Sony VAIO Chromebook Pictures and Manual Leaked Thanks to FCC

Just when you thought Chromebook support from manufacturers might be fading, it looks like Sony is moving forward with a Chromebook of its own.  The Sony VAIO VCC111 Series pictures and manual just showed up on the FCC this week, and in case there’s any doubt as to whether this is a Chromebook the reference to “start Chrome OS” on page 2 of the manual should put an end to any debate this might be a Windows machine Ultrabook:

image

And furthermore, check out the keyboard, it’s missing the Windows key, you just get Ctrl and Alt keys on the lower left side, a further indication of this being a Google Chrome OS machine:

sony-chromebook

Since the FCC has furnished us with photos of the upcoming VAIO Chromebook (albeit low resolution pics, in typical FCC fashion) let’s take a tour around to see what you get:

Left Side View – The power jack, HDMI port, microphone jack and headphone jack are all found on the left side

sony-chromebook-side

Right Side View – There’s an SD card reader and two USB 2.0 ports over here

right-side-vaio-chromebook

Back View – Not much to see here, apparently it has Chrome accents as it’s reflecting lights in the FCC lab there

sony-chromebook-back

Front View – A green light indicator can be seen, according to the user guide the green light here indicates whether power is on or off

Sony Chromebook Front

Bottom view – It appears the battery is removable and you can see the typical Chrome recovery method there that involves jamming a pin into a small hole, a la resetting a wi-fi router or modem.

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Finally, we can see the Chromebook open and being measured with an approximate depth of 21cm or 8.27-inches for those of us still not on the metric system.

sony-chromebook-measured

It’s still not clear what the internal specs are for the VAIO CC111, but with the user guide and pictures we can at least deduct some of those.  The bottom picture of the Chromebook has a sticker that indicates it has an 11.6” Samsung screen and the CPU is a “T25”.  This could be an Nvidia Tegra 2 T25 ARM based processor, which would be interesting as it would make for the first Chromebook to run on a non-Intel based processor.

Deduced Specs, question mark indicates assumed or unsure:

  • Processor: Nvidia Tegra 250 T25 1.2GHz ARM based processor (?)
  • Screen: 11.6” diagonal, produced by Samsung
  • OS: Chrome OS
  • Memory: 2GB RAM (?)
  • Ports: two USB 2.0, SD card reader, headphone port, microphone port, HDMI
  • Wireless: 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth
  • Storage: SSD – 16GB (?)

So far Samsung and Acer have been the only manufacturers to release Chromebooks, so this is certainly a win for Google to have another manufacturer jump into the fray.  It seems like Sony has been dragging its heels on the release.  The documents for approval were first submitted to the FCC last September and just this Wednesday the user guide and FCC test photos showed up:

image

Pricing on Chromebooks generally start around $299 – $400 range, so we’d expect this Sony to be about the same, based on pictures there doesn’t appear to be anything extra special Sony has done to warrant a higher price.   There are very few Chromebooks currently available, the Amazon Chromebook store lists only four and one of those (the Acer AC700) is out of stock, so it’s interesting to see Sony toss their hat into the ring now.  We expect availability to be within the next couple of months or so based on past experience of the time it takes to migrate from FCC approval to landing on shelves.

Now the only mystery remains is to when will Sony release an Ultrabook…

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Sony VAIO SA Vs. Sony VAIO SB Comparison: What are the Differences?

The Sony VAIO S series of 13.3” laptops are a very popular choice of portable performance notebooks.  The two options in the VAIO S 13” series right now includes the VAIO SA and the VAIO SB.  The VAIO SA is a more premium laptop that starts at $999 on Sony.com while the VAIO SB starts at a more budget friendly $799 on Sony.com.   While there’s quite obviously a price difference, almost 20% in fact, it might not be obvious why the VAIO SA is so much more than the SB.  We’re here to clarify the differences in specs and build between these two models to help you decide which is best for your needs.

Sony VAIO SAThe first step is to go over the “on paper” specs that are available for each model.  This isn’t the whole story, there’s some differences in cosmetics and build we’ll need to discuss, but this is a good starting point.  Currently on Sony.com the VAIO SA configurable model is the VPCSA390X and the SB configurable model is the VPCSB390X

