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

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Sony Offering Students Free Playstation with VAIO Laptop Purchase

It’s a good time to be a student buying a laptop!  Sony has just launched their back to school promotion for 2012, and you can get either a free Playstation 3 or Playstation Vita with the purchase of a VAIO laptop.  If you don’t want either of those freebies, you can just get 8% off the total purchase of a VAIO.  Here’s a link to the deal:

Sony VAIO Free Playstation Back to School 2012 Promo

Once you get to the landing page for that, just note the coupon codes you need to use which are the following:

  • FREEPS3 – Enter this code at checkout for a free PS3
  • FREEVITA – Enter this code for a free Vita
  • CAMPUS8 – Enter this code to get 8% off your purchase

At checkout you just add one of those coupon codes, if it’s for the PS3 the system will automatically add it to your cart, same deal with the Vita.  If you Enter the 8% off coupon you get the discount applied.

image

VAIO models eligible for purchasing and getting this promotion include the following:

  • VAIO T Series Ultrabook
  • VAIO S Series 15-inch (S15)
  • VAIO S Series 13-inch (S13)
  • VAIO Z Series 13-inch

So which model is best for a student’s needs?  In my opinion the VAIO S Series 13-inch is a great option as it’s both portable and the right amount of processing power and graphics capabilities for student laptop needs.  You can get up to a fully fledged Core i7 processor, Nvidia 640M graphics and if you choose the premium model you get a 1600 x 900 resolution screen which allows you to fit more on the screen and thus be more productive.  The VAIO S13 is also very portable thanks to its 13” size and light weight of 3.8lbs.  You also get an optical drive, either DVD burner or Blu-Ray, so you can watch movies or install software from a disc.  Of course, if you get Free PS3 that plays Blu-Rays then you may not need that feature of the VAIO S anyway!

Source: Sony Store Back to School 2012

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Sony VAIO S Series 13 and Series 15 get Intel Ivy Bridge Update

Sony today announced that their popular VAIO S line will soon be receiving an Ivy Bridge upgrade.  The VAIO S Series 13 will be a 13.3” laptop with the same 1600 x 900 resolution matte screen upgrade option available as the current VAIO SA.  The VAIO S Series 13 will have either a Core i5 or Core i7 standard voltage processor, though Sony has not disclosed exactly which processors those will be.   Another change with the VAIO S 13 will be a slot loading optical drive as Sony goes for a higher end design and replaces the typical tray style optical drive.   You’ll have the choice of either Blu-Ray or DVD there.  Dedicated graphics from Nvidia will again be offered in the VAIO S, allowing for light gaming on the go.   Built-in 3G or 4G LTE mobile broadband will be available as options for those that need to have a fast connection anywhere they go.

VAIO S 13

The VAIO S 15, a 15.6” screen multimedia laptop, will retain the same option for an HD+ (1920 x 1080) IPS display and be powered by an Intel Core i7-3610QM processor or above.  It will have the Nvidia 640m dedicated graphics card on board to power 3D applications and games and of course integrated graphics will be served by the Intel HD 4000.  Storage wise you can choose between either having a 1TB hard drive or smaller capacity but faster SSD.

Both VAIO S models will have an option for a slice battery that attaches underneath to boost battery life to 14 hours.  Alternatively, you can opt for a docking station that attaches underneath and also has an extra 500GB hard drive built in.

Both the VAIO S 13 and VAIO S 15 will be available starting sometime in June.  The VAIO S 13 will retail for $749.99 starting out while the larger VAIO S 15 will be start at $979.99.

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Sony VAIO T13 and T11 Ultrabook Coming next Month

Sony has announced a coupon of new Ultrabook additions to its lineup, the VAIO T11 and T13.  The T11 is an 11-inch screen laptop while the T13 has a 13-inch screen.  Initially both of these models will be available with the last generation Intel Sandy Bridge processor, specifically the Core i3-2367m.  The 13-inch model will weigh in at 3.5lbs, that’s impressive considering the notebook is  made of magnesium and aluminum metal for durability.  Disappointingly the screen resolution will be a low 1366 x 768 on both models.  Storage will come in the form of a hard drive / SSD hybrid combination.  The hard drive will be a 320GB capacity variety while the SSD will have 32GB of space.

VAIO T13 front profile

Sony is targeting the VAIO T series at business professionals and students, not that those two crowds are the same types but rather they figure both will need a light laptop with long battery life.  The claimed battery life is up to 9 hours.

Ports include HDMI, USB 3.0 and USB 2.0, SD card reader, VGA monitor out, Ethernet port and headphone port.  That’s a whole lot more selection relative to other Ultrabooks, Sony deserves kudos on this front.  The keyboard will have a chiclet style design and the touchpad like a MacBook, one big pad with integrated buttons at the bottom.  Availability for both models should be later this month.

