Sony VAIO T Ultrabook Review


After biding their time, Sony has finally released their version of an Ultrabook, the Sony Vaio T. While Sony is not new in the small laptop game (previously having released a VAIO Z, VAIO X, and VAIO P), the Vaio T is the first of its laptops to be marketed as an Ultrabook. While they may be a little late in the Ultrabook game, Sony took their time to develop and design the Vaio T around the latest Ivy Bridge processor family and their highly-regarded HD 4000 graphics. So how does Sony’s affordable Ultrabook stack up against the competition? Read on to find out.

Sony VAIO T Review

The Sony Vaio T under review comes with the following specs:

  • Processor: Intel Core i5-3317U (1.7GHz, TurboBoost to 2.6GHz, 3MB cache)
  • Graphics: Intel HD 4000
  • Memory: 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • Display: 13.3” 1366 x 768 resolution
  • OS: Windows 7 Professional
  • Storage: 500GB HDD + 32GB mSATA SSD cache drive
  • Battery: 4-cell 4050mAh
  • Wireless: Atheros AR9485WB-EG 802.11 b/g/n
  • Ports: Ethernet, HDMI, VGA,USB 3.0 (x1), USB 2.0 (x1), headphone jack, SHDC card reader
  • Dimensions: 12.72” x 8.9” x 0.71” (32.31 x 22.61 x 1.8 cm)
  • Weight: 3.4 lbs (1.54 kg)
  • Warranty: 1 year depot

Build and Design

A small, lightweight Ultrabook, the Sony Vaio T is barely noticeable in a messenger bag or backpack. The Vaio T shares a lot of the same design features as its more expensive brother, the Vaio Z; however, the T is aimed more at people who want premium styling without the major price hike that many premium designs command, nor have the need for a full-voltage processor (hence why the Vaio Z isn’t defined as an Ultrabook). Instead of carbon fiber, the T is composed mainly of aluminum and plastic trim, located along the back edge of the laptop as well as the center of the top edge. The top of the lid has a brushed metal styling with the Vaio logo emblazed in the center in a chrome-like finish similar to the back edge.

VAIO T lid

While there is no noticeable flex in the keyboard, it’s relatively easy to bend the display a few degrees in each direction with moderate force. It goes without saying that it’s bad practice to handle a notebook by the display, so it’s good practice to be careful not to apply excessive force on the display to prevent damage. Aside from the display, the rest of the notebook is rock solid. One interesting feature is that there are two prongs on the back edge of the laptop that prop up the laptop’s body at a slight angle when the display is opened. Whether or not it’s an advantage is up to the individual user; personally, I like having keyboards that are raised at an angle, but others may not like this feature.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The Vaio T’s keyboard, like practically all Ultrabooks on the market, is a compromise on quality due to the small, thin package. However, the keyboard is sub-par even compared to other Ultrabooks such as the Lenovo IdeaPad U310. Key travel on the Vaio T is especially short, bottoming out as soon as you press down on a key. Any less key travel and it would feel like you’re just tapping your fingers on the palm rest. A saving grace for this keyboard is that it features a standard keyboard layout, and excludes odd button placement such as the U310’s special function keys being on the right edge of the keyboard. The Vaio’s only extra keys (Assist, Web, and Vaio) are out of reach enough not to be accidently pressed. Pressing Assist will launch Sony’s VAIO Care maintenance software. Clicking the Web key will launch the user’s default web browser. The Vaio key will launch a window, asking you if you want to launch either PlayMemories or Media Galley.

DSC00065-001

In contrast, the touchpad on the Vaio T is well designed and doesn’t feature any compromise. At four inches wide and about two and a quarter inches tall, the touchpad is fairly large. It has a similar texture to the aluminum palm rest, though the touchpad is recessed to allow the user to know when their finger is on either the palm rest or the touchpad. Clicking anywhere but the bottom-right on the touchpad produces a satisfying left-click (the whole thing is a giant button).

extra buttons and power button

Display

At 1366 x 768, the amount of screen real estate is only average, but this is the norm for most small Ultrabooks out on the market these days (though some do come with 1600 x 900 displays). Just about everything about the TN panel used in the Sony Vaio T is average: color quality, black levels, viewing angles, etc. The display is pretty bright compared to the Lenovo IdeaPad U310, however. Overall, there’s nothing particularly remarkable about this display to report.

VAIO T Screen VAIO T Screen back
VAIO T Screen forward VAIO T Screen side

Audio

Sony’s Vaio T certainly has enough volume to satisfy an end user and perhaps a few friends when sharing a video, though the speakers on this laptop are noticeably tinny, especially when played at above 50%. If you took an iPod Touch’s internal speaker and manage to boost the volume up to typical laptop levels, you would have audio only slightly worse than this Ultrabook. A pair of quality headphones or earphones would be highly recommended.

