Sony VAIO Pro 13 Ultrabook
Sony's VAIO Pro 13 has a touchscreen, but it's still one of the lightest Ultrabooks on the Aussie market today
- Very thin and light
- Excellent screen
- Full-sized SD card slot and HDMI
- Very fast storage performance
- A little noisy
- Touchpad isn't great
- Doesn't have Intel HD 5000 graphics
The Sony VAIO Pro is a great Ultrabook to consider if you want something very light, easy to carry, yet comfortable to use and with good performance for common tasks. It even has a touchscreen.
Price$ 1,399.00 (AUD)
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A couple of years ago, Sony released a little marvel of a laptop called the VAIO Z Series. It was incredibly thin (15mm) and light (1.15kg), even by today's Ultrabook standards, but you had to have the pay packet of a high-level executive to be able to afford it ($3999). Today, Sony has taken the concept of super-light machine and put it into a much more affordable solution simply known as the VAIO Pro 13. The VAIO Pro 13 is a 13.3in Ultrabook with a touchscreen, a fourth-generation Intel Core i5 CPU and a screen your eyes will adore.
What's immediately noticeable about the Sony VAIO Pro 13 (SVP13213CGB) is just how light it is. It weighs only 1.06kg (1.35kg with its power adapter) and it feels so light in a bag that there is a danger of forgetting you're carrying it around with you. It's a testament to Sony's engineering department that this light weight has been achieved with a screen that includes a toughened touch panel, which is a requirement for all Ultrabooks that use fourth generation Intel Core processors. We can only imagine how much lighter the VAIO Pro would be if the touchscreen was not a mandatory feature.
We're not mad at the touchscreen though. It helps make the overall Windows 8 experience a little more pleasant, and we're quite used to prodding and swiping at the screen to change cursor position, browse through photos and flick through open apps. The touch panel sits in front of a screen that's perhaps the most vibrant we've seen in a 13.3in Ultrabook to date, save perhaps for the beautiful 2560x1440-pixel screen in the Toshiba KIRA. It has a Full HD resolution, it's very bright, but its most striking aspect is the rich colour and plentiful detail that it shows up in photos and HD videos. It’s the type of screen that can even make poor quality smartphone pictures look okay.
It's a great screen if you're a photographer or artist, and even though it's a reflective screen, we didn't have too many problems viewing it in light-filled areas, thanks mainly to the high brightness and limited glare off the glass. The screen's viewing angles could perhaps be a little wider, but unless you somehow use your laptop while looking at it sideways, this won't be much of a problem, and the laptop is light enough to just turn towards anyone you want to show your work to.
The screen's hinge is designed in such a way that the bottom part of the screen comes down over the spine and lifts the laptop's base up a little. In effect, the laptop's rear end is actually supported by the screen and its hinges. It's a design that allows the hinges to take up as little room as possible in the base, and it’s a design that also makes the top of the laptop look clean and stylish. The sturdiness of the laptop is good; the screen won’t wobble uncontrollably when it’s tapped (it only moves back and forth a little bit), and the unit feels strong overall thanks to carbon fibre.
The light weight and excellent screen are only two parts of the equation with this model. You also get a chassis that's as thin as its two USB 3.0 and one full-sized HDMI ports will allow (the base is about 11mm on its own, and the unit is about 16mm thick when the lid is closed). On the inside of the chassis resides Intel's latest fourth-generation Core i5-4200U CPU.
This isn't that fastest chip around, but with a 1.6GHz frequency (it does up to 2.6GHz when Turbo Boost kicks in), two cores and Hyper-Threading, it should be fine for most office, Web and entertainment tasks. It’s an ultra-low voltage chip (15W) that provides a similar level of performance compared to a 1.7GHz third-generation Intel Core i5 model (17W), so there’s definitely a gain in efficiency with the fourth-gen CPU. It recorded 50sec in our Blender 3D rendering test and 56sec in our iTunes MP3 encoding test, which are times that we saw out of third-gen Core i5 ultra-low voltage CPUs running at 1.7GHz. It took over 29min to convert a DVD file into an MP4 using Handbrake, which isn’t a good time, but the VAIO Pro can definitely be used in a pinch if you need to do some video transcoding while on the road.
There is also 4GB of RAM installed, and the graphics are taken care of by the Intel CPU, which has Intel HD 4400 graphics, rather than Intel HD 5000 graphics. The 3D graphics performance from the HD 4400 chip is solid, though. In 3DMark06, the VAIO Pro got 4672, while in the latest 3DMark, it got 26425 in the Ice Storm test, 3191 in the Cloud Gate test and 443 in the Fire Strike test. It would have been great to see this model with a CPU that has Intel HD 5000 series graphics instead, but even the Core i7 version of the VAIO Pro offers Intel HD 4400 only.
The best aspect of the configuration for us is the use of a PCI Express-based solid state drive (SSD), which can provide much greater bandwidth than Serial ATA-based drives. This was shown in CrystalDiskMark, where the 128GB Samsung MZHPU128HCGM-00000 SSD recorded a read rate of 1040 megabytes per second (MBps), and a write rate of 430MBps. In our own file duplication tests, the drive recorded an excellent rate of 235MBps.
The speed of the storage was noticeable while using the laptop for day-to-day tasks: it booted in a mere 4sec (that’s a cold boot that we’re talking about), it took under 2sec to wake from sleep mode, regularly-used applications such Web browsers launched in about 1sec, seldom-used applications like VAIO Movie Creator launched in about 3sec, and data could be copied off portable USB 3.0 hard drives such as the Toshiba Canvio Slim at a flat rate of 103MBps. It really made the VAIO Pro an absolute joy to use.
As far as user comfort is concerned, we've already mentioned the beautiful screen and featherweight design of the VAIO Pro. In addition, it has a generous palm rest, although its finish can feel slippery if you have sweaty palms after a long typing session, and the edges of the chassis are very pointy, which you’ll have to bear in mind when using the VAIO Pro on your lap.
Its keyboard has keys with surprisingly deep travel and responsive bounce-back considering the thin chassis. You can type on this keyboard for long periods of time without getting tired. Best of all, it's backlit, which means it looks great at night. The white backlight is on a timer, and it switches off after short while of inactivity. You can also use the touchpad without the backlight switching on. We also love the space that's been given to the arrow keys, which makes them very easy to feel for.
The weak link in the user comfort chain is the touchpad, which isn't bad, it's just that its concealed buttons sometimes felt a little too awkward to press, especially for right-click operations. It also sometimes got in the way while we typed — a few times we ended up selecting and overwriting text due to our palm accidentally brushing it. It's centred according to the chassis, rather than the space bar. Sony includes a utility that can be quickly accessed from the System Tray area, which allows you to disable the touchpad should it become really bothersome while typing. We also noticed this on the last Sony laