Hands-On Review of the VAIO Z Canvas Tablet Computer as a Mobile Photography Workstation

Hands-On Review of the VAIO Z Canvas Tablet Computer as a Mobile Photography Workstation

When on the go, a working photographer needs to balance portability, versatility, and power in everything they carry. The choice of computer while away from the home base is critical because it can dictate your capabilities and work potential over these periods of time. In this hands-on review, I take a look at the 12.3-inch VAIO Z Canvas tablet-laptop hybrid as a mobile workstation for photographers.

The VAIO Z Canvas was used as a machine to dump memory cards, perform image catalog organization, take on realistic editing tasks while mobile (not 50-layer PSB files of excruciating paid work), and be a source of entertainment on trips.

The Z Canvas from VAIO is made with a one-piece aluminum alloy cut body and uses robust six-sided tempered glass to up the ante in durability. There's nothing about it that feels flimsy, and without dropping it I'll have to take VAIO's word on its strength.

Built-In Stand

The built-in stand on the Z Canvas allows the tablet to be set at different angles depending on how you are using it. Folding it all the way out works well for browsing and typing, and folding it down so the display is more angled is good for drawing with the stylus pen. The stand holds well for pen use and is stiff in the direction of folding it back inside the tablet. Folding it outwards has a lot less resistance. The stand foot is much more useful than the Surface Pro in my opinion because of the various angles allowed. However, the drawback is that it's not wide enough to stand in your lap. Compounded by the keyboard not magnetically attaching to the bottom side of the display like a laptop design, you'll need flat table to work on if you are not using the Z Canvas as a touch tablet.

Digital Stylus Pen

The stylus pen has 1,024 level of pressure sensitivity which can be customized to the user's preference of hardness or softness. It's comfortable to use and has two buttons on it for shortcut actions. You can quickly switch from pen mode to touch mode in Windows 10 so that your hand isn't causing clicks when brushing with the pen.

A plastic detachable pen holder comes with the tablet and can be press fit into the side. I've had it fall off while grabbing the tablet from my bag, so it may be easy to lose.

Interestingly, after using the stylus to draw directly to my images, I realized I prefer using an off-screen drawing tablet to edit so that my hand isn't covering up the screen and what I'm working on. This would probably be a different case if you were an illustrator creating objects from scratch, rather than a photographer using mask brushes and such for painting over image details that are already there.

Wireless Keyboard

The full-size keyboard attaches key side in via magnets to the tablet for simplified transport. When in use, the keyboard is completely separate from the Z Canvas and connects wirelessly. For photo editing on a desk, this means that you can have the keyboard and tablet side by side, working with the pen in one hand on the tablet and hitting keyboard shortcuts with the other. I would have really appreciated having the keyboard able to connect to the bottom of the tablet for a clamshell style experience that is better suited for use without a desk available.

In one scenario of having the tablet propped up on a table surface and the wireless keyboard in your lap, I found it had too much flex in it. When you use the trackpad the bending that happens when you tap down to click would throw off the cursor on the display and you'd miss your click target.

Of course as a tablet, the keyboard is just an accessory. The on-screen keyboard is large and easy to type on with this wide display. I was surprised by how fast I was able to type with it.

In a related downside with the Z Canvas, the rubber feet on the back of the tablet only contact the table surface when using the stand and not while laying flat. The keyboard has them for laying the device flat, but if you're setting down the tablet without the keyboard attached it's going to scuff the computer over time.

12.3-Inch Display

The 12.3-inch LCD IPS display has a screen resolution of 2560x1704. The glossiness can make it hard to see while outdoors, however it can at least get very bright to minimize the viewing difficulty (at the cost of power). It has an honorable 95 percent coverage of the Adobe RGB spectrum. Also because the Z Canvas is a full-fledged computer with a non-crippled operating system, monitor calibration with a colorimeter is possible. Just be sure to turn off the adaptive brightness setting hidden away in the system settings.