Ports

As an Ultrabook, the number of ports on the system is somewhat limited, but this is to be expected in such a small package. Like nearly all Ultrabooks, the Sony Vaio T lacks an optical drive, though with the rise in cloud computing, flash storage, and media downloads directly to customers’ computers, this part of the system is becoming more and more irrelevant as time passes.

On the left, we only have the two USB ports and the cooling vent for the laptop internals.

VAIO T left side

On the right, we have the rest of the ports: a headphone jack, card reader, HDMI and VGA video out options, and Ethernet port. There’s a small orange light (between the headphone jack and card reader) that serves as an activity light for whatever card is stuck in the slot.

DSC00070-001

The front has three indicator lights for (from left to right) battery charging, HDD activity, and wireless indicator. Also on the front edge of this Vaio are the two speaker “grills” (really more like small slots).

DSC00073-001

Just like the front, the back of the Sony Vaio T is clean of any sort of ports, only containing the display hinges.

DSC00072-001

Heat and Noise

During normal operation, the Sony Vaio T is a silent machine. The user won’t hear the mechanical drive or the fan when just browsing the web or doing other low-intensive tasks. When typing on the keyboard, the individual keys make the same sort of noise as any other Ultrabook keyboard, though these keys are slightly louder than the keys on the Lenovo IdeaPad U310. However, when benchmarking, the fan becomes a miniature jet engine, making its presence known to anyone in a moderately-quite room (classroom, home, etc.). Even when not benchmarking, the fan will kick in during YouTube video playback, so bringing a Vaio T into a library might not be a good idea.   We took some video to demonstrate the kind of noise the fan generates when the system is stressed:

Sony VAIO T Fan Noise Test

One positive thing about the Vaio T is that it stays cool during use. When idle or under a light workload (typical of Ultrabook use), this Sony laptop stays cool at a system temperature of between 30 and 40 deg C. The only way to get the Ultrabook to heat up was during benchmarking, and the absolute highest temperature obtained was by running IntelBurn Test, which produced temperatures of 81 deg C. All measurements were taken at a room temperature of 68 deg F.

Software

Like most notebooks, the Vaio T comes with pre-installed software from the factory that, for the most part, duplicates functionality with Windows-included software. Aside from the typical Microsoft Office 2010 Starter and anti-virus trial (Kaspersky Internet Security 2012, in this case), The Vaio T comes with a slew of VAIO-branded softeware. Most of this can be accessed by the VAIO Gate media dock located on the top edge of the display, which can be opened by clicking a rounded tab that hangs on the top-center of the display. Media Gate is a photo, video, and music organizer that combines the functions of Windows Media Gallery and Media Player, albeit in a nicer-looking package. VAIO Collaboration Apps are a family of applications that allow a user to control their other Sony products from the Vaio T, such as a PlayStation3, Bravia TV, Sony Blu-ray players, etc. PlayMemories Home is another Sony-produced software product that allows end users to organize photos, as well as edit them and burn media to a disc from within said program (though for the latter, an external DVD drive would be required as the Vaio T has no built-in optical drive). Music Unlimited is a link to Sony’s online music store, and VAIO Care is a maintenance program that centralizes system information, updates, install/uninstall, troubleshooting, and contact information (for Sony support).

Aside from Sony-made software, the Vaio T includes Skype, a link to eBay’s website, Intel’s AT service signup (a link to sign up for Intel’s anti-theft service), and ArcSoft WebCam Companion 4 (which allows an end user to capture video, edit it, and add objects to video such as masks, photo frames, etc.).

Battery Life

From full charge to Window’s 7% warning, the Sony Vaio T manages to run for a very respectable six hours and twenty-one minutes on the 4-cell battery while browsing the web and using Window’s “Balanced” performance plan. Performing typical daily tasks such as web browsing, document work, and the occasional YouTube video, nearly six and a half hours from the tiny 4-cell battery is pretty good.

VAIO T underside and battery

A handy feature that the Sony Vaio T has is that if the laptop’s battery is running low on power, the power button will flash on and off to visually warn the user about the battery. It certainly grabs the user’s attention in a way that the Windows task bar cannot.

Performance

In 3DMark Vantage, the Sony Vaio T scores a decent 2439 3DMarks, with a GPU score of 1984 and CPU score of 7855, which puts the i5-3317U on par with the full-voltage i3-2330M, more than powerful enough to suit the needs of typical Ultrabook uses.

