Sony Tap 20 review: A Windows 8 all-in-one that's also a humongous tablet

Sony has built a cool, if small, all-in-one that works well as a shared family PC.

As you might guess, this new Windows 8-based Sony all-in-one isn't your average AIO. Inside the modest exterior beats the heart of an Ultrabook, along with a ten-point multitouch screen and a built-in battery. So you can either think of the Tap 20 (also known by the sexy name SVJ20215CXW) as a smallish AIO or a really big tablet. In reality, it's a little of both.

Sony's latest desktop effort is one cool example of the experimentation in form factors we're starting to see with Windows 8 hardware. Yes, manufacturers will be shipping stock clamshell laptops and ordinary desktop PCs with ten-point multitouch as an option, and PCWorld will be reviewing many of them as they come out. But if Windows 8 is to be truly successful, products such as Sony's Tap 20 will be key.

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In putting the Tap 20 through its paces, I started with a little photo editing on its decidedly smallish (at least for an AIO) 20-inch, 1600-by-900-pixel display. It was a constraining experience, compared with the more expansive displays I'm used to working with. Then I unplugged the unit, took it upstairs, laid it flat on my dining-room table, and played Pinball FX 2.

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Notice the smudges on the Sony system in the photo above. Fingerprints on glass will become a way of life, as it is with normal tablets. As more touch-enabled PCs arrive, accessories such as cleaning cloths will be a hot item for those users who dislike fingerprints.

Under the hood

Sony has built its new AIO on mobile PC technology, including the same 1.7GHz Ivy Bridge ultra-low-voltage Core i5-3317U CPU used in many mainstream Ultrabooks, with a Turbo Boost up to 2.6GHz when needed. The system also has 4GB of system memory and uses Intel's own HD 4000 integrated graphics to take care of display chores. Storage tasks fall to a 750GB mobile hard drive with no SSD cache, so the storage performance can be a little poky. No optical drive is built in; either you get your video or audio content via the network, or you attach an external optical drive.

Although the 1600-by-900-pixel resolution seems a little low for a 20-inch all-in-one, Sony uses an IPS panel, so the color fidelity and video saturation look pretty good, and viewing angles are generally decent. Sony also built in the same Bravia video-rendering engine it uses in its Bravia HDTVs, so video looks nice--when you can get it to run. The problem with video in this case isn't the hardware but Windows itself, which no longer plays back MPEG-2 content, either DVD or high-definition. Sony should consider bundling some type of MPEG-2 playback tool going forward. WMV high-definition video looks quite attractive on the IPS screen, however, as do high-resolution photos.

The Tap 20 offers a robust set of connectivity options, including Bluetooth 4.0, gigabit ethernet, and 802.11n Wi-Fi connectivity. Surprisingly, the system sports only two USB 3.0 ports, though one incorporates sleep-and-charge functionality. Also included is an SD/Memory Stick slot, as well as an audio input and output jack. The system lacks monitor inputs and outputs, however--you won't find HDMI ports, or any other video connectors.

To alleviate some USB port congestion, Sony supplies a wireless keyboard and mouse. They're competent, though the keyboard looks and feels more like a Chiclet-style laptop keyboard, right down to the shallow keystroke and lack of sculpting.

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The stand is large and U-shaped, mounted to the unit via hinges. You can adjust the tilt, but not the height. The stand can rotate parallel to the system, allowing you to lay the machine completely flat on a tabletop or other surface.

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That flexibility allows you to use this Sony system as a flat surface for interactive gaming, shared art, or presentations. Angling the stand for setting the system up in portrait mode is also possible, but the machine isn't very stable in that mode.

To facilitate use in the shared tabletop mode, Sony has built in a 5000 mAh battery, which can run the system for up to 3 hours sans power cord, depending on the brightness setting and use mode.

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