Sony VAIO S 15-inch (VPCSE16FX/B) Review
The Sony VAIO S is the lightest 15-inch laptop yet, offers plenty of power, and costs hundreds less than the MacBook Pro.
Lowest Price: $1,199.99
With the 15-inch VAIO S, Sony just opened up a second front in its laptop war against Apple. Just as the 13-inch VAIO S challenged the similarly sized MacBook Pro, this larger mainstream system goes head to head against the 15-inch MacBook Pro. And with a starting price of just $999 ($1,299 as configured), the Sony costs several hundred less than the Mac. But is the VAIO S the best 15-incher among its Windows-based competition?
Much like the 13-inch VAIO S, the 15-inch version has a simple, understated look. Both the lid and deck are a matte black aluminum that’s great at resisting fingerprints. The only bits of flair are the chrome VAIO logo and hinge. Those looking for a little more bling can opt for a platinum silver finish. It’s a marked contrast to a system such as the Dell XPS 15z, whose silver chassis and myriad design elements stand out much more–for better and worse.
For a 15-inch laptop, the VAIO S is a remarkably light 4.4 pounds. That’s more than a pound lighter than the MacBook Pro (5.6 pounds) as well as the Acer Aspire TimelineX 5830T (5.4 pounds) and the Dell Inspiron 15z (5.6 pounds); with its slice battery, the VAIO S increases to 5.8 pounds.
The VAIO S’ lightness is only matched by its thinness. While it has a wide footprint–15 x 10.1 inches–it’s just under 1-inch thick. So while this notebook stretched our messenger bag a bit, we were able to cram it in and carry it home (along with the power brick) with ease.
After we streamed a Hulu video for 15 minutes at full screen, the 15-inch VAIO S’ touchpad was a cool 76 degrees Fahrenheit, and the space between the G and H keys was a similarly comfortable 79 degrees. The middle of the underside got up to 94 degrees, which is just on the edge of what we consider uncomfortable. Unfortunately, when the notebook’s fan kicked on, it got quite loud.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The wide deck of the 15-inch VAIO S allows it to comfortably fit a full-size keyboard and number pad alongside it. We also like that the keyboard is backlit, a standard feature for this model. However, we wish there were a way to adjust the brightness manually. The island-style keys were plenty large and comfortable to type on, but their travel was a bit shallow, so it wasn’t as ideal as typing on the MacBook Pro.
We liked the spacious 3.75 x 2.3-inch Synpatics touchpad and the gigantic mouse buttons. Multitouch gestures, such as pinch-to-zoom and rotate, worked fairly well, but we wish it supported two-finger scrolling; the right and bottom edges are set up as scroll zones. The mouse buttons are big and clicky, just the way we like.
Display and Audio
The Sony VAIO S display measures 15.5 inches and features a 1920 x 1080 resolution by default, a feature we greatly appreciate. We could easily view two web pages side by side, and Blu-rays looked splendid in their full HD glory. While watching Iron Man, Tony Stark’s suit–as well as his collection of hot rods–sparkled, blacks were nice and deep, and everything was as crisp as could be.
Especially considering Sony’s pedigree, the audio on the VAIO S was sorely disappointing. The two puny speakers above the keyboard produced flat, tinny audio. Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” sounded like it was playing on an AM station; vocals were thin and scratchy, and bass was almost non-existent. Explosions in Iron Man lacked punch and had a fuzzy quality to them.
Ports and Webcam
The right side of the 15-inch VAIO S has two USB 2.0 ports, one USB 3.0 port, HDMI, VGA, Ethernet, an SD card slot, and a slot for Sony’s increasingly irrelevant Memory Sticks. The left side is bare, save for a tray-loading Blu-ray drive and a headphone jack. The front edge has a switch on the left side to activate the notebook’s wireless radios.
The VAIO S’ webcam captured high-quality video up to 1280 x 1024 in resolution. It was able to pick up details such as our blue checked shirt, but skin tones were slightly orange, as if we’d applied a spray tan. While the notebook has low-light compensation, it wasn’t as effective as the HP Pavilion dv7t or the Lenovo ThinkPad T420, both of which worked in pitch-black conditions.
However, the bundled ArcSoft Webcam utility has some nice features, including masques (which places your face inside a picture), frames, and a monitor, which will snap a photo when the webcam detects movement.