Sony VAIO SA (VPCSA390X) Options Sony VAIO SB (VPCSB390X) Options
Processor Options - Intel Core i5-2430M (2.40GHz)
– Intel Core i7-2640M (2.80GHz) (+150.00)
- Intel Core i3-2330M (2.20GHz)
– Intel Core i5-2430M (2.40GHz) (+$80)
OS Options - Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
– Windows 7 Home Professional 64-bit (+$50)
– Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit (+$100)
- Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
– Windows 7 Home Professional 64-bit (+$50)
– Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit (+$100)
Display Options 13.3″ LED backlit display (1600×900) 13.3″ LED backlit display (1366 x 768)
Graphics Options AMD Radeon HD 6630M (1GB) hybrid graphics AMD Radeon HD 6470M (512MB) hybrid graphics
Storage Options - 500GB (5400rpm) hard drive
– 750GB (5400rpm) hard drive
– 128GB (128GB x1) SSD (+$200)
– 256GB (128GB x2) SSD with RAID 0  (+$450.00)
– 512GB (256GB x2) SSD with RAID 0 (+$1,200.00)
– 1TB (512GB x2) SSD with RAID 0  (+$2,750.00)
- 320GB (5400rpm) hard drive
– 500GB (5400rpm) hard drive (+$30.00)
– 750GB (5400rpm) hard drive (+$90.00)
Memory Options - 4GB (4GB fixed onboard + 1 open SDRAM slot) DDR3-SDRAM-1333- 6GB (4GB fixed onboard + 2GB removable) DDR3-SDRAM-1333 (+$40.00)

– 8GB (4GB fixed onboard + 4GB removable) DDR3-SDRAM-1333 (+ $70.00)

- 4GB (4GB fixed onboard + 1 open SDRAM slot) DDR3-SDRAM-1333- 6GB (4GB fixed onboard + 2GB removable) DDR3-SDRAM-1333 (+$40.00)

– 8GB (4GB fixed onboard + 4GB removable) DDR3-SDRAM-1333 (+ $70.00)

Wireless Broadband Verizon Wireless, AT&T, and Sprint 3G wireless mobile broadband built-in (+$50) None
Optical Drive Choices - CD/DVD player / burner
– Blu-ray Disc player (+$100.00)
- CD/DVD player / burner
– Blu-ray Disc player (+$100.00)
Battery Options - Internal lithium polymer battery (4400mAh)- Internal (4400mAh) + sheet (4400mAh) lithium polymer batteries (add $100.00) - Internal lithium polymer battery (4400mAh)- Internal (4400mAh) + sheet (4400mAh) lithium polymer batteries (add $100.00)
Weight 3.6lbs 3.8lbs
Thickness 0.92-inches 0.95-inches
Starting Price $999 $799

 

Sony VAIO SA Vs. VAIO SB

Let’s go over component by component where there are advantages of the VAIO SA over the SB.

Processor

The VAIO SA comes standard with an Intel Core i5-2430m 2.40GHz processor, the Core i5 offers TurboBoost technology so it can overclock when extra performance is necessary.  The Intel Core i3 the VAIO SB comes with does not, so right there is a significant advantage with the standard configuration setup.  To get an idea of how an Intel Core i5 performs versus a Core i3, check out the PCMark Vantage benchmark comparisons below to see that on average you’ll get around 1,000 points boost with the upgrade to Core i5, this can translate to 10 – 20% better performance overall:

Laptop PCMark Vantage Score
Sony VAIO SA (Intel Core i5-2430M 2.50GHz, AMD Radeon 6630M, 4GB RAM) 7,007 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E420 – Intel Core i5-2410m 2.30GHz, 4GB RAM 6,056 PCMarks
Dell Vostro 3450 – Intel Core i5-2410m 2.30Ghz, 4GB RAM 5,901 PCMarks
Dell Inspiron N411z – Intel Core i3-2330m 2.30GHz, 4GB RAM 5,285 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad T420 – Intel Core i3-2310m 2.1GHz, 2GB RAM 3,204 PCMarks

Screen

This the big difference for most buyers.  The VAIO SB has a 1366 x 768 standard resolution screen whereas the VAIO SA has a higher resolution 1600 x 900 screen.  This translates to being able to easily fit two open windows next to each other on the VAIO SA screen but not being able to do so with the VAIO SB.  From a productivity standpoint, the more you can see on the screen and the less scrolling you have to do the better.  A higher resolution is also beneficial for HD video playback to get the maximum amount of detail.   The VAIO SA is currently the only 13” laptop on the market that offers this high of a resolution which makes it a unique beast.  I reviewed the VAIO SA and must say that while the viewing angles are not very good, the screen resolution was definitely a feature I liked.

Graphics Performance

Both the VAIO SA and VAIO SB have AMD hybrid graphics, meaning the laptops can switch between integrated Intel HD3000 and AMD dedicated graphics depending on the task at hand.  The VAIO SB comes with an AMD Radeon 6470m while the VAIO SA comes with an AMD Radeon 6630m.  According to Notebookcheck.net, an authority on performance of graphics cards, the AMD 6630m is a mid-class graphics card while the AMD 6470 is an entry level to mid class graphics card.   The AMD 6630m will certainly give you better performance for any gaming you want to do, though it won’t be able to play the latest and greatest games at high frame rates such as Batman Arkham City, it will give you a much more fluid experience than the AMD 6470m in the VAIO SB can provide.  If you don’t care about gaming or 3D performance and just want the laptop for typical productivity needs, this component is likely a non-consideration.

