through the computer using only your finger tips or let the kids express their creativity on the screen... instead of your walls.
Since the stand is fully tiltable, you can adjust the angle to reduce the stress on your arms and shoulders during prolonged periods of use.
And if you fold the stand all the way in, you can set the Tap 20 on your lap or flat down on a desk and use it tablet-style.
The power, volume, screen rotation and Assist buttons (the Assist button launches a somewhat pointless help program) are located at the top of the back of the device, which makes them easy to reach in every position.
That said, at a total of 5 kg, the Vaio Tap 20 isn't the type of slate you'll be holding in your arms and walking around with for very long (if at all).
Moreover, once you're on the classic Windows desktop the touchscreen pretty much becomes irrelevant. And using a virtual keyboard can be a little complicated on a 20-inch screen. So any time you want to do something other than consume multimedia content, you're back at the good old mouse/keyboard set-up.
Ethernet (RJ45) port and power jack
Memory card reader, 2 x USB 3.0, headphone and mic jacks
The connectivity is a bit of a letdown. The Vaio Tap 20 has no video outputs, no DVD drive and just two measly USB 3.0 ports. Most competing all-in-ones offer twice, if not three times as many USB ports. The way it is, if you decide to use a wired mouse, that leaves you with just one free USB port!
Making up the rest of the connectivity is an SD card/Memory Stick reader, an Ethernet port, a headphone jack and a microphone jack.
Heat readings with the components under stress
Images taken using a Fluke Ti25 thermal imaging camera
On a more positive note, the Vaio Tap 20 manages its heat well. It never gets above 39.9° C (103.8° F) even when running benchmarks or other processor-intensive programmes. This means a potentially longer life for the components.
Unfortunately, the otherwise excellent 20-inch display has to make due with 1600 x 900 resolution. Most rival all-in-ones have 1920 x 1080 resolution, which is capable of displaying nearly 44% more visual information and, most importantly, is Blu-ray quality. It's a real shame for such a neat device. This is definitely something you want to consider if you often deal with long documents and spreadsheets or watch movies on your computer.
Colours: average Delta E = 2.6
But everything else about this screen is high quality. It has a Delta E—which measures the 'distance' between the intended colours in an image and the shades displayed onscreen—of 2.6, which is outstanding. And the contrast is a phenomenal 1250:1.
As a combination desktop/tablet, the Vaio Tap 20 is decidedly a home-use machine, both because of its size (which is huge, as tablets go) and because of its low 230 cd/m² screen brightness. What makes this tablet even more outdoors-unfriendly is the display's glossy surface. Beware of reflections in brightly lit rooms!
Frequency response: speakers
Green = good / Orange = tolerable / White = heavily altered
Like any all-in-one computer, the speakers are built-in, and what that usually means is low sound quality. The Vaio Tap 20 is no exception. The volume is fine, but the speakers seriously degrade the signal. The frequency response curve shown above doesn't leave much room for hope... and your ears only confirm how horrid the sound is. Voices aren't entirely comprehensible, almost as though you were hearing them through a loudspeaker (a bad loudspeaker).
The sound through the audio in/out jacks, however, is practically beyond reproach. The volume is in the upper average, there's no noise and no crosstalk.
We highly suggest either sticking with your headphones or plugging an external speaker system into the Vaio Tap 20.
Note: Computers usually come in several models. The model Sony sent us features an Intel Core i3-3217U processor, 4 GB of RAM, an Intel HD 4000 graphics chipset and a 750 GB hard drive. Everything we talked about above this note applies to all versions of the Sony Vaio Tap 20. Everything below applies only to the model we tested, as each configuration has different specifications. Individual components may also vary depending on the country/region you live in (see inset).
Probably in order to reduce energy consumption, Sony used a notebook processor on the model we tested, the Intel Core i3-3217U. That's enough to run productivity software (Word, Excel, etc.) with ease. And while it certainly takes longer to process certain tasks than the Core i5 and i7 do, it's also capable of taking on more demanding activities from time to time.
Startup could be faster. It takes the 750 GB hard drive (5400 RPM) 35 seconds to display the Windows desktop. Shutdown is better, however, at less than 10 seconds.
The Intel HD 4000 graphics chipset is not a gamers' GPU, unless you only want to play smaller, older games. But it decodes HD videos perfectly well.
Running on the battery, the Vaio Tap 20 can last for 2 hours and 10 minutes of continuous video playback (in Airplane mode with the screen brightness at 100 cd/m²). When you plug it into the wall to use the computer while charging the battery, it consumes 43 W on the Windows desktop, 48 W while playing a movie, and 20 W while turned off and charging. With the battery fully charged (which takes 2½ hours), the desktop uses 27 W and video playback uses 31 W. When it's completely off and not charging, the Vaio Tap 20 uses just 0.5 W.