3DMark Vantage – Measures 3D graphics performance, higher scores are better


Laptop 3DMark Vantage
Sony VAIO T – Intel Core i5-3317U, 4GB RAM, 500GB HDD + 32GB mSATA SSD, Intel HD4000 2,439 3DMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon – Intel Core i5-3427 2.3GHz, Intel HD 4000, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD 2,755
HP ENVY 4t-1000 – Intel Core i3-2367M 1.4GHz, 4GB RAM, 500GB 5400RPM HD, Intel HD 3000 1,320
Lenovo ThinkPad X230 – Intel Core i5-3320M 2.60GHz, 4GB RAM, 7200RPM HD 3,165
Lenovo ThinkPad X220 – Intel Core i5-2410M 2.30GHz, 4GB RAM, 7200RPM HD 1,611
Dell XPS 15 (Intel Core i7-2670QM, Nvidia GT 525M 1GB RAM, 8GB RAM, 7200RPM HD) 4,211
HP Envy 17-3000, Intel Core i7-2670QM, AMD 7690M, 6GB RAM, 7200RPM HD 6,970
Dell XPS 17 (Core i5-2410m 2.30GHz, Nvidia 550m, 6GB RAM, HD 7200RPM) 4,747
HP Pavilion dv6t Select Edition – Intel Core i5-2410m, Intel HD 3000 Graphics, 6GB RAM 1,845

Overall, Sony’s official Ultrabook scores an 8,014 in PCMark Vantage, comparable to other Ultrabooks with a similar hardware layout.

Laptop PCMark Vantage Score
Sony VAIO T – Intel Core i5-3317U, 4GB RAM, 500GB HDD + 32GB mSATA SSD, Intel HD4000 8,014 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon – Intel Core i5-3427 2.3GHz, Intel HD 4000, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD 11,696 PCMarks
Dell XPS 13 (Intel Core i5-2476M 1.60GHz, Intel HD 3000, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD) 9,826 PCMarks
HP Folio 13 (Intel Core i5-2467M 1.60GHz, Intel HD3000, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD) 9,026 PCMarks
Lenovo IdeaPad U310 – Intel Core i5-3317U ULV 1.7GHz, 4GB RAM, Intel HD 4000, 540RPM HD 6,433 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad X230 – Intel Core  i5-3320M 2.60GHz, 4GB RAM, 7200RPM HD 7,603 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad X220 – Intel Core  i5-2410M 2.30GHz, 4GB RAM, 7200RPM HD 5,764 PCMarks
SONY VAIO SA – Intel Core i5-2430M, AMD 6750M, 6GB RAM, 7200RPM HD 7,007 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E420 – Intel Core i5-2410m 2.30GHz, 4GB RAM 6,056 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad T420 – Intel Core i3-2310m 2.1GHz, 2GB RAM 3,204 PCMarks

Boot times for this laptop are above average thanks to the SSD Sony pairs with the regular notebook hard drive. Time to login is less than ten seconds, with overall boot time under half a minute, cutting typical mechanical hard drive boot times in half. Compared to an all-SSD notebook, the Sony Vaio T is not that far behind when starting from a cold boot. Also thanks to the SSD pairing, the Sony Vaio T resumes from sleep in one or two seconds.

Conclusion

In its own right, the Sony Vaio T is a decent laptop, with plenty of performance to offer and plenty of ports compared to other Ultrabooks. It’s also a stylish notebook, typical of Sony. However, the display is only average and the keyboard is uncomfortable to type on for extended periods of time. Not to mention the fan being a problem for watching YouTube videos or performing any other task beyond simple web browsing and document work. What Sony has going for the Vaio T, then, is the large trackpad and Sony’s Fresh Start option, which is a free configuration option to rid the laptop of bloatware straight from the factory.

However, the Sony Vaio T faces tough competition from other OEMs and even from Sony itself; the Sony Vaio S 13.3” is only a hair heavier (3.8 lbs) and offers a more powerful i5-3210M and while it doesn’t offer a hybrid SSD option, it does offer dedicated nVidia graphics. As for competition from other Ultrabooks, the Samsng Series 5 Ultrabook offers a brighter screen (300 cd/m) than the Vaio T, is just as lightweight, and even offers an extra USB port.

Just considering the Vaio T itself, there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s an affordable Ultrabook that brings together form and function, with a brushed aluminum lid and all-aluminum construction, an i5 ULV, and hybrid SSD performance for just under $800. But when considering the entire affordable Ultrabook market, there’s nothing that makes the Sony Vaio T stand out. If Sony gave the Vaio T a few extra options, such as a 1600 x 900 13.3” display while keeping the price at around $800, then it would blow the competition out of the water at this price point. But as it stands, the Vaio T is not a clear winner, but also not a clear loser either.

Pros

  • Entry-level price
  • Affordable SSD-like performance
  • Low system temperatures
  • Standard layout keyboard
  • OEM Fresh Start option

Cons

  • Shallow keyboard
  • Tinny audio
  • Fan noise

Where to Buy

The VAIO T Ultrabook can be purchased direct from the Sony Store Online starting at $739.99

Here are links to the latest Sony Laptop Deals!



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