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This year marks the 15th anniversary for Sony’s VAIO brand. I had no idea. I remember recommending one to a friend’s Dad, little over a decade ago. But 15 yrs…!? Go Sony! The VAIO name has brought some innovation over those years. I remember the memory stick that was advertised to work with the Playstation 2 upon that device’s release. Such was not quite the case at launch. But like the memory stick, the VAIO name stands the test of time, ever resilient. Get more of the best laptops with our in-depth reviews on Gadget Review.
Today we have the VAIO S Series15 laptop on deck for a bit of mobile computing scrutiny. The S Series is near Ultrabook thin for a mid-sized laptop. But let’s be clear; this is no Ultrabook. We have an optical drive and a full complement of ports and full-size connectivity options, which Ultras often lack. It’s powerful, elegant, easy to use and does 1080p right out of the box on its 15.5 inch display. However, there are a few thorns on this ebony rose. But first while we’re on the subject…
The VAIO S Series is very thin and lightweight. In fact the design throughout has this concept in mind. There is no bulging battery pack bulk, ports are low profile and the optical drive is slot loading to avoid known hassles with trays left open. Users will want to make sure the slot is kept clean to avoid dust and lint build up around the optical drive opening. The reduced girth makes the VAIO S Series pancake-flat. We were sent the all-black version. But the unit also comes in a very sharp chrome look. Each features Spartan detailing with a large VAIO logo and smaller SONY logo on the back of the display. Open the lid and we have a handsome 15.5 inch display, low height chiclet style keys for a full backlit keyboard complete with Numpad and a couple more modest logos surrounding. The track pad is a bit larger than some and is positioned more to the left of center, which helps prevent inadvertently swiping or touching it while typing. I suppose I should call it by its official name. The VAIO S Series is the first of its kind to use the newly adopted “click pad”. It eliminates the designated left and right-click buttons. The entire “click pad” is essentially divided into 2 sections underneath the matte finish. Honestly I prefer the old style. Or maybe this particular click pad needs some optimizing. It’s touchy, feels twitchy and unresponsive at times.
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Under the hood we have an Intel i7-3632QM mobile CPU running at 2.20 GHz. This unit has a nice burly 12GB of system memory and is running Windows 8 Pro 64-bit with a smallish 700 GB hard drive. The display is powered by Intel’s integrated HD Graphics 4000 as well as discrete solution in the Nvidia GT 640M mobile GPU. The battery is ultra thin and lasts an adequate 4 hrs. Our model shipped with DVD optical drive but you can opt for a Blu-Ray drive if you so choose. The webcam is HD and does 720p and includes a mic for video chat and calls. Connectivity options include an Ethernet port, 2 high-speed USB 3.0 ports and a single USB 2.0 port, HDMI- and VGA-out , a single HG Duo memory stick port and a SD Card slot all for expanding your storage options. Finally we have the 15.5-in backlit display mentioned above capable of 1080p.
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One of the more novel but super sweet features is USB charging. Either one of the USB 3.0 ports can charge the battery for your MP3 player, Bluetooth devices, Smartphones and just about any other device that sips juice via USB. More notably, this works uninterrupted even if the VAIO S Series laptop is powered off. That’s awesome!
Windows 8 without a touch interface option is decidedly less awesome. I like Win 8 but I like it more when one can use it the way it was intended, over a touch screen interface to make the most of those pretty apps. The 15.5-inch display is not touch-based. So Win 8 is much easier to navigate through programs and folders with the mouse and keyboard while in the familiar desktop mode juxtaposed to the handsome tiled mode. Sony has tossed in a few of their own features to bridge the gap between Win 7 familiarity and Win 8 newness. While in desktop mode, just above the taskbar centered-left is a small tab. Click it to open VAIO Gate. This is a Start Menu-style list of SONY bloatware. You can probably guess what’s on deck. We have video editing and playback tools, ACID Music Studio, Sound Forge, DVD Architech, PowerDVD, Internet Explorer and more. Most of which will go unused and/or dumped to save space and system resources.
Yet I do like SONY’s new commitment to their burgeoning Xperia line of mobile devices. The VAIO S Series can connect to your Xperia mobile device using the Xperia Link software. This is a seamless way for devices to speak and share a single internet connection when either one of your tablet or phone is without one. Handy stuff!
The VAIO S Series model shipped to us is a solid performer, even great in many instances. This is not gamer’s box but some gaming can be done and decently too. Tribes 2, Shank 1 and 2, Mark of Ninja and Street Fighter 4 ran at respectable playable speeds. But these are not next-gen or even current gen game titles. Looking at the numbers we see the HP Pavilion topping out with its burly gaming-friendly configuration. But more interesting is the HP Omni 27-inch All-in-One computer performance slightly besting the VAIO S Series. This was the box the wife used the play DayZ at sub 30 frames per second. Apparently the ATI Radeon HD 5570 mobile gpu can outperform an Nvidia GT 640M.
There is a lot to love and less to fuss about in the VAIO S Series. Our model is near-top of the line (sans Blu-Ray). The speed is more than noticeable and it resumes from sleep in a couple of seconds. It’s comfortable and lightweight at 4.42lbs. Windows 8 is actually fun stuff albeit less so without the touch screen interface, at which point many may just find it a waste of time and system resources. But the desktop mode is tried and true so sticking with that may be preferable. The click pad leaves a bit to be desired and felt finicky. It does support multi gesture like pinch to adjust the size of images on-screen, which is handy. Another issue– it seems to drop some wireless signals after waking from sleep or hibernation. Often WiFi connections and Bluetooth connections will not resume after waking, until a system restart. That’s just annoying, but not impossible to patch or update, I’m sure!
That leaves the price, which is easily the biggest hurdle users will face when evaluating this one. At our stated configuration the damage comes to nearly $1400. For a midsized laptop that’s stepping up there a bit. There are similar performers on the market for lower cost and less flashy features like 1080p display resolutions and others the VAIO S Series handle so well. But with new slate/laptop hybrids blanketing the months to come it will be interesting to see which way the wind blows for the VAIO S Series. As it stand now it’s a great mobile computing option that will devour basic tasks like multimedia playback, internet surfing and a bit of gaming.
Bottom Line: The Sony VAIO S Series in this particular configuration is pretty sharp. However, this configuration may not be for everyone. For nearly $500 less you can get similar performance from a lower end unit from the same line.
The Sony VAIO S Series 15 laptop is available at Amazon in various styles and configurations.