Sony has refreshed its Vaio S line of laptops, and the overall goal was to build a powerful computer that was also as portable as possible. It it most definitely a very hard goal, and it is fair to say that Sony took a very good shot at it. We have tried the Sony Vaio S in its 15” version, which we think is a great form factor for a high-performance productivity system. On our test, this Vaio S performed well, and depending on your particular needs, this may be a laptop that can go head to head, and beat the Macbook Pro 15 – not in terms of design, but in terms of productivity, weight and features. In this review, I will tell you how it felt to be using Sony’s latest 15” computer… the good and the bad. Ready?
The Sony Vaio S 15” has a distinct Sony Vaio look but a closer look reveals a 0.97” profile that is thinner than you may have been used to in the past for the 15” Vaio line. That’s not the only good news: it is also lighter than it looks. At 4.4lbs, this 15” Vaio S weighs just a little less than Macbook Pro 13”, and you can opt to double the battery life by adding a 1.33lbs sheet battery (which obviously adds to the thickness of the computer).
On the right side, there are plenty of ports: just look at the list: Memory Stick, SD, Ethernet, VGA, HDMI, USB 3.0, 2x USB 2.0 and power input (phew). The side left holds the optical drive, with options that go from DVD burner to Blur-Ray burner. There are no ports in the back, and the front only has a WiFi ON/OFF swith, along with the battery charge and the HDD indicators.
Keyboard (backlit): Because the 15” Vaio S is wide enough, Sony has decided to include a full-size numeric keypad. This is really great for those who have to type a lot of numbers, or have simply gotten used to having one. Now, only the arrow keys remain smaller than on a “desktop” keyboard. to be honest, I found it a bit weird that everything is off-centered to the left, but after a couple of days, I got used to it, and I am now enjoying the convenience of the numeric keypad, which is great when I write code. In terms of efficiency, I found it easy and fast to type with the Sony Vaio S keyboard. These days, I use a Samsung Series 9 (13”) and a Macbook Pro 15”. The Sony Vaio S does not have the key “touch” quality of the Macbook Pro, But I could type just as fast.
The trackpad is big, and it is functional, but the build quality does not offer the super-smooth surface that glass trackpads have. Also, it would have been nice if the whole surface was clickable (with a physical switch). The trackpad buttons have a “click” that feels a bit cheap, but believe me I’ve seen much worse – but there’s also better. This is something that would deserve to be improved as we use the trackpad all the time.
Overall, the industrial design is efficient, and there’s no doubt in my mind that it works to get the job done for productivity tasks or even mild gaming.
The Display is based on IPS technology and as such, it tends to have better view angles and very good color reproduction. Frankly, I haven’t tried to calibrate it to use it as a workstation, but what I mean is that when looking at the display at an angle, the colors aren’t distorted even if the brightness may fluctuate. This is very appreciable because you don’t need to look straight-on, which is especially useful in planes or tight spaces. This is also great when you’re trying to share something with others on your screen.
Webcam: The webcam video quality was average for a laptop of that price, there’s no surprise here. I was very much like the cheaper ACER S3 that we reviewed recently, so I’ll take it that Sony did not opt for anything special – it’s just enough to get you going, and it should do “ok” in good lighting, but in challenging lighting situations, don’t expect any miracles.
In terms of performance, the Sony Vaio S 15” will easily outperform smaller and thinner machines like the Samsung Series 9 90X3A and the Acer S3 that we have in the office. In addition to this, it also has a discrete graphics processor (GPU), and this means that this computer is capable of moderate gaming. For instance, the Just Cause game ran at 20 frames per second, which decent for a general purpose computer, but far from what a “gaming laptop” would need to be at. That said, keep in mind that this 15” computer weighs only 4.4lbs
The Vaio S doesn’t beat the Samsung Series 9 in the productivity test because it does not have an SSD. I won’t say this enough, but SSDs are actually more important than CPUs (to a point) when it comes to overall “perceived performance”.
I have also added some metrics that are relative to the weight and the price of the computer. The reason is: it’s easy to build something fast if it’s heavy, and it’s easy to build something light if it’s slow and expensive. Those metrics show what your money really buys.
For these tests, I have adjusted the power settings to make sure that the user experience is good enough.
60mn of 1080p MP4 video playback used up 20% of the battery (download it here: gt5rpe3trailer_fixedv11_1080.mp4), which is very little given that staying idle pretty much consumes the same power (it’s actually weird). This may be due to the fact that the MP4 decoding happens in hardware (Intel quicksync) and therefore uses very little CPU. The display power consumption is similar to what happens when the computer is just ON, doing nothing.
60mn of doing nothing (Display at 50%, no apps running) used up 20% of the battery. This is very important because this means that in the best-case scenario, the computer can stay on for about 5hrs, which is fairly good, but there are better options.
Charge time: recharging is as important as the battery life itself, because a quick charge can make a world of difference. It is clear that battery capacities won’t increase dramatically for any given size, but rapid-charging is already a working solution for industrial purposes, so consumer electronics will be next.
If you want, there a $150 sheet battery which doubles the battery life. I’ve seen it for that price as an order-option.
Conclusion (very good)
The Sony Vaio S 15” is an effective laptop that can be used for a variety of productivity tasks and also for light gaming. I personally think that it would be great for just about everything everything except hardcore gaming. As such, it should work for most people, in most situations. I personally think that this would be a great development machine for example. The large 1920×1080 screen combined with the full-size numeric pad is just a fantastic combo for that. The keyboard is also nice to type with, even if it doesn’t beat the Lenovo X1, or the Macbook Pro in terms of quality.
As tested, this computer costs about $1280, but there is a cheaper version for $949. If you can afford it, I strongly recommend the SSD option, although Sony only provides a dual-SSD (128GB x 2) option for about $500. I sure wish that they had made a single 128GB (or even 80GB!) available for those who don’t need the extra storage, or throughput. As it stands, the SSD upgrade is very (=too) expensive for most buyers. Sony, please change this for the next refresh.
If you want a pretty laptop that looks great in Internet cafes, the Sony Vaio S may not be for you. It’s not ugly, but there are clearly better-looking computers. However, if you want a great 15” 1080p laptop that weighs as much as many 13.3” computers, the Sony Vaio S is definitely worth considering.