Storage Options

The VAIO SA can be configured to your hearts content in regards to storage on Sony.com.  They even offer dual 512GB Raid 0 SSD for a the cool sum of a $2,750 upgrade.  That’s craziness, but if you have money to burn the choice is there for you!  We actually tried to install an SSD after market in the VAIO SA and had some issues with blue screens when switching between power states.  Even though upgrades are expensive on Sony.com it might be best to configure SSD online given our poor luck trying to do it after market.  The VAIO SB has no SSD upgrade option online and in fact only offers a rather slow 5400RPM hard drive.  Due to the current issues with hard drive supplies after the floods in Thailand 7200RPM drives are slim pickings.

Wireless Broadband

Sony offers an integrated wireless broadband modem on the VAIO SA that can be used with either a Verizion, AT&T or Sprint 3G plan.  The VAIO SB offers no such integrated broadband modem.  If you don’t have a phone with a Hotspot or prefer built-in cellular wireless connectivity for those times you are away from Wi-Fi then the VAIO SA is going to be a better choice.

Cosmetics and Design Differences between VAIO SA and VAIO SB

vaio-sa-vaio-logoThe Sony VAIO SA and SB have some design differences that are hard to determine based on the Sony website.  First off, there are design touches such as the chrome accents that are used more liberally on the VAIO SA.  The VAIO logo on the lid, mouse buttons and back hinges all have chrome accents on the VAIO SA but not so on the VAIO SB.   The VAIO logo on the palm rest is engraved on the VAIO SA but just printed onto the VAIO SB.  The lid on the VAIO SA feels more rigid and looks nicer than that of the VAIO SB which feels a little more plastic like.

DSC_0645

The form factor between the two laptops is basically the same.  The thickness is slightly different, the VAIO SA is 0.92″ thick while the VAIO SB is 0.95″ thick.  The weight of the VAIO SA is also slightly less at 3.6lbs versus the 3.8lbs of the VAIO SB.  For all practical purposes the weight and chassis are going to be indistinguishable between the models.  It really comes down to the cosmetic design touches and higher quality paint job on the VAIO SA that separates them in terms of cosmetics.

Fingerprint Reader

A small but notable difference we should add is that the VAIO SA comes standard with a fingerprint reader while the VAIO SB offers no such option.  The fingerprint reader can be used to logon to the laptop and software can be used in conjunction with the reader for storing website passwords, meaning you can just swipe your finger to login to websites.  That’s a nice feature if you train yourself to use it, but with so many people allowing browsers to save and enter passwords it might not help you to surf the web any faster.

Conclusion

The VAIO SA and SB are both great laptops in their own right.  If you don’t care about the high resolution 1600 x 900 screen the VAIO SA comes standard with and an Intel Core i3 processor is all the performance you need, then spending the cheaper $799 on the VAIO SB makes sense.  However, if you want to upgrade to a Core i5 processor that’s a +$80 upgrade for the VAIO SB and at that point you’re only $120 short of the VAIO SA and its nicer standard features.   Bottom line, if you’re on a budget, have just basic needs and like the portability and quality the VAIO S 13” series has then go with the VAIO SB.  If you need extra performance and like the idea of a higher resolution 1600 x 900 screen and are a stickler for design touches, the VAIO SA is the way to go.

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Deal: Sony VAIO SA3 $750 at NewEgg.com

The Sony VAIO SA that we recently reviewed is available for $750 at NewEgg.com right now, that’s the cheapest I’ve ever seen this premium laptop for.  I actually bought it for $799 in a deal at B&H two months ago and didn’t think it would get any cheaper than that.  But it has.  The specs on the Sony VAIO SA VPCSA3AFX that’s on sale at NewEgg.com is as follows:

  • Color: Jet BlackSony VAIO SA3 at NewEgg.com
  • OS:  Windows 7 Home Premium 64-Bit
  • Processor: Intel Core i5-2430M 2.4GHz
  • Screen: 13.3" 1600 x 900 resolution, matte finish
  • Memory Size: 4GB DDR3
  • HD: 500GB
  • Ports: 2 x USB 2.0, 1 x USB 3.0, HDMI, VGA monitor out, SD card reader, Memory Stick Duo card reader, headphone out, Gigabit Ethernet (RJ-45)
  • Optical Drive: DVD±R/RW
  • Graphics: AMD Radeon HD 6630M 1GB VRAM
  • Dimensions: 13.04" x 8.84" x 0.92"
  • Weight: 3.65 lbs

DSC_0638The big call outs here are the 13.3” 1600 x 900 resolution screen and powerful Intel Core i5 + AMD 6630M combo.  There is literally no other 13” screen laptop on the market right now that has a 1600 x 900 screen in this size, which makes it a very popular and unique laptop.  The Intel Core i5-2410m and AMD 6630M means the VAIO SA competes in performance with many 15 – 17” screen desktop replacement style laptops.  The VAIO SA starts at $899 on Sony.com with these exact same specs configured so the $750 price is a great deal, especially since shipping is free and there are no taxes via NewEgg.com except for California residents.