VAIO T13 side profile

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Sony VAIO E Series 14P with Intel’s Ivy Bridge now Available

Last week Sony announced the VAIO E Series 14P laptop but failed to mention any inclusion of the new Ivy Bridge family of processors from Intel, instead the only mention was of an Intel Core i3-2350m processor.  But Sony Australia has decided to go ahead and list the Intel Ivy Bridge version of the VAIO E 14P anyway and name the price at $1,499 AUD, that’s around $1,554 US dollars.  Laugh all you like, but the poor Aussies are used to sky high prices on electronics, even with the fairly impressive specs below you wouldn’t sell more than a dozen at that price state side:

  • Model:   VAIO E 14P (SVE14A16FGH)
  • Processor: Intel Core i7-3612QM Processor 2.10 GHz with Turbo Boost up to 3.10 GHz (Intel Ivy Bridge 3rd generation Core)
  • Graphics: AMD 7670M and Intel HD 4000
  • Screen: 14-inch 1600 x 900
  • OS: Genuine Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit
  • Storage: 750 GB  HD (Serial ATA, 5400 rpm)
  • Memory: 4GB RAM
  • Optical Drive: DVD Burner
  • Ports: Two USB 2.0, 2 SuperSpeed USB 3.0, HDMI, monitor out, SD card slot, Memory stick card slot, Ethernet RJ-45 port, headphone, microphone, monitor out
  • Webcam: 1.30MP

vaio-e-14P

It’s interesting to note that Sony made no mention of a higher resolution 1600 x 900 screen in their original press announcement, but this SVE14A16FGH model configuration has such a resolution.  And of course Sony did not mention the inclusion of the Intel Ivy Bridge processor in the E 14P last week, but that’s because Intel still hadn’t announced it, something that will change this week.

The VAIO E 14P will come with AMD 7670M switchable graphics, with the Intel HD 4000 serving as the integrated GPU.  We reviewed the Intel HD 4000 graphics last week, for an integrated GPU the performance is impressive.  The Intel Ivy Bridge Core i7-3612QM coupled with the AMD graphics will make for a powerful performance laptop – if Sony can get the price down this could be an enticing laptop for those that need performance on the go.  One caveat, the VAIO E 14P is a rather heavy 5.07lbs, so while it has a smallish foot print and is fairly thin at 0.88” it could go on a bit of a diet.

Sony Australia is quoting battery life at 5.0 hours with this configuration using the standard battery, upgrading to a larger battery gets you up to 8.5 hours. Color options on Sony Australia for the E 14P are black or white – sorry, the promised pink color option has not shown up yet.

Source: Sony Australia

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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:

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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.

1554241479.peg

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.

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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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Sony VAIO Z gets Early 2012 Update to VPC-Z2390X

Sony VAIO Z Carbon SilverThe highly popular 13.3” screen Sony VAIO Z premium laptop has received an early 2012 update this week in the form of a new Carbon Fiber Silver color option and a Verizon Wireless 4G LTE modem on board.   The new model number on Sony.com is the VAIO Z2390X CTO (Configure to Order).  Right now the upgrade to the Verizon LTE modem on Sony.com is free, the regular price is +$150.   The new Carbon Fiber Silver is no additional cost if you select that.

With the introduction of the Carbon Fiber Silver the total color options come to four.  Those include Carbon Fiber Black, Carbon Fiber Gold, Premium Carbon Fiber Black and the Silver.  There is no additional cost for any finish, keep in mind that certain colors will be better at hiding fingerprints than others.  Black is notoriously tough to keep smudge free, whereas silver will be easier.  That said, the silver VAIO logo just doesn’t look as nice on top of a silver case compared to black or gold.

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Other than the LTE and color upgrades there’s a slight bump in the processor speeds,  a new Intel Core i5-2450m 2.50GHz replaces the i5-2430m 2.40GHz, giving you a 0.1GHz speed upgrade.  Same goes along the line of processors, an extra 0.1GHz for free all the way up to the Core i7.  The same processors are also now in the VAIO Z2290X.  The processor on board is still Intel Sandy Bridge, that can’t change until Intel releases Ivy Bridge in the Spring.  Strangely, Sony right now is also not offering the 1920 x 1080 screen as standard on the Z2390X, you have to pay $100 for that upgrade from a 1600 x 900 screen.  Upgrades to the SSD are also much more expensive on on the Z2390X, for instance the 256GB SSD upgrade is $150 on the Z2290X but a more expensive $300 upgrade on the Z2390X.  Go figure.

If you want LTE and the silver color, then you’ll just have to be willing to pay more for upgrades.  For those who want to wait until the Ivy Bridge VAIO Z3 upgrade you’ll have to wait until around the May / June 2012 time frame.

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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

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ThinkPad X220 Vs. VAIO SA

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