Vaio Z Canvas review: Cool 2-in-1 with desktop-PC power
The Vaio Z Canvas is a really powerful tablet PCs out there, and it’s designed for artists. If you’re looking for something like a Cintiq Companion 2 or Surface Pro 4, you may want to consider the Z Canvas.
Vaio was once part of Sony, but the Sony got out of the computer business. Several hundred designers and engineers at Vaio found investors and formed their own company in Japan using the same factory. The U.S. division opened in autumn of 2015. The fledgling company is seeking ways to distribute their devices and educate the public about them.
Other than the name, they have no connection to Sony, and now they have creative freedom. They have advanced what began as the Sony Vaio line, creating this as a mega-tablet for graphics professionals.
Vaio designed the Z Canvas in consultation with illustrators, animators, and photographers, including from Adobe, to create this powerful prosumer 2-in-1. (Prosumer is a device for professionals and consumers). Each unit gets the engineers’ “Azumino Finish” 50-point quality check.
Runs: Windows 10
Screen: 12.3 inch (diagonal)
Resolution: WQXGA+ 2560 x 1704
Aspect ratio: 3:2
Build: unibody aluminum, brushed aluminum surface
Color gamut: 100% sRGB, 95% Adobe RGB
Digitizer: N-trig with 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity
Pen (included): DuoSense, takes an AAAA battery
Processor: Intel Core i7-4770HQ quadcore hyperthreaded
RAM: 8GB or 16GB (not upgradeable)
Storage: SSD 256 GB Serial ATA or SSD 512 GB PCI Express or 1 TB PCI Express
Graphics: Intel Iris Pro 5200 integrated graphics
Battery: 63-watt high-capacity
Dimensions: tablet 8.4 in x 11.9 in. x 0.5 in – 11.9 in
Keyboard: 8.4 in x – 11.9 in x .02 in
Weight: PC Approx. 2.67 lbs.
Keyboard: about .75 lbs. (12 oz.)
Ports: Two USB 3.0
SD memory card reader
LAN (RJ45) port
Front camera .92MP, rear camera 8MP
What’s in the Box
Power cord and AC adapter
The Z Canvas’s 3:2 aspect ratio makes it easier to use in both landscape and portrait, but the easel stand, as with most tablets, only works in landscape mode.
The super-sharp screen boats a wide color gamut of 100% sRGB and 95% of the larger Adobe RGB gamut, making it excellent for artists who demand color accuracy. It’s unusual for a tablet to have the Adobe RGB gamut and if it does, it’s usually not such a high percentage. (The Samsung Galaxy TabPro S has a similarly wide gamut, and the Surface Pro 4 gets about 70% of Adobe RGB.) The IPS display looks great, with rich colors and deep contrasts, as well as good viewing angles.
The Vaio Z Canvas in action, with drawing in Photoshop and 3D sculpting in Zbrush.
5 – 6 hours with mixed use.
The Intel Core i7-4770HQ quadcore processor is extraordinary for a tablet and is usually found on laptops 15″ or larger. The Vaio Z is really a mobile workstation that functions as desktop replacement. It’s close to the MacBook Pro Retina in terms of processing power, and twice as fast as the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book. It uses the 4th-gen. Haswell CPU rather than the latest Skylake, but the hyperthreading makes up for it–this machine can multitask.
The most compared product to it is the Surface Pro 4, but The Z Canvas is much more powerful and so unusual that it’s in a class by itself–a tablet mobile workstation. The question is if the Z Canvas a quirky, short-lived bunch of ideas, or a step in the direction of art tablets overpowering other tablets and replacing desktops.
The “Z engine” is the core of the Z series design. It has to do with dense circuitry and heat dissipation. There’s a bit more info here (it’s in Japanese, but if you have a Translate button it will translate).
The computer with its three fans runs cool and quiet. The nice-looking vent blows air out of the top. Among elements that contribute to its cooling system are big copper pipes on the inside. The power brick, though, can get toasty.
A fast processor makes everything faster: bootup, opening programs, and graphics rendering. The Vaio is suitable for 2D and 3D animation, video editing, AutoCAD, and light to moderate gaming. While some desktops are faster, and this isn’t exactly a gaming machine, it’s the most powerful tablet so far. The Iris graphics are comparable to discrete graphics on other tablet PCs.
The tablet alone weighs about 2.7 lbs. and with the keyboard gets to over 3.25 pounds, and then add in the pen and power brick. It’s not terribly light, but still portable. In comparison, the Surface Pro 4 tablet part weighs about 1.7 lbs. and with the keyboard, about 2.3 lbs.
