Sony makes some fantastic laptops. It has one foot firmly in the consumer camp and one in the business camp. This means business users stand a good chance of getting a laptop that is good at things like multimedia handling, while still being able to run a business-friendly version of Windows and keep up with the computing requirements of a working environment. The VAIO S comes in various versions, although we were sent the top of the range VPCS13V9E/B (£875 ex. VAT).
What is it and who is it for?
The Sony VAIO S is an ultraportable laptop with a relatively small screen. As such it is suitable for the businessperson who spends a lot of time on the move, but who does not need a large screened laptop for detailed spreadsheet work or viewing large and complex arrays of information.
You might think at first glance that this 13.3-inch laptop is ideal for the mobile worker to carry around. But at 2kg and measuring 329 x 229 x 27.6mm, it’s actually quite a porker. A quick shop around will find lighter and smaller laptops with this screen size. On the plus side, the build of the main body is very solid and the magnesium alloy chassis protects the insides from knocks and blows. We do have reservations about the level of protection offered to the screen, though, as the lid flexes rather too much.
Does it do it well?
Business people will be very pleased to learn that there is a fingerprint sensor on the VAIO VPCS13V9E/B. Embedded between the left and right trackpad buttons, this provides good security for all the important and confidential material you are likely to be carrying around on the laptop.
Our review sample had a generous 6MB of DDR3 SDRAM working alongside the Intel Corei5 460M 2.53GHz processor. A 64-bit version of Windows 7 Professional was installed. Great media playback was helped along by the discrete graphics capability provided for by an nVidia GeForce 310M chipset. Other configurations of this laptop use Intel’s own discrete, less powerful, graphics.
If you are interested in using your laptop to deliver video content to clients or maybe just to wind down after meetings when on the road, this will be welcome. But the speakers aren’t wonderful. They are quite loud and have better bass tones than many business laptops do, so they’ll probably cope well in a work situation. But for relaxing you’d still be best off using headphones.
The remaining specifications are on the high side of good. Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi with 802.11 a, b, g and n support and Bluetooth are joined by HSDPA capability with download speeds to 7.2Mbps and upload speeds to 5.76Mbps. There is a generous 500GB hard drive, and though it runs slow at 5400rpm, it does benefit from shock protection. Sadly, Sony doesn’t offer SSD options.
An optical drive nestles on the right side of the chassis. Oddly, its eject button is on the front edge. Connectors run to three USB 2.0 ports, Ethernet connector, 34mm ExpressCard slot, 4-pin i.Link connector, HDMI and VGA-out port. On the front edge there’s a Wi-Fi toggle button, a slot for SD compatible cards and another for Memory Stick compatible cards, headphones and microphone jacks.
Where does it disappoint?
The screen resolution is what you’d expect of a 13.3-inch panel at 1366 x 768 pixels. We really like the ambient light sensor which adjusts screen brightness as required and which can help conserve battery life.
But the screen has a reflective coating. These coatings can be problematic if you find yourself in a situation with a light source behind you or off to one side. Think of trying to type business e-mails while sitting on a train, for example. The screen of the VAIO VPCS13V9E/B is more reflective than many we’ve seen and we found it really tricky to work with a bright light off to one side.
The chiclet style keyboard with separated keys is wonderful with a great feel under the fingers that is conducive to fast touch typing. Like many VAIO laptops the keyboard is backlit. This is fine if you are sitting at a desk and working, but if you slouch on a sofa there is a lot of light bleed from underneath the keys and we found this extremely bright and very distracting.
Even the webcam, something we’d usually be extremely happy to see, has its downside. Webcams are increasingly used for video conferencing and the 640 x 480 resolution is perfectly good enough for that task. The software provided, though, is rather consumer grade. It does support motion detection, image and video capture, but it looks and feels very consumer friendly rather than professional user focussed.
And we have our usual grumble about the amount of software Sony crams onto the VAIO VPCS13V9E/B. There are various starter editions of applications such as McAfee and Norton Online Backup, and a range of additional apps and desktop shortcuts many of which you will want to remove. There is also Sony’s VAIO Gate shortcuts bar which sits along the top of the screen. If you like a clean laptop you’ll be doing a lot of software removal.
Long battery life is a must for the professional on the move and with just 2.5 hours of continuous video playback from a DVD movie, the VAIO VPCS13V9E/B does not earn a gold star in this department. Many people will need to find a power outlet at some point during their working day.
Would we recommend it?
If environmental considerations are important to you then the fact that 85% of the plastics in the VAIO VPCS13V9E/B are made from recycled materials may well appeal. You’ll also like that the LED is mercury free. The plentiful RAM and large hard drive might make this laptop appropriate for small business users who lack networked services and carry all their data and applications with them at all times, but you’ll be stacking these factors up against a somewhat heavy build and relatively expensive price. And then there’s the unwanted software to remove and a battery which will need feeding throughout the working day. Sony must do business better.