We recently reviewed the Sony VAIO SA3 and found it to be a great laptop choice for both business professionals and students that can afford more premium laptops for on campus needs.

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Sony VAIO SA Review

The Sony VAIO SA is a 13.3” screen high-end laptop that sits between the cheaper VAIO SB and premium VAIO Z in terms of price and quality.  The particular VAIO SA under review is the 3rd generation VAIO SA3 model number VPCSA3AFX 13.3” laptop.  It was purchased from B&H Photo & Video while on sale for the excellent price of $799.  The specs on the VAIO SA3 under review are as follows:

Sony VAIO SA

  • Processor: 2.40GHz Intel Core i5-2430M with Intel TurboBoost
  • Memory: 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • Storage: 500GB 5400rpm Hard Drive
  • Graphics: AMD Radeon HD 6630M 1GB GPU
  • Screen: 13.3″ LED Backlit Widescreen Display, 1600 x 900 resolution, matte (anti-glare) finish
  • Optical Drive: SuperMulti DVD Burner
  • Integrated Webcam & Microphone
  • Wireless: 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR
  • OS: Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
  • Ports: 2 x USB 2.0, 1 x USB 3.0, HDMI, VGA monitor out, SD card reader, Memory Stick Duo card reader, headphone out, Gigabit Ethernet (RJ-4)
  • Backlit keyboard
  • Weight: 3.7lbs
  • Dimensions: 13.04” x 8.84” x 0.92” (Width x Depth x Thickness)

The same laptop can of course be purchased and configured via Sony.com, the CTO model is the VAIO VPCSA290x. The standout features on the VAIO SA3 that should be highlighted are the following:

  • The 1600 x 900 hi-res screen is very hard to find on a laptop of this size
  • Intel Core i5 and dedicated AMD graphics in a 13.3” chassis and for under $1,000 is excellent price to performance
  • The VAIO SA3 is thin, light and sleek looking in terms of design
  • The build quality of the VAIO SA3 is excellent

Of course, it’s not all roses, we’ll touch on the good and the bad in this review of the VAIO SA!

Design and Looks

DSC_0652First impressions are lasting, and I think most people will be like me and be struck by the sleek looking design of the VAIO SA.  It has nice chrome accents in places such as the VAIO logo, touchpad buttons and back hinge.  This contrasts nicely with the solid black finish.  The backlit keyboard is an instant attention getter, assuming you’re in a darkened room that is, and just the thinness of the screen sets this apart from your standard laptop look.  I also like the bright green power button LED lighting.

I think the only disappointment I had with the design is that the optical drive is not slot loading, for some reason I thought it would be and should be for a premium laptop that’s all about style.

Build Quality

Sony VAIO SA lidThe VAIO SA uses a magnesium-aluminum alloy chassis and aluminum case so it has a solid feel to it and you don’t get much flex on the body.  In a word, this laptop is solid.  The VAIO SA3 is also slim, just under 1” at 0.97” of thinness.  The weight is 3.7lbs which reflects the fact there is a lot of metal used in the construction.  Still, I don’t consider something under 4lbs heavy even though you could find a lighter 13” laptop.  With Ultrabooks currently on the market you can find 13.3” laptops such as the Toshiba Z830 that weigh 2.5lbs.

The screen hinges on the VAIO SA3 are very rigid so there’s no worries about screen wobble.   Pushing on the back of the lid does not cause any screen ripples so you know the screen will be safely protected if you throw this in a backpack to take to class.

Screen

The VAIO SA3 model under review has the hi-res 1600 x 900 display.  Because the resolution is so high for this sized screen it can make text and images rather small, if you have poor eyesight that may cause issues for viewing.  However, if you’re a screen real estate junky like me and love to fit as much on the screen as possible then the resolution will be a delight.  Another big positive is the screen brightness, at the brightest level the backlight is quite overpowering when indoors so I had to keep it down a few notches from max brightness.  You could probably use the laptop outside in indirect sunlight and still see the screen at max brightness.

While the high resolution screen is nice and allows you to see a lot at once, the viewing angles on the VAIO SA screen are disappointing.  There’s definitely a sweet spot at which you should view the screen, otherwise colors tend to distort.  You really need to be viewing perpendicular (straight on) to get the best colors, once you change from that angle of viewing colors change and are no longer true:

DSC_0667 DSC_0668

The color saturation on the VAIO SA screen also leaves a bit to be desired, sometimes it’s hard to tell greys from white or yellows from white.  This is most apparent when trying to distinguish organic from paid search results in Google, I had a tough time seeing the yellow background that Google uses in their AdSense area above search engine organic results so it was hard to tell how to avoid ads.  A picture with a camera is tough to convey this, but here’s an example for what you get after searching on Running Shoes:

DSC_0670-1

The negatives aside on the screen, I do like the fact the screen is matte and avoids annoying reflections.  To demonstrate this I took a picture of the VAIO SA3 next to the Toshiba Portege Z830 Ultrabook.  You can see in the picture that the Z830 is reflecting the light on the ceiling while the VAIO SA reflects nothing on its screen:

IMGT2330

If you’re staring at your laptop screen for long periods during the day this is an important consideration, reflections can cause eye strain after long periods of time.