The very thin keyboard is chiclet-style and has low travel, but is quiet and not hard to use. It’s not backlit, making it inconvenient for use in the dark. If you’re someone who likes to lie on a bed or couch to use your computer, it’s probably not the best choice, as the stand isn’t meant to balance on lumpy blankets or breathing bellies.
The keyboard is meant to stay separate from the screen, as with a desktop. It’s not Bluetooth but RF (Radio Frequency) so doesn’t need to be paired, though you need to have Bluetooth turned on for the RF to work.
The keyboard should be kept within 20” (50 cm) away from the tablet for optimal performance. Also, remember to keep thongs with magnetic strips, such as credit cards, away from it.
It connects via magnets and a couple of pins in the bezel or a micro USB. Connecting it charges the keyboard battery, but only the RF actually makes the keyboard work.
You can’t stand the tablet up via the keyboard. The keyboard snaps on top of it and forms a protective cover.
There is a button that can toggle the keyboard power on and off so the keyboard won’t drain the battery.
You may find it most comfortable to put the keyboard a little behind the tablet, or to the side. These images, created by Vaio for a prototype, discourage the viewer from using the keyboard in the front, saying it causes fatigue. The second image is considered ideal. You might even try it the keyboard behind the screen–each user is different.
If you avail yourself of the Z Canvas’ on-screen shortcut menu, you won’t need to use the keyboard that much while drawing.
The easel stand is also unusual. Vaio, thinking ahead, says the idea is that the user might “unconsciously” want to change the angle of drawing, so they have designed the stand to be intuitive and easy to adjust without interrupting workflow.
You put the tablet on a table first then pull the stand down from where it’s ensconced flush in the middle of the back of the tablet, then push or pull the tablet to your desired angle. You can press reasonably hard while drawing without pushing it down.
To close it, push down on the tablet rather than closing it with your hand. You can set the tablet to any angle between 90 and 20 degrees, so fairly low to high. Vaio says the mechanism is made up of “springs, dampers, and cams.”
The Z Canvas is not very lappable, though with some effort it can be done. Best to place the keyboard on your lap and the tablet on a flat surface.
DRAWING ON THE VAIO Z CANVAS
The pen is N-trig, the digitizer tech now owned by Microsoft.
Two pen buttons sit flush in the barrel near the nib. The included soft grip collar provides a comfy, cushioned way to hold the pen, like memory foam for the fingers. Or you can go austere and take it off. Either way, the buttons are accessible. There is no eraser end. The buttons do right-click, open a clipping tool for making screen shots, and open OneNote
The pen attaches not that securely to a magnetic strip. There’s also a pen holder that attaches to holes on either side of the magnetic strip for a stronger way to keep the pen handy. The holder can be taken off with a pinch.
The pen has a tail cap, adding to the pen pieces to make sure to keep together—the cap, nib, battery, and collar.
Vaio worked hard to reduce parallax since the days of the Sony Vaio Flip. N-trig never did have much of a parallax issue, so they’re being perfectionistic here in trying for the look and feel of ink flowing right from the nib.
Instead of a gap of air between the top touch panel and the LCD, there’s now a thin layer of gel (optical resin), bringing the pen tip closer to the LCD. The DuoSense pen seems to be the same pen as with the old Sony Vaio devices.
You can also use the Surface Pen and its variety of nibs.
As with the Surface Pro 4, there are 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity, which feels a lot smoother than N-trig’s previous 256. There’s some hover lag, and you need to press down a bit harder than with Wacom pens. There does seem to be less drawing lag than with the Surface Pro 4. The nib is longer than on the Surface Pen.
The pressure curve is excellent (no blobs or sudden shifts, as sometimes happens with Wacom) and can be adjusted in the pen pressure utility. The nib has a bit of bite compared to the regular tip of the Surface Pen, so drawing doesn’t feel like skating over glass, but you may still want to use a matte screen protector if you prefer a more papery surface. (Photodon makes excellent screen protectors and there’s one specifically for the Vaio Z Canvas here.)
You can adjust the pen pressure curve via four points in the Pen Pressure Utility while viewing preview.
Vaio Z Canvas vs. Cintiq Companion 2. The Z Canvas can be compared to the Cintiq Companion 2 as art-specialized 2-in-1 tablets and to the Surface Pro 4 as well.
The screen of the Cintiq Companion 2 is a larger 13.3″ vs. the Z Canvas’ 12.3″, and the CC2 has a textured surface, vs. the Vaio’s smooth one. The Companion 2 also has an EMR pen, which is the most sensitive (besides the Apple Pencil) and offers tilt sensitivity, as well as rotation sensitivity with the ArtPen, drawing more organic lines. The CC2’s aspect ratio is 16:9, making it less appealing to use in portrait mode.