Port City

As an on-the-run machine, the ample ports available are a blessing in this day and age. The Z Canvas has most things you need: headphone jack, two USB 3.0 ports, SD memory card reader, HDMI output, Mini DisplayPort, LAN port, and a separate port for the power adapter. With the Mini DisplayPort and HDMI out ports, the tablet can handle dual output to 4K monitors.

Battery Power

The Z Canvas contains a 63Wh high-capacity battery. Despite the high number, I wasn't getting incredible battery life. Working on the machine using photo editing software would give me between three and four good hours of productivity. The i7 processor is likely demanding a lot of this battery, and for multi-day use, finding a power source is a requirement unless you really manage your work time wisely.

The tablet I'm using would give a 10 percent battery life warning prompt, but would then surprise you by automatically powering down at some point between 7 and 9 percent battery left according to the menu status. I learned quick that the 10 percent warning meant I was done.

The power adapter has a three-prong connector which limits plug in options while on the go compared to a MacBook's two-prong plug.

Performance

The Vaio Z Canvas comes in three different configurations. The lowest price configuration comes with 8 GB of RAM and a 256 GB SATA SSD, the mid-tier option includes 16 GB of RAM and a 512 GB PCIe SSD, while the maxed-out configuration features 16 GB of RAM and a total 1 TB PCIe SSD (512 GB x2). All versions of the Z Canvas come with Windows 10 Pro installed, sport Intel Core i7-4770HQ processors with Intel Iris Pro Graphics 5200.

One of the most important facets of this machine is the ability to handle Photoshop, Lightroom, Capture One Pro, and any other professional photography programs running without missing a beat. This was something I was specifically interested in from a standpoint of being away from home for a few days at a time while out photographing and wanting to complete low to medium intensive editing tasks while there was downtime in the shooting day. The performance the Z Canvas offers in this area is quite impressive, and I didn't have any hiccups while working with large raw files. The three fans are sure to kick in to keep you company when layers start being added in Photoshop, but overall I was pleased with the results and reliability in this area.

Vaio Z Canvas accessories supplied in the box are an AC adapter, stylus pen, stylus holder attachment, a stylus grip, and a cleaning cloth.

Windows 10 Pro

The cool thing about the Z Canvas is that it is able to run full-on Windows 10 Pro. The bad thing is that it is running Windows 10 Pro.

Windows 10 is a mess. I really, really wanted to like it going into this review, because if I found I liked it then that would open up a whole new world for me. It's a more comforting thought to be stuck in the Apple ecosystem just because I like it, not also because it's the only option I have. However, this is obviously just my personal take on the operating system. Fstoppers Writer Burak Erzincanli built up a custom PC last summer after being all-in on Macs, and according to him he said it's easy to adapt to Windows 10 after a while. I’m a very visual-minded person, and so much I encountered in Windows 10 was downright ugly. I've heard a lot of Windows users agree with this, but still their priorities aren't in the looks of their desktop and apps when there are other important factors to be considered when talking PC versus Mac.

From my experience with the Z Canvas, Windows 10 is also not optimized very well for touchscreen devices. There is a “tablet mode,” but I found that mode just introduces a worse computing experience rather than benefitting touchscreen users.

A couple things that had me stumped was not being able to figure out how to enable autocorrect (system settings showed it as enabled, but it wasn’t), and trying to disable tap-to-click on the trackpad. From troubleshooting online, apparently manufacturers can load in their own custom settings panels for Windows, and for whatever reason VAIO doesn’t allow you to disable tap-to-click whereas other manufacturers have this option. The amount of mis-clicks and accidental opening or dragging of files was maddening and there was no stopping it.

What I Liked

  • It's a full-blown laptop in a tablet form.
  • Can run professional photography applications for editing and cataloging.
  • The display shows 95 percent Adobe RGB spectrum.
  • Has a built-in stand.
  • Being able to use the keyboard and tablet side by side wirelessly.
  • The two-button stylus gives you quick shortcuts.
  • The ports are a big plus over an iPad Pro.

