Sony VAIO S VPCSA290X (2011) Review
The Sony VAIO S’ impressive performance, light weight, and powerful graphics make it a solid contender in the ultraportable laptop category.
Lowest Price: $1,479.95
Sony is so confident that the VAIO S is a superior ultraportable laptop that the company proudly compares the notebook to Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Pro. And in a lot of ways this notebook is better, thanks to a lighter weight, higher-resolution display, more storage space, and a Blu-ray drive. This $1,399 Core i5 machine also packs switchable AMD graphics and lasts more than five hours on a charge–and that’s without the optional battery slice that adds several more hours of juice. Does this 13-incher provide enough bang for your buck to bring down the champ?
Aesthetically, the Sony VAIO S follows a less-is-more path. The notebook’s jet-black magnesium lid is highly resistant to fingerprints and smudges. (You can also order this version of the VAIO S in platinum silver.) The chrome-plated VAIO insignia and hinge are the only exterior flourishes. The polished hinge looks attractive, but it didn’t feel as sturdy as the rest of the system. The lid on our unit occasionally wobbled back and forth when we lifted or moved the notebook.
Following the same minimalist design as the exterior, the interior features a black aluminum deck with a smaller version of the VAIO logo and the mouse buttons done in chrome plating. The deck sinks in at a subtle angle, where it houses an island-style keyboard. The only splashes of color come from the gray touchpad, the purple text on the ASSIST button, and the power button that glows green when the laptop is on and pink when it’s sleeping.
The 13.0 x 8.8 x 0.9-inch VAIO S is around the same size as the 13-inch MacBook Pro (12.8 x 8.9 x 1 inches), but it weighs in at a waif-like 3.6 pounds, nearly a pound less than the Apple (4.5 pounds) and a little less than the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 (3.8 pounds). However, the VAIO S’ weight increases to 4.8 pounds–and its thickness to 1.3 inches–when its slice battery is snapped on, making it heavier than the MacBook Pro.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The VAIO S has an island-style backlit keyboard with generous space between its large black keys. The keys provided firm and ample feedback, which combined with the soft-touch palm rest allowed us to type comfortably with few errors. Using the Ten Thumbs Typing test, we achieved a strong score of 86 words per minute, a little higher than our typical 80-wpm average.
Multitouch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom, two-finger rotation, and flicks were quick and responsive on the large and smooth 3.7 x 2-inch touchpad (made by Alps). However, it took more swipes than we’d like to get from one side of the desktop to the other. Despite having a fingerprint sensor positioned between them, the long touchpad buttons were easy to activate. We just wish the fingerprint scanner itself made it easier to register a finger; we regularly received error messages telling us our swipe was either too fast or too slow.
After 15 minutes of streaming Hulu at full screen, the VAIO’s touchpad registered a chilly 85 degrees Fahrenheit, while the space between the G and H keys measured 91 degrees. The bottom of the laptop was slightly warmer at 97 degrees, two degrees warmer than what we deem to be comfortable. The hottest point on the VAIO S was the vent located under the back hinge, which kicked out hot 113-degree air.
Ports and Webcam
The right side of the VAIO houses one USB 3.0 port, two USB 2.0 ports, HDMI, Ethernet, a VGA port, an SD card reader, a Memory Stick PRO Duo media slot, and a power jack. The left side features a Blu-ray drive and a headphone jack. On the notebook’s front lip sits the wireless switch.
The VAIO S’ webcam can capture stills and video up to 1280 x 1024. Images were vivid but somewhat grainy under florescent lights. We achieved better results at home in natural light after making a few adjustments in the ArcSoft Webcam Companion settings panel. We also noticed that the camera’s autofocus and facial tracking were quick and accurate, thanks to the built-in Exmor sensor, which also adjusted for the low-light conditions.
Display and Audio
The VAIO S’ 13.3-inch, backlit display has a matte finish and a relatively high resolution of 1600 x 900 pixels. We appreciate the extra pixels because it translates into more real estate when viewing web pages and opening windows side by side. Unfortunately, the picture quality wasn’t that impressive. During the 1080p YouTube trailer for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, we noticed that images were rather muddy, nullifying the electric blue stream of power from Voldemort’s wand. An episode of the The Daily Show on Hulu looked better.
Audiophiles in search of crisp, clear sound should look elsewhere. Audio provided by the four tiny slots masquerading as speakers was loud enough to fill a small room, but it sounded flat. As we listened to “E.T.” by Katy Perry featuring Kanye West, we noticed the bass line was non-existent while Perry’s vocals were high and tinny, especially during the chorus. Engaging the Dolby Audio Enhancer under the VAIO S’ settings helped clean up the sound a little.