The Vaio’s screen is brighter at 250 nits to the Companion’s 150, and the Companion 2 has only about 5 hours of battery life on a good day–neither device has a very long battery life.
The Vaio’s pen has less parallax and no edge jitter, but you have to press harder.
The Surface Pro 4’s screen is the same size and aspect ratio though much brighter at 436 nits; it doesn’t cover as much of the Adobe RGB gamut, though. The SP4 weighs a pound less; and the digitizer also does not recognize tilt or rotation. The SP4 gets half the speed and power of the Vaio. The keyboard cover attaches to the Surface Pro 4 and holds it up. Battery life is about the same.
Which to get is a tough and individual decision. The highest-spec “enhanced” Cintiq Companion 2 comes the closest to the Vaio and is fast, but is still dual-core and doesn’t hit the Vaio’s speed.
The trackpad is large and works well, but doesn’t support 5-point gesture, which could be annoying if you’re used to using gesture on it, but I don’t think that’s a major issue.
Camera oddness. The Vaio has two cameras and oddly, the front facing one is only 1 MB (actually, .92). So you won’t be as tempted to spend a lot of time Skyping. The rear camera is a healthy 8 MB. You could go out and take photos and enjoy the 12.3″ inch preview. Or you could skip using a scanner by photographing your reference image, line drawing, or traditional art, etc. then importing it into your art program.
Two buttons on either side of the top edges reach a whole new level of cool. The one on the right shuts off the touchscreen, making it impervious to any palm-rejection glitches that might occur if your hand gets in the way of the hover area.
The left button brings up the customizable on-screen shortcuts, similar to those you would find on a graphics tablet or Cintiq. The shortcuts can be customized for each art program. You can use the automatic-fit setting so the menu won’t cover program icons.
You can also shut off the trackpad, which could come in handy if your hand keeps hitting it by accident.
Another interesting feature also found on the Vaio Flip is the Pencil board, accessible from the Tools menu. It gives you a transparent square that you can put over part of the screen, blocking any changes to it. It pleasantly slides around the screen. You can adjust its size and transparency, though it doesn’t become totally transparent. It’s easy to toggle on and off.
More art-specialized features: The unique mapping controls allow you to map the tablet to multiple monitors, so you can use the tablet as a sort of Cintiq, an input device for a larger display, making good use of the two ports that each support a 4K monitor.
More about those two buttons on top (the Express Keys or hotkeys and Disable Touchscreen): the hotkeys can be used on-screen even with the touchscreen is disabled–pretty ingenious, and it’s not hard to see why the disable-touch button has a patent pending.
USER REVIEWS AND EXPERIENCES
A lot of artists voice enthusiastic praise in their Vaio Z Canvas reviews. For many, it’s the tablet they’ve been waiting for. Users love the speed, multitasking and multimedia abilities, and the touches such as the Pencil Window and keyboard shortcut menu.
On the downside, some feel it’s a bit heavy, or too difficult to balance other than on a flat table.
Powerful, fast processor
SD card slot that lets you push card all the way in
Can open the back
easy disabling of touch
good amount of ports, including Ethernet
Lots of ports (for a tablet)
Some (not all) users have had problems with keyboard disconnecting
Not very lappable
Keyboard not backlit
Not the lightest tablet
Memory not upgradeable (as with most tablets)
Some glitches some users have noted are: light bleed; pen fragility; and issues with the keyboard disconnecting.
Despite a few odd choices (such as lack of a backlit keyboard, and the 1MP front camera), the Vaio Z Canvas is a powerful art tool with a “cool factor.” Too bad it doesn’t have a specially made carrying case. Or a USB-C port. Despite all this, our Vaio Z Canvas review is positive, because of all the good things it does have.
It’s probably the only tablet truly good for editing 4K video. It works well with AutoCAD too. It’s ideal for video editors or those working with very large photo and art files. Others won’t need all the power and may choose a larger screen.
The main sticking points are the small screen size, and, I still prefer the feel of Wacom pens and digitizers but that’s an individual thing (I’m a light presser). Many people are happy with both the Vaio pen and the Surface Pen, and both work on this. We will see what the future holds with the Wacom-Microsoft pens due out this holiday season.
Much work has gone into catering to the needs of graphics professionals, making the Z Canvas a powerful addition to any artist’s arsenal.
End of Vaio Z Canvas review