What I Didn’t Like

  • Windows 10 is extremely jarring coming from MacOS.
  • The keyboard does not magnetically dock in a clamshell fashion. It's also too flexible for using the trackpad on your lap and has no backlighting for the keys.
  • The battery life is not as good as I'd want it to be.
  • The speaker audio sounds like it's coming from a tin can behind a wall. It's disappointingly low quality and I would expect better performance than my smartphone is capable of.
  • The price, currently around $1,750 on Amazon for the 16 GB RAM model, is steep.

Overall, the VAIO Z Canvas is a very capable computer for processing images and working with large files on the go. It does have a bit of that all-in-one flair to it that makes it an attractive mobile machine for photographers and other creatives, but by being so many different things it comes at a cost. You can have the power but it will cost you battery life; You can have the wireless keyboard connectivity but it will cost you the "lap" in laptop; You can do this, that, and the other but there's a hefty price to pay.

The Vaio Z Canvas is available now through Amazon or the VAIO website.

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11 Comments

Diko Jelev's picture

Since when the article "like" and the social buttons are in left side of the site? Anyways.

Win 10 is both great with a lot of GUI improvements. However some features (especially in the "Settings" field) are hard to access even for a seasoned Win user like me. I can only imagined for a MAC evangelist what it is like. ;-)

As for the tablet. No 32 GB RAM version? Why? Basic - 8GB, Mid - 16 GB and High - 16 - doesn't make any sense. Unless the motherboard or the CPU's northbridge chipset can't handle it.

But that IS stupid. Not a workstation - but does it mean that one should ALWAYS count on the heavy artillery for the heavy jobs?

If this little baby had 32 GB (with that 1 TB SSD) - I could use it for 95% of all work (provided I am equipped with an extra battery and patience) I could adapt for the latter 5%. ;-) And I do hardcore like compositing (image-wise in photoshop, no heavy video).

Ryan Mense's picture

Our awesome web guy has been doing a little tinkering here and there on the site. I'm happy you noticed, hopefully you dig the changes!

Yeah, wow, the Settings window was crazy. It's been about a decade since I used Windows and it was a little much to take on, haha. The amount of embarrassing Google searches that were made to get myself around some things...

And I'm a little scared of what they would be charging for a 32 GB + 1 TB SSD version if it existed.

Ariel Martini's picture

any notes on temperature and speed downgrade due to overheat?

Daris Fox's picture

To respond to your criticisms about Windows 10 (and the settings panel above). Windows 10 is a transitional OS, it's not fully fleshed out and MS has repeatedly stated this. Many people coming from OS X don't realise this fact as they don't watch MS news keep an eye on the it's developments, but considering that Win 10 is the only OS that works on tablet, Xbox, Hololens, desktop, IoT and mobile (!?) then when you look at it in that light then you have to reconsider the design decisions. It's an OS that has 20 odd years of legacy libraries, graphics and other necessities for backwards compatibility. OS X on the other hand was a clean slate where Apple has repeated killed off support for older hardware. Win 10 happily runs on an Intel P4 with 1Gb of RAM. Maybe not well, but it runs.

The Settings panel has also improved in the latest Creators Update as MS transitioned more of the most commonly required settings across from control panel. The Control Panel is now considered part of the legacy OS and for only advanced functionality and for older programs.

I'm not defending MS here, I'm stating the reasons about what MS is doing what it's doing. They have just committed to six monthly OS updates that will bring added functionality to the OS. If you don't you like a feature then send feedback to MS, they actively listen to the community and do act upon that feedback when there is enough support.

Windows 10 is about the future, where all devices are touch first (which is already happening in the next generation growing up with phones and tablets all day). It may not look great, but it's functional and gets the job done and is a marked improvement on previous versions of Windows.

On a side note, how's the support for Vaio? I've always had problems with Sony supporting devices and actually getting drivers for an OS rebuild. Apart from ports I think the Surface Pro or the Lenovo Yoga offering are a better choice, especially looking at that anaemic stand which I think is all but useless in most scenarios I'd use it for. It'll be interesting to see a shoot out between Windows 10 tablets and 3-in-1s from a photographers perspective (I've done one myself between the Yoga and the Pro a few years back).

>>To respond to your criticisms about Windows 10 (and the settings panel above). Windows 10 is a transitional OS, it's not fully fleshed out and MS has repeatedly stated this. Many people coming from OS X don't realise this fact as they don't watch MS news keep an eye on the it's developments, but considering that Win 10 is the only OS that works on tablet, Xbox, Hololens, desktop, IoT and mobile (!?) then when you look at it in that light then you have to reconsider the design decisions. It's an OS that has 20 odd years of legacy libraries, graphics and other necessities for backwards compatibility. OS X on the other hand was a clean slate where Apple has repeated killed off support for older hardware<<

Speaking as a professional, this is bs.

The "break" with OS X had nothing to do with the new interface - it was the cost of porting the BSD kernel and the desire to sell new hardware. And excusing bad interface design because it is "transitional" is meaningless. And justifying bad interface design because it is multiple platform is worse. If you can't work out a design for an multiple platform interface that works as well as single ones, you just don't implement it...

In particular, destroying the usability of your desktop so you can make it more like a phone interface when you can only get 1% of the phone market is possibly the stupidest business decision of all time. The main effect seems to have been to cost MS phone market share - people are stuck with using W8 and W10, hate them, and then won't look at MS products in the phone market, where they do have a choice... (I actually do use a Windows phone btw! Mostly because MS has made itself so hated that I could pick up a mint iPhone 6 class phone for a $100...)

In fact the best OS interface wise now is probably Linux. Which is bizarre. But Linux allows you to stick multiple interfaces on top of a core OS, so you download Ubuntu and try out different interfaces from a media kiosk set-up to power-user interfaces like xmonad that would drive 99% of users to despair but are increase the utility of the interface 100% for the target users.

This is why MS's approach is so horrendous - they're trying to force everyone into a single dumbed interface for all their devices. Well, no. John, Jane and Jack want different things from their desktop and none of them want the same thing from their desktop and their phone.

>> Windows 10 is about the future, where all devices are touch first (which is already happening in the next generation growing up with phones and tablets all day) <<

Ergonomicists *hate* touch screens for desktop use - they're RSI factories. Honestly, before you rant about the future of computing it might be an idea to learn some of the basics...

(Also: is any human being willing to admit that they are so stupid the switching between touch and a mouse is an intellectual challenge? I really doubt it.)

Daris Fox's picture

People may rant about RSI and other issues with regards to touch, but the simple fact is the next generation are using touch devices on a daily basis now. Schools and education establishments are increasingly using touch. So the ergonomic issue will have to be resolved sooner rather than later, the horse has bolted. Touch and pen for many applications is far more intuitive and faster than using a mouse/keyboard (which is just as prone to RSI). Also touch doesn't always mean 'screen' which is the most common application today but also AR and VR which is what's being developed already.

Also the current UI/UX will be changing once more in Windows 10, to what's called CShell (or Composite Shell). It's impossible to redesign a complete OS in the 2 years MS had. In fact since you're point out Linux. How about the UX/UI of Ubuntu with it's unity interface that was universally reviled and forced them to revert back to Gnome? It broke a lot of long term standing UI/UX paradigms that was common place (such as drag and drop on to task bar). Then you have KDE and Gnome, or even Enlightenment with their own idiosyncratic ways plus they often lack the polish/stability of say MS or Apple. I have experience of trying to roll out a pilot Linux project to an Enterprise team, and the single thing that most people hated was the interface followed by the lack of compatibility with the rest of the company based on the user feedback. That was after extensive training.

What cost MS the mobile market was a multitude of factors, the interface was actually wasn't one of them (it actually influenced iOS and Android, plus won numerous awards). It was the simple fact they burned developers by changing the foundations too many times, was late to an entrenched market and also MS was, and still is to many, one of the hated companies which lead to a lot of negative press. That's only some of the factors, there are countless other failings at MS for the what happened with Windows Phone, Windows Mobile is still in active usage and development now as a Enterprise device OS as seen with the HP X3.