Keyboard and TouchPad

The Sony VAIO SA has a chiclet / island style keyboard as most laptops these days do.  The keys have a nice feel and a good amount of travel and tactile feedback.  My favorite part of the keyboard is certainly the backlighting feature.  The backlight on the keyboard makes it very easy to see keys at night and even improves visibility and thereby usability during daytime use.

6519291275_d655103085_b

DSC_0640There is a built-in ambient light sensor that will turn on keyboard backlighting when the room becomes dark enough.

The touchpad on the VAIO SA is slightly textured and generous in terms of size.  The two mouse buttons below have a rather small fingerprint reader between them, this can be used for laptop login purposes and storing passwords for websites using the built-in Sony utility.  The buttons themselves feel ok though are slightly too stiff for my tastes and have a slight clicking noise that can be annoying in a quiet room.  Though the chrome accent on the buttons looks nice when clean, they do collect greasy fingerprints and are annoying to keep clean.

Performance

DSC_0651The VAIO SA3 under review came with the following important performance specs:

  • Processor: 2.40GHz Intel Core i5-2430M with Intel TurboBoost to 2.90GHz
  • Memory: 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • Storage: 500GB 5400rpm Hard Drive
  • Graphics: AMD Radeon HD 6630M 1GB GPU

The VAIO SA3 has switchable graphics, meaning it can use integrated Intel HD3000 graphics when being used for everyday work tasks and switch to AMD 6630m graphics if extra 3D performance is needed.  This results in performance that outdoes larger 15-inch laptops that only have integrated graphics and yet battery life is preserved because most of the time  Integrated graphics, that are more power friendly, are used.

I ran a few benchmarks to demonstrate how the VAIO SA stacks up to other laptops of varying sizes and configurations.

PCMark Vantage is a benchmark that provides an overall system performance score, the VAIO SA outdid many Core i5 equipped 14-inch laptops with its 7,007 PCMark score:

pcmark-vantage

 

Laptop PCMark Vantage Score
Sony VAIO SA (Intel Core i5-2430M 2.50GHz, AMD Radeon 6630M, 4GB RAM) 7,007 PCMarks
Dell Vostro 1440 Review (Intel Core i3-370M, Intel HD, 6GB RAM) 4,931
Lenovo IdeaPad Y470 – Intel Core i7-2630qm, Nvidia 550M 1GB, 8GB RAM, Intel SSD 12,160 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E420 – Intel Core i5-2410m 2.30GHz, 4GB RAM 6,056 PCMarks
Dell Vostro 3450 – Intel Core i5-2410m 2.30Ghz, 4GB RAM 5,901 PCMarks
Dell Inspiron N411z – Intel Core i3-2330m 2.30GHz, 4GB RAM 5,285 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad T420 – Intel Core i3-2310m 2.1GHz, 2GB RAM 3,204 PCMarks

 

WIth the newer PCMark 7 benchmark the VAIO SA achieved a 2,022 PCMark score:

pcmark7

 

Laptop PCMark 7 Score
Sony VAIO SA (Intel Core i5-2430M 2.50GHz, AMD Radeon 6630M, 4GB RAM) 2,022 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad W520 – Intel Core i7 2720QM, 4GB RAM, Nvidia Quadro 2000, Intel 320 SSD 4,299 PCMarks
HP Envy 17 3D – Intel Core i7-2670QM, AMD 6850M 1GB, 8GB RAM, 7200RPM HD 2,592 PCMarks
Lenovo IdeaPad U400 – Intel Core i5-2430M, AMD Radeon 6470M, 6GB RAM, 5400RPM HD 2,287 PCMarks
Dell XPS 15z – Intel Core i7-2620M, Nvidia GT 525M, 8GB RAM, SSD 3,604 PCMarks

 

To test the 3D performance of the VAIO SA and its AMD 6630M graphics we ran 3DMark 11, while the 997 score fell short of gaming laptop style notebooks it’s still a respectable score and indicates you can play just about any modern game if you’re willing to adjust settings to medium and up the resolution to 1366 x 768:

3dmark-11

 

