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Sony VAIO Duo 13: A tough first week ends in triumph

It wasn’t easy, but was it worth it?

I wasn't able to blog much last week primarily because I didn't have a computer to blog on.  As I wrote in my last article I received my Sony VAIO DUO 13, hybrid laptop/tablet.  To say I had a challenging first week with the machine would be an understatement. But I persevered fighting on through to the other side and I think I will be happy I did.  The machine is really a great computer and is I think the best hybrid available today.

My DUO came last Monday morning as it was supposed to. Out of the box it is a slick, beautiful piece of work as you would expect from Sony.  The form factor is really nice and I find the sliding screen sturdy enough and extremely easy to use.

The machine booted right up and in no time I was running Windows 8.  I immediately got rid of much of the pre-installed bloat ware that plagues so many new machines today.  I was sitting in the same room as my wireless router and my machine hooked right up to my home network at both the 2.4 and 5 GHz channels. My speedtest.net results were good averaging about 48 mbps up and about 9 down.

Once I went into another room though the results were different. Though not as bad as my VAIO FIT, they were not great. I still got better reception with a plugin USB card. I have just resigned myself to carrying one around with me just in case.

I was surprised to discover that the machine had a built in AT&T sim card with cellular access as an option. I was able to add my new machine to our existing share account for just ten dollars a month. That was a big bonus and makes the DUO really valuable (instead of using my S4 as a hotspot).

My biggest complaint was the keyboard which though it had nice solid chicklet-style keys, was hard to type on. While it looks full size, some of the keys are smaller, especially the right shift key. I find that my cursor jumps all over the place and typing takes some getting used to.  The backlit keyboard was great in low light conditions on the keyboard as well.

I next installed Microsoft Office365. I didn't know it at the time but that set off a long chain of events that ended up with my staying awake to 4am two nights last week.  It seems the office install via the web somehow was corrupted.  I didn't know but it at the time.  I found out after trying to install iTunes and iCloud.  They wouldn't work. I called VAIO support (24x7 phone support). After an hour or two on the phone with them, they had me wipe out my install and do a factory restore the DUO.

I booted fresh and the first thing I installed was the Apple software. I was able to get iTunes to work and proceeded to reinstall Office next.  At this point I ran into a problem. Office would not install correctly. I was getting messages that I had to uninstall and then reinstall Office.  However, even though I was using the control panel uninstall, Office was not uninstalled and it prevented a new fresh install from completing. A little poking around led me to a script to totally wipe out Office from your machine. Even that didn't work.

I finally had to go to Microsoft premium support for help. This began a two day odyssey through delirium. I had multiple Microsoft techs log onto my machine remotely and try to uninstall Office and reinstall.  Finally after about 6 hours or so, even Microsoft gave up.  They did a refresh of my machine which wiped out everything I had installed at point. Not only did it wipeout all of the applications I had installed, it also wiped out everything that Sony customizes in the machine including wake on demand and a bunch of other great features. 

Once I saw more error messages, I called back my VAIO contact as my patience was wearing thin.  Ryan at VAIO said that using Microsoft refresh and reset was not a very good idea on VAIO machines.  He had me do yet another VAIO recovery to put the machine back in VAIO factory state.  At that point I told Ryan I would start over again and try to get it working.  We also discussed setting restore points so I would not have to go back to scratch if something didn't work.

I installed Office365 first and before even setting up Outlook I tried to open some docs from skydrive.  Surprise, none of them would open. Not Word, Excel or Powerpoint.  All of them showed file corrupted or missing.  I did another recovery and another one after that. I still could not open any files.  Even opening files in the Office web apps would not work.  I tried everything.  Frustrated I put the DUO and a note to Sony asking to return my money.

I picked up my older FIT and started working on that. At some point I went to open a skydrive file and my jaw dropped when I ran into the same problem.  I know that my Office programs on the FIT work so it had to be skydrive. Examining my files I noticed that every one of the files in my skydrive was modified on August 21st.  It seems that my corrupt version of Office365 had corrupted all of my skydrive files when it synced.

Skydrive saves previous versions of your files. When I opened the files in the web app and reverted to an earlier version, lo and behold everything worked fine!  I saved the reverted files, not an easy task as I had about 200 files and had to do it one by one.

 Now that I had that licked I started to reload my machine. I loaded iTunes and had the same problem as started this whole mess. This time I was smarter. I uninstalled anything from Apple on my machine and tried again. I help my breath and watched as iTunes match ran flawlessly. Then I ran iCloud as my contacts are all synced through there.  A little bumpy but I got that working too.

It took my about 4 or 5 more hours to install and configure the rest of my apps and programs. After each one I set another restore point to make sure if anything went wrong I would not lose what I had I place up that point.

Finally by Saturday morning I had this baby running like a top.  Everything was fully functional down to Microsoft Solitaire which I was not able to install earlier.  At this point using the machine became a real pleasure. 

I was able to switch between tablet and ultrabook mode seamlessly. Using my pen stylus was great for some of the desktop apps which are not optimized for touch. All in all, the DUO lives up to its potential.

At 13+ inches the screen is big enough to view movies and other media, as well as view multiple programs. But it is not too big where it is to clunky to walk around with. The Intel 5000 on board graphics deliver stunning clarity and visuals at high resolution. The SSD hard drive is really fast, the cameras on front and back are both great. The machine feels solid and not flimsy at all. From a hardware perspective, Sony has done a great job with this machine.

One thing to note is that it does not have an Ethernet jack. Instead you have to use a USB to ethernet dongle. Same thing for VGA out.  I bought a USB 4 port bus to make sure I have enough ports to plug in my USB devices.  With USB 3.0 specs, the bandwidth is certainly not an issue.

While I was just about ready to throw in the towel on the software, I am glad I saw it through and seemed to have worked through the issues.  I can see myself using this machine as my primary computing device for a long time to come. 

The DUO does represent the current highpoint in hybrid machines at this point.  The only thing I am really still battling is getting used to the keyboard. 

I have also bought a screen protector and a sleeve to store the machine in. I would recommend both to anyone buying a DUO.  All in all I would highly recommend the DUO.  If you have any questions though use the Sony 24 hour phone support before you write me ;-)

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