- Vivid display
- Responsive stylus
- RF wireless keyboard
- Plentiful ports
- Short battery life
- Low speaker volume
- No USB Type-C ports
The formerly Sony-owned VAIO computer line comes back from the dead with a high-end, costly convertible tablet built expressly for creative professionals who don’t mind dropping a large chunk of change on a powerful Windows-based system.
Almost two years ago, Sony called it quits on its computer division, but that didn’t spell the permanent end of the VAIO brand. It only resulted in a metamorphosis – one that has manifested in the appearance of the Z Canvas, a high-end tablet running Windows 10 Pro. Those familiar with previous VAIO computers will likely be surprised by the excellent performance and flexibility of the company’s new flagship product.
Build & Design
The VAIO Z Canvas is sleek and impressive straight out of the box, a device that manages to be both aesthetically pleasing and utilitarian at the same time. VAIO designed it with an aluminum alloy cut body that’s solid to the touch and offers no flex when handled firmly. They sandwiched the internal guts between the alloy body and anti-shock, 6-sided reinforced glass, which presumably means it can take a beating – but at the Z Canvas’s steep price tag, we recommend handling with care nonetheless.
The LCD display has a glossy, anti-smudge finish that’s ideal for not leaving behind fingerprints. It’s a pretty thick device, the display depth measuring over a half-inch. It’s also heavier than you might imagine or want, weighing almost 3.5 pounds with the included keyboard – VAIO calls this “a solid and satisfying heft” – but that somewhat cumbersome mass isn’t likely to be an issue once its numerous features and high-level performance are revealed.
Display & Speakers
Its 12.3-inch display is handsome in design, with a rich and vivid LCD WQXGA+ (2560×1704 with a 3:2 aspect ratio) touchscreen that VAIO says displays 95 percent of the Adobe RGB color spectrum. Settings allow the user to alternate between D50 and D65 color temperature. Screen brightness is exceptional but there is some glare when exposed to bright light sources, which means it may not be used as effectively outdoors as it can be indoors. The screen affords decent wide viewing angles, however there is slight clarity loss when turned at sharper angles. This indicates users may find the Z Canvas display most effective when used straight-on.
The touch display bears a glossy border along all four sides that makes it easy to handle without accidentally launching any onscreen applications, a critical consideration when using it as a tablet. A front-facing 1MP camera lens resides on the top border, and the bottom border is equipped with a capacitive Windows Start Menu launch button.
The left edge of the body is home to numerous ports (more information on these below) and standard headphone and power jacks. On the right edge is a recessed power button, a volume rocker, and a somewhat cumbersome mounting slot for the included stylus.
A ventilation grille runs almost the entire length of the top edge of the display and is bordered on either side by a single button. Each button performs a different function. The one on the top right toggles touchscreen functionality on and off, while the button on the top left opens an onscreen control strip for launching keyboard shortcuts like control-C, control-X, scrolling, Enter and more. This enables the user to perform keyboard-specific commands without actually having to rely on the keyboard.
Two stereo speakers along the bottom edge of the display provide adequate audio. Considering the Z Canvas is a device whose performance is more visually oriented, it’s no surprise that the speakers perform slightly below par (especially with respect to volume) when matched up against the average laptop. Volume aside, the speakers perform well enough for their intended purpose without tinniness or distortion, and their positioning doesn’t cause any unwanted muffling that sometimes occurs on bottom-located speakers.
A fold-down kickstand can be found on the back of the tablet. This effectively turns it into an upright screen that you can set on flat surfaces, but it’s also sturdy enough to keep the display on solid footing across a variety of uneven surfaces. The kickstand can also be adjusted to a variety of angles and the hinge holds strong, even when adding pressure on the screen. There is also a rear-facing camera on the back side, which can capture stills in 8MP and is capable of recording 1080p video at 24 frames per second.
Ports & Connectivity
According to VAIO, great care was put into the design of the Z Canvas to include a diversity of input and output ports for use in a variety of work and travel scenarios. Looking along the left edge of the display bears this out.
Here, we find two USB 3.0 ports (one of which can be used to recharge mobile devices), an SD memory card reader, a LAN (RJ45) port for Ethernet connectivity, a mini DisplayPort and an HDMI output (both 4K compatible). USB Type-C connectivity is unfortunately missing, which would have added a more modern touch, but that Ethernet port and dual 4K compatibility go a long way in making up for that.
Keyboard & Touchpad
Detachable keyboards make it easy for users to switch back and forth between a traditional laptop experience and the convenience of a flat tablet surface, but where the Z Canvas differentiates itself from other convertibles is the lack of any connecting hinges.
Instead, the keyboard is entirely detached, and holds to the display magnetically when closed – providing the look and feel (and added screen protection) of a traditional lid. The only drawback is that this configuration makes it virtually impossible to use the Z Canvas as a traditional “across the lap” laptop.
The full-size keyboard is slender (0.17 inches) and lightweight (12.8 ounces), yet is solidly built and feels like a standard laptop keyboard under the fingers, offering maximum snap and minimal mush. The keyboard travel, which is the physical distance the key needs to be depressed for a character to appear on the screen, is 1.35mm – slightly shallower than the standard 1.5mm, but not so shallow that it requires much adjustment. Wireless connectivity with the display is facilitated via RF (radio) signal, which is quite different from other competing devices that leverage Bluetooth to do the same. It is battery-powered and charges when placed on top of the display in the closed position, via a barely noticeable connector.
It includes an equally full-sized track pad, which is spacious enough to perform reliably. It unfortunately lacks a 10-key numeric keypad and the keys are not backlit. The keyboard can be turned on or off by switch, and there’s also the inclusion of a third switch position to turn trackpad functionality off.
Unlike many tablet manufacturers who charge extra for a keyboard, the Z Canvas throws it in for free.
A battery-powered N-Trig stylus with comfort grip and 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity takes the Z Canvas experience to another level – as previously indicated, one that is clearly intended for creative professionals who want the ability to be able to put pen to screen and draw or sketch.
But creative expression isn’t the only function of the stylus, as evidenced by the presence of two function buttons on the pen itself. Pressing the top button while holding the pen close to the screen launches Windows OneNote. Pressing the bottom button launches a clipping tool. The stylus can also be used to launch all normal touchscreen functions. The stylus’s tip sensitivity can be set to Soft, Normal or Hard to match the user’s preference and writing style.
The Z Canvas display comes equipped with palm rejection, enabling users to comfortably rest their hands on the screen when using the stylus – but the earlier mentioned button that lives on the top right edge of the display can turn the touchscreen off, further reducing the chance of errors.
Additional accuracy of the digitizer stylus is made possible by an optical resin placed between the LCD and the glass, which VAIO claims reduces potential parallax errors (what typically happens when the tip of the stylus and the onscreen pointer don’t exactly align). In testing, we found the stylus to be responsive and highly accurate, with a notable fluidity that allows for a more natural writing style. It does better in straightening out slowly drawn lines than the Surface Pro 3 Surface Pen, though could still use some work. Also, the glossy slickness of the display leads to a more “slippery” experience than many experienced stylus users may be used to, requiring some adjustment in handling. The pen itself is also a tad thicker than some may be accustomed to, and the function buttons which are located within the comfort grip have a tendency of getting in the way, requiring further adjustment when using.