Sony VAIO S Series (2011) review

Review
Sasha Muller 2011-04-19 13:21

After a dramatic redesign, the VAIO S Series emerges fitter, faster and with better battery life than before

The VAIO S Series always struck an attractive balance between business and pleasure. Now, after a ground-up redesign for Sandy Bridge, Sony has made it more appealing than ever.

All vestiges of the previous model’s thick, curvy plastic casing have been left behind. With a keyboard surround milled from a single sheet of aluminium, and a magnesium-reinforced 13in chassis, the new model evokes more than a hint of Sony’s money-no-object VAIO Z Series.

At just 1.69kg, it’s easily light enough to carry around on a day-to-day basis, but it doesn’t feel as sturdy as its metal-framed construction might suggest. Pick up the VAIO S Series by a corner and there’s noticeable give in the chassis, while more heavy-handed grappling causes an audible creak. Gorgeous though it is, the build quality is no match for Apple’s MacBook Pro 13.

Spend a little time using the Sony, though, and you’ll soon forget any qualms about its build. The keyboard is superb. The Scrabble-tile keys have a positive, responsive feel, and the spacious layout is almost as comfortable as a full-sized keyboard. The touchpad is great too: the wide, smooth surface makes for accurate cursor control, and a fingerprint reader nestles between the two buttons, both of which respond with a lovely muffled click.

Thanks to Sandy Bridge, the Sony can match most 13in laptops when it comes to performance: it’s possible to configure the VAIO S Series with a range of Core i3, i5 and i7 CPUs on Sony’s website. Our retail model came with a mid-range Intel 2.3GHz Core i5-2410M processor, but was still blazingly quick, surging through our benchmarks to an overall score of 0.74. For a sub-2kg laptop, that’s seriously fast.

Graphics switching also makes its VAIO S Series debut. Flip the switch above the keyboard from Stamina to Speed mode, or vice versa, and the screen flickers momentarily as the Intel and AMD chipsets switch over. It’s a feature which allows the Sony to flit nimbly between the roles of long-lasting portable and high-powered workstation.

With AMD’s Radeon HD 6470M chipset activated, the Sony has enough power to run Crysis at modest settings: at the native 1,366 x 768 resolution and Medium detail, the Sony managed a playable 29fps. For serious gaming, Sony’s website offers an upgrade to the Radeon HD 6630M for a £60 premium.

When battery life is the priority, Intel’s HD Graphics step up. The previous generation of the VAIO S Series achieved just 3hrs 44mins in our light-use battery test, but the new model manages 6hrs 49mins. With the optional £150 battery slice promising to double that figure, the VAIO S Series has the potential to last a working day on battery power alone.

Sony has squeezed a huge amount of connectivity into the tiny chassis. Ports for USB 3, D-SUB, HDMI and an SD card reader line up on the laptop’s right flank, while the DVD writer and a combined headphone/microphone socket are on the left. The sheer range of networking options is impressive, too: Sony’s packed in Bluetooth, a single-band 802.11bgn wireless radio, a 3G modem and Gigabit Ethernet. Only the lack of dual-band Wi-Fi disappoints.

Flip the VAIO S Series over and you’ll find a couple of additional panels hiding the docking and battery slice connectors, while a little flap conceals the SIM slot for the 3G modem. Getting access to the Sony’s internals is straightforward: remove just two screws and the front panel slides off to reveal the removable 4400mAh battery, the single empty RAM slot (the Sony’s 4GB of RAM is soldered onto the motherboard itself), a mini-PCI slot housing the Intel wireless card and the 500GB SATA hard disk.

The sole disappointment is the display. With a measured brightness of 252cd/m2, the matte 13.3in panel is plenty bright enough, but image quality is merely average. Greyish blacks result in a very poor contrast ratio of just 196:1, and while colours look vibrant, an average Delta E of 11.1 proves colour reproduction is far from accurate. Vertical viewing angles are narrow, too.

Still, given its brilliance in most other areas, it’s difficult to be too hard on Sony’s latest. With the ability to configure your own ideal model on Sony’s website, the VAIO S Series can play anything from a basic business model to a Blu-ray-equipped Core i7 wunderkind. Our review sample is a solid middle-grounder, but whatever specification you choose, the VAIO S is a light, powerful, feature-packed laptop that will appeal to businesses and consumers alike.

Price when reviewed: £791 (£949 inc VAT)

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