Also you're neglecting something rather important with Windows 10, the UWP platform, which if gets supported by developers means you use an app on any device. This already has seen some take up in Enterprise with custom apps that can transition across desktop, tablet and mobile. They're also more secure and reduce system clutter. Windows 10 is far more than the hated interface, something that most people ignore. There's little difference in how Windows 10 works with it's Start Menu system over the Live Tiles system.

You need to learn to read more carefully, Darius. I didn't say that touch devices are an RSI problem. ***I said that touch screens on DESKTOPS are.*** The reason for this should be rather obvious: you hold at phone in your hand at optimum touch distance and the screen is small. This is not the case for a desktop monitor. If a typical monitor is at optimum eye distance then touching the edges of the screen will involve exactly the sort of over-extension movements that cause RSI when repeated.

Again, you are applying Dunning Kruger logic. You assume that because you don't see a problem in a complicated area you've never studied there isn't one. This isn't how reality works! Ignorance is not a magical substitute for knowledge and hard work.

>> Also you're neglecting something rather important with Windows 10, the UWP platform, which if gets supported by developers means you use an app on any device. <<

Again, this is Dunning Kruger logic. This technology is decades old - you use it whenever you run a SNES emulator on your PC or phone. It's never really made an impact on the marketplace because people don't actually want it. For the tolerably obvious reason that generally they want to do different things on different platforms. I don't want to write a novel on my phone and I don't want to play a game designed for a small screen and accelerometer interface on my desktop. I might want to edit photos on both platforms, but using the same tool would be idiotic. The desktop exists to give access to more processing power; I want a power user image editor on the desktop and a simple one on the phone. There are very few apps I want on both - the only one I use that I can think of wanting to use a on a phone and a desktop without changes for the different way I'll use the app is a media player. And I have VLC on both.

>>> How about the UX/UI of Ubuntu with it's unity interface that was universally reviled and forced them to revert back to Gnome? <<<

Again, you need to learn to read more carefully and to stop applying DK logic.

First of all - as I explained in really quite simple words - Ubuntu was always available in different interfaces, so you never had the problem that W10 creates as a sole interface. Ubuntu is currently available with LXDE, XFCE, Cinnamon, Gnome, various kiosk interfaces, half a dozen tiling managers (which is an idea that has nothing to do with W10 tiles) and probably still KDE and Compiz Fusion 3D desktops. There was NEVER a time when it was only available with Unity. Is this really too hard to understand?

Secondly, I'm not sure how Ubuntu trying an interface, finding it was a disaster even as one option among many, and abandoning it means that it is a good idea for MS to persist with a similar, even more hated, interface as its sole option???

Daris Fox's picture

How do you know I've never studied health and safety, work related injuries and UX/UI design? That's a big assumption on your own part.

I'm quite aware of muscular structure/movement, viewing angles, angles of incidence for light reflectivity, UX/UI paradigms for both touch, KVM, Spatial, and other types of case uses. Each device type and size have different usage patterns that's not just based on size/type but also behavioural depending on tasks and activities. Case in example listening to music a device in the pocket but taking a call is in a persons hand, taking a call with BT, and reading e-mail. Each of those positions have to take into consideration of environmental factors such as sunlight (which can be mitigated by polarised layers, screen brightness, coatings or a combination of), privacy, social, and other activities.

However all this is far off-topic to the original post.

>>> How do you know I've never studied health and safety, work related injuries and UX/UI design? That's a big assumption on your own part<<<

Because no competent person who studied these subjects would make the mistakes you did. Confusing the use case for a 24 inch wide desktop screen and a phone screen - for anyone with relevant training - requires a degree of incompetence that it was polite to assume you are incapable of.

Anonymous's picture

Thanks for the post. I bought my Z when it first hit the market & practically traded my old pro-retina MacBook outright for it. I personally favor it over the old Mac. Cheers~

Basically a Microsoft Surface with some photo editing software? Thanks but no I will stick with my MAC and get the results I know I will get. Windows 10 was never developed for a surface device. You want quick and dirty photo editor then this might work. Short of that a waste of time.