Family PC becomes a big, floating tablet

16 Nov, 2012

Sony's Tap 20 changes the concept of the home PC by stripping away most of the things we associate with familiar computing appliances.

Ugly tower box for drives, processors and fans? Not needed "they are all hidden behind the monitor's back panel. Mouse and keyboard? Provided but unnecessary "the 20in monitor is a touchscreen. Ethernet network cable? No, there's WiFi on board. Power cord? There is one, but you can just use it to recharge the internal battery, which should last up to four hours.

I have just had the Tap on my lap, propped up by its highly adjustable kickstand at the back, which made the experience quite comfortable even though the device weighs almost 12lbs. Watching a trailer for the James Bond film Skyfall was an immersive experience at this distance from the huge screen (by tablet standards), although the sound was slightly muffled from the speakers, which are positioned on the bottom edge and therefore pressed against my legs.

They sounded better earlier "there are two plus a subwoofer – firing down on to a marble kitchen counter where I used the keyboard and mouse to check email while listening to music. Then I pressed down to flatten the stand completely, picked up the Tap by the two grips on the back and carried it to the coffee table to play a big-screen version of Minesweeper with my son as if it was an interactive game board.

I didn't have to switch it on and off and it resumes, bringing back the same screen instantly, if you do so. Later, I plan to take it to bed and prop it back up again for some late-night television viewing.

I can imagine outdoor use for this as well, such as watching TV at tailgate parties in the US.

Its portability might be a problem though "the children could hijack it for endless rounds of gaming in their bedroom. It might therefore have to be the "floating" rather than main PC in the household.

While the dual tablet-and-keyboard interfaces of Windows 8 do not really make sense on the traditional tower PC and the non-touch monitor in my home office, this seems the sweet spot for Microsoft's new operating system – a device where both the familiar Windows desktop and touchscreen-optimised tiled interface have their place depending on whether keyboard-and-mouse or just the tablet are present.

The Tap (from $879, £999) is available with a choice of Intel Core processors, and hard drive sizes – including the pricier but faster and smaller "Flash memory" solid-state drives.

Its screen is 1600x900 pixels – so it is short of full high-definition, but the resolution and colours are still impressive with Sony Bravia TV technology inside. There is a built-in HD webcam, with microphone and an NFC chip on the back panel. Sony is not making great play of the chip yet, but in future it should allow you to tap your phone on it to transfer photos and videos.

While you could get a more powerful standard computer for much less, the Tap justifies its price with its versatility. This is a huge tablet and portable PC, with an excellent screen.

Right now, applications that take full advantage of its capabilities are limited – ArtRage Studio Pro is provided for artistic renderings on the touchscreen, Family Paint allows more juvenile daubing by younger children.

I would like future Taps to feature a proper carrying handle, longer battery life, weigh less and have more and better board games. But for a first effort, the Vaio Tap paints an encouraging picture for a whole new category of home computing devices, which should start to emerge over the next year.

Planet of the Apps

Chris Nuttall picks his favourite from the latest crop of apps.

What it is: Quikio HD for iPad (free during launch period, then $2.99)

Why you should try it: This is a fast and clever way to stream personal content to your iPad. Download Quikio to your PC or Mac, set up an account and allow it to index your photos, music and videos. Install the app on your iPad, login and access the indexed contents. I was able to listen to my music, view documents, see photos and watch video in excellent quality and with minimum buffering. Access it from home, hotspots or over mobile.

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