Laptop 3DMark11
Sony VAIO SA (Intel Core i5-2430M 2.50GHz, AMD Radeon 6630M, 4GB RAM) 997
Lenovo ThinkPad W520 – Intel Core i7 2720QM, 4GB RAM, Nvidia Quadro 2000, Intel 320 SSD 1,438
Dell XPS 14z – Intel Core i5-2430m 2.40GHz, 8GB RAM, Nvidia GT 520M, 7200RPM HD 639
Alienware m14x – Intel Core i7-2630QM, 8GB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce GT 555, 7200RPM 1,331

 

These benchmarks will give you the idea that the VAIO SA can indeed compete with bigger notebooks in terms of performance and is more than capable enough for a work-a-day laptop.  Multi-tasking will be a breeze.  Performance will especially pick up if you go with an SSD drive for faster bootup and application opening.  Uninstalling a few of the Sony bloatware applications will also do miracles.  Even if you don’t do performance tuning, out of the box the VAIO SA is going to be very fast.

Battery Life

The VAIO SA is a portable laptop and as such the battery life is an important consideration.  WIth the standard 4400mAh battery I was able to get 4 hours and 50 minutes of usage when setting the screen to two notches below full brightness, wifi on Bluetooth enabled.   Under more battery friendly conditions with brightness all the way down and wireless off the battery life was 6 hours 28 minutes.  That’s very good, but not realistic.  If you want to get battery life of over 10 hours Sony has a great option in the form of a sheet battery that simply attaches to the bottom of the VAIO SA.  Sony quotes battery life of up to 12 hours when you attach the sheet battery that retails for $150, my guess is realistically it’s closer to 10 hours in real world usage.  See the graphic below for a demonstration of how the sheet battery slots onto the bottom of the VAIO:

Sony VAIO SA sheet battery

 

Input and Output Ports

The ports selection on the  VAIO SA is excellent for a 13.3” screen laptop, you get everything you can possibly want for an on the go laptop.  Let’s take a tour of the VAIO SA and see what’s on each side:

VAIO SA left side ports

On the left side is just the optical drive

VAIO SA right side ports

The right side of the VAIO SA is where all the action is.  You get 2 x USB 2.0, 1 x USB 3.0, HDMI, VGA monitor out, SD card reader, Memory Stick Duo card reader, headphone out, Gigabit Ethernet (RJ-45) and the power jack.  If you don’t like ports on the right side, you’re kind of out of luck!

DSC_0646

On the front side of the VAIO SA is just a wireless on off switch and some indicator lights, no ports.

Heat & Fan Noise

The VAIO SA has its fan located on the back and as such the heat is kept away from the user, no worrying about a fan blowing heat onto your left or right hand that’s holding a mouse.  The fan did run fairly frequently, but it was not loud or annoying.  In a room with ambient noise you would not be able to detect the fans.

DSC_0650

On the back side you will find the heat vent, which is a great location for a laptop as it blows heat away from you and not onto your hand

The system itself never got too hot, the palm rests in particular stayed very cool and never got uncomfortable.  The bottom of the laptop did get somewhat warm, up to 95 degrees when under stress running a benchmark test.  This could be mitigated by using a lapdesk or simply sticking to use of a desk.

Webcam

The web camera on the VAIO SA is a 1.3 Megapixel camera.  While that’s a high MP for a lowly web cam, the low light performance leaves much to be desired.  When I was in a room with no natural light during the evening the quality was grainy and quite poor.  Bottom line, the camera is great if you’re in a room with a lot of light, otherwise the picture quality is going to suffer the darker it gets.

Conclusion

The VAIO SA is inevitably going to be compared to the 13.3” MacBook Pro as a thin and light performance laptop.  Does the VAIO SA offer a better option than the Apple MBP 13”?  I think most of that depends on your preference of OS.  Design and build wise I think these two are close, though the MacBook Pro certainly has a cleaner look and the touchpad is nicer.  Performance wise the two will be close, but if you’re into gaming the VAIO SA would be the better choice simply because Windows is where the games are.

For the price paid of this configuration, $799 on sale, the VAIO SA is an excellent choice and gives a great dollar to feature ratio.  With a powerful Intel Core i5 and AMD 6630m graphics you’ll have no issues doing more demanding tasks, or even several at the same time.  The high resolution 1600 x 900 display is great for those that want to fit as much as possible on a 13.3” screen, though the color contrast and viewing angles leave room for improvement.   The VAIO SA is an excellent choice for both business professionals thanks to its matte screen and professional look, but can also suit students that have a high enough budget as it’s small enough to carry around campus and offers all the computing performance you’ll need for school work.

Pros

  • Well built and durable thanks to magnesium-aluminum chassis and aluminum case
  • Excellent performance for a 13” laptop, Intel Core i5 and dedicated AMD graphics
  • 1600 x 900 standard high resolution screen with anti-glare matte finish
  • Nice design, professional looking

Cons

  • Screen has poor viewing angles and color contrast
  • Speakers are so-so

Where to Buy

  • Sony VAIO SA $899 @ Sony.com
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    Sony VAIO SA3 Unboxing Video and First Look Review

    There was a great sale on recently at B&H Photo & Video in which a nice config of the Sony VAIO SA3 was priced at $799.  Unable to resist a good deal on a rather appealing looking laptop, I jumped at it.  A 13.3” screen notebook with a high resolution 1600 x 900 screen is hard to find, especially for an under $800 price tag.  Then consider the fact the VAIO SA3 comes with an impressive Intel Core i5-2430m processor and AMD HD 6630m dedicated graphics and the price becomes even more amazing.  At the time of this writing the SA3 VPCSA3AFX config (ugly model number) is now back at $899 at B&H.  The same configuration of a VPCSA390X CTO on Sony.com for the SA3 costs $1,049.  Let’s go over what those specs are exactly shall we?

    Sony VAIO SA3

    • Processor: 2.40GHz Intel Core i5-2430M with Intel TurboBoost
    • Memory: 4GB DDR3 RAM
    • Storage: 500GB 5400rpm Hard Drive
    • Graphics: AMD Radeon HD 6630M 1GB GPU
    • Screen: 13.3" LED Backlit Widescreen Display, 1600 x 900 resolution, matte (anti-glare) finish
    • Optical Drive: SuperMulti DVD Burner
    • Integrated Webcam & Microphone
    • Wireless: 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR
    • OS: Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
    • Ports: 2 x USB 2.0, 1 x USB 3.0, HDMI, VGA monitor out, SD card reader, Memory Stick Duo card reader, headphone out, Gigabit Ethernet (RJ-4)
    • Backlit keyboard
    • Weight: 3.7lbs
    • Dimensions: 13.04” x 8.84” x 0.92” (Width x Depth x Thickness)

    With that out of the way let’s take a look at what the VAIO SA3 looks like fresh out of the box:

    If you watch the video you’ll note that I thought the laptop felt light because I assumed the battery was not in, which is often the case when a laptop ships.  However, it turns out the battery is actually sealed in there and I was feeling the entire weight of the laptop upon first holding it, it was much lighter than I expected.  Granted, this is no ultrabook at less than 3lbs, but it is still very light at 3.7lbs.  You also get a lot more with the VAIO SA3 compared to an ultrabook for only a 0.7lbs heavier weight.  Consider you have an optical drive, fully fledged Core i5 processor, dedicated AMD Hybrid graphics, wide array of ports and a removable battery – none of those features come on an ultrabook.  So why are ultrabooks so popular again?  But I digress.

    sony vaio sa3

    First impressions are lasting, and I think most people will be like me and be struck by the sleek looking design of the VAIO SA.  It has nice chrome accents in places such as the VAIO logo and touchpad buttons.  This contrasts nicely with the solid black finish.  The backlit keyboard is an instant attention getter, assuming you’re in a darkened room that is, and just the thinness of the screen sets this apart from your standard laptop look.  I also like the bright green power button LED lighting.  I think the only disappointment I had with the design is that the optical drive is not slot loading, for some reason I thought it would be.

    The build quality of the VAIO SA feels top notch.  The palm rests are flex resistant and the entire chassis feels very rigid and durable.  The screen itself is very thin and therefore has some flex, but it is designed that way and there’s no need to worry about the screen breaking.

    Vaio SA3 lid The quoted battery life for the VAIO SA is a max of 7 hours with just the internal 4400mAh battery, less if you’re doing DVD playback the whole time.  You can upgrade to using a sheet battery that essentially straps onto the bottom of the laptop to double the battery life.  This is a nice option to have and solves the problem that other laptops with sealed batteries have of what happens when my battery is drained and there isn’t an outlet nearby?  Well, with the VAIO SA3 the answer is just add a sheet battery.  The extra sheet battery retails for $125 on Sony.com.

    The screen is nice and bright, but as others seem to have noticed, the viewing angles are so-so and colors tend to quickly wash out if you’re not viewing at just the right angle.  That’s disappointing, but on the bright side the resolution is an amazing 1600 x 900 and you can easily fit two browser windows side by side for viewing at this res.

    Sony VAIO SA3 Keyboard

    Though I haven’t done anything in terms of benchmarking with the VAIO SA3 at this early stage, it definitely feels snappy with the Intel Core i5-2430m 2.40GHz processor and AMD 6630 graphics.  This feels like a laptop that’s begging to have an SSD put in to help with bootup times, the only slow part of the experience.  Unfortunately I’ve been reading that with a new BIOS update that’s on the latest version of the VAIO SA3 that SATA 3 is not enabled which means the latest and greatest SSDs that use SATA 3 are incompatible at the current time.

    There you have it in terms of first impressions, we’ll continue to play with this laptop some more before coming back with a full review.  Until then, a few more pictures…

    VAIO SA right side

    VAIO SA3 right side

    VAIO SA left side

    VAIO SA left side

    VAIO SA in the dark

    IMG_1633

    ThinkPad X220 Vs. VAIO SA

    IMG_1627

    IMG_1626

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    Sony VAIO SA3 $799.99 at B&H Photo

    *** UPDATE: See an Unboxing and First Look Review of the VAIO SA3 here ***

    The Sony VAIO SA model VPCSA3AFX 13.3” laptop is on sale for an amazing $799.99 at B&H, usually this laptop costs around $1,049.  The specs on this ultraportable machine are excellent, and my favorite aspect of it is the 1600 x 900 hi-res screen, almost unheard of on a 13” screen laptop.

    Here are the exact specs of this VAIO SA3 on sale at B&H Photo & Video:

    image

    • Processor: Intel Core i5-2430M 2.40GHz
    • Memory: 4GB RAM
    • Graphics: AMD Radeon HD 6630M with 1GB
    • Storage: 500GB 5400RPM HD
    • Screen: 13.3” LED backlit 1600 x 900 resolution screen (amazing!)
    • Optical Drive: SuperMulti DVD Burner
    • OS: Windows 7 Home Premium
    • Integrated WebCam
    • Wireless: 802.11 a/b/g/n and Bluetooth

    The Sony VAIO SA is a very portable machine at only 3.7lbs yet it packs the power of many larger 15” laptops.  Add to this the incredible build quality, awesome design and one of the best screens in the laptop industry and the $799.99 price tag is truly a steal.  The equivalent configured laptop on Sony.com costs $1,049, so you’re saving over 20% here on a laptop that rarely ever goes on sale.  A screenshot of the pricing on Sony.com is below:

    image

    B&H Photo & Video is a great retailer, they’re located in New York City and are one of the premier electronics retailers in terms of service and reputation.  If you have any issues with the laptop you can be sure the support from B&H will be good, it’s a family run business and run very efficiently.

    Link: B&H Photo & Video $799.99 Sony VAIO SA 13.3” laptop deal

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    Sony VAIO Z2 Signature Collection, an Excuse to Overcharge?

    Sometimes you wonder if marketers ever pay attention to their price lists, or just hope that customers really don’t care about finding the best price possible.  Case in point, the Sony VAIO Signature Collection Z Series (model VPCZ21TGX/X) is $2,999.99 on Sony.com.  That’s a lot for a laptop, but hey, it’s a signature edition so it must be special and a unique deal.   Right?  Until you start configuring the Sony VAIO Z2 customizable machine, model number VPCZ2290X CTO, and find that you can get better specs than the Signature VAIO Z but for less right on Sony.com.  Here are the specs for the VAIO Z Signature laptop:

    • Screen: 13.1 in Full HD LED backlit (1920 x 1080)
    • Processor: Intel Core i7-2620M 2.70 GHz with Intel Turbo Boost Technology up to 3.40 GHz
    • Memory: 6 GB DDR3 1333 MHz
    • Storage: 256 GB SSD (RAID 0 x 2)
    • OS: Windows 7 ProfessionalPC
    • Optical Drive: External Power Media Dock with slot-loading Blu-ray Disc
    • Intel HD Graphics 3000 with shared graphics memory (1 GB graphics card in dock)
    • Battery: Internal lithium-polymer (4000mAh) and external lithium-polymer sheet battery (4400mAh)
    • Color: Black

    image

    Those are impressive specs for a light weight 13.1-inch laptop that weighs only 2.57lbs.  However, I can go to Sony.com and configure the VAIO Z2 CTO model with all the same specs and a slightly better Core i7-2640M 2.80GHz processor for $2,619.99, screenshot to prove it and specs below:

    image

    • Screen: 13.1 in Full HD LED backlit (1920 x 1080)
    • Processor: Intel Core i7-2640M 2.80 GHz with Intel Turbo Boost Technology up to 3.50 GHz
    • Memory: 6 GB DDR3 1333 MHz
    • Storage: 256 GB SSD (RAID 0 x 2)
    • OS: Windows 7 ProfessionalPC
    • Optical Drive: External Power Media Dock with slot-loading Blu-ray Disc
    • Intel HD Graphics 3000 with shared graphics memory (1 GB graphics card in dock)
    • Battery: Internal lithium-polymer (4000mAh) and external lithium-polymer sheet battery (4400mAh)
    • Color: Black

    That’s right, you pay almost $380 less and get an ever so slightly faster Core i7 processor by going the CTO route with the VAIO Z2.  Apparently the Signature series has a slight gold tint to the lid finish (it’s hard to tell in the product shots) and if that floats your boat and is worth $380 to you then it could be worth it.  However, I doubt many people will see things that way.  This is just another example of folks in marketing not looking at their price sheet for components and slapping a price tag on something and calling it premium.  It’s also another example of the fact that if you’re buying a laptop you really need to shop around and even if you’re buying direct from a website try different ways of building a machine and looking for promo codes to get a better deal. 

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