The Bottom Line
Sep 30 2011 - Sony's VAIO S offers a very compelling package for those looking at a compact laptop for graphics. Unlike most 13-inch laptops, it features a dedicated AMD graphics processor and a very high resolution, matte display. These features are offset by the muted colors in the display compared to some others on the market. For the features, it is also very light at nearly a pound less than the competition. Still, with Sony's pricing, it can be a hard choice between this and Apple's updated MacBook Pro 13.
- Very High Resolution Display
- Dedicated Graphics Processor
- Very Light For Its Size
- Relatively Expensive
- Hinge Could Be Sturdier
- Display Colors Are A Bit Too Muted
- Intel Core i5-2410M Dual Core Mobile Processor
- 4GB PC3-10600 DDR3 Memory
- 500GB 5400rpm SATA Hard Drive
- 8x DVD+/-RW Dual Layer Burner
- 13,3" WXGA (1366x768) LED Backlit Display With 1.3 Megapixel Webcam
- AMD Radeon HD 6630M Graphics With 1GB Memory
- Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11a/g/n Wireless, Bluetooth
- One USB 3.0, Two USB 2.0, HDMI, VGA, SD Card Slot, Memory Stick Slot
- 12" x 8.8" x .9" @ 3.7 lbs.
- Windows 7 Home Premium, Office Starter
Review - Sony VAIO VPCSA21GX/BI
Sep 30 2011 - The Sony VAIO S is roughly the same dimensions as the Apple MacBook Pro 13. Where it differs is in the overall weight of the laptop. It comes in at nearly a pound lighter than the all aluminum Apple laptop. In terms of feel, it is decent with a mix of magnesium and aluminum. Apple's product feels a bit better and sturdier at the display hinge in particular.
Performance wise, the Sony VAIO VPCSA21GX/BI offers a solid experience thanks to the Intel Core i5-2410M dual core processor. It is a standard voltage laptop processor that offers improved performance over the new lower voltage Core i5 CPUs that are starting to come out in the new class of ultrathin laptops. This combined with 4GB of DDR3 memory should allow it to run most applications very smoothly. Very demanding tasks such as desktop video will still cause it to slow down but this is more a result of memory rather than processing power.
While most 13-inch laptops are ditching optical drives in favor of thinner dimensions, Sony continues to include a dual layer DVD burner with the VAIO VPCSA21GX/BI. This is nice if you want to watch a DVD movie while traveling or need to author a CD or DVD. With Sony's price point and the declining costs of optical drives, it would have been nice to see Blu-ray but they save that for higher versions of the VAIO S. In terms of data storage, the hard drive is of an average size at 500GB which should provide sufficient space for most users applications, data and media files. The drive does spin at a more traditional 5400rpm which puts it at a slight performance disadvantage compared to solid state drives or hard drives pinning at the 7200rpm desktop rate. Sony does thankfully include a single USB 3.0 port for use with high speed external storage.
The major difference between Sony and most of the other 13-inch laptops is with the graphics system. Most laptops now rely on the Intel HD Graphics that are built onto the CPU. Sony has elected to use a hybrid graphics system between this and a dedicated AMD Radeon HD 6630M graphics processor with 1GB of DDR3 memory. This offers very tangible benefits for anyone that it looking to do some casual 3D gaming on the go or running applications such as Adobe Photoshop which can benefit from the acceleration of a dedicated graphics processor.
In addition to the graphics system, the display on the Sony VAIO S is a very high 1600x900 resolution. This is much higher than the traditional 1366x768 found in 13-inch screens. The only downside to this is that the text can be more difficult to read for those with less than perfect resolution but Windows 7 is better at handling resizing desktop items now. The display also uses a matte display rather than glossy coatings found in many consumer laptops. This makes it easier to use outdoors or in certain conditions that produce glare and reflections. While the resolution is nice, the color on the display feels a bit underwhelming compared to those found in Apple's products, especially the MacBook Air 13.
The keyboard continues to use the isolated or chiclet keyboard designs that Sony introduced so many years ago that many companies are switching to. It offers a very nice layout that was very accurate and comfortable to use. The trackpad is sizable and was accurate. It features dedicate left and right buttons that had a nice level of feedback.
Sony claims that the VAIO S should run for roughly four and a half hours of DVD playback with their standard battery pack which is a six-cell 4400mAh rating unit. In DVD playback testing, their estimates were fairly close with roughly four and a quarter hours of running time before it went into standby mode. This is behind what Apple achieves with the MacBook Pro 13. Now, if you do want more running time, Sony does sell an optional slice battery pack that attaches to the bottom of the VAIO S. This will add significant bulk to the laptop as well as push its weight up to nearly five pounds but it nearly doubles the overall running time and is something for those that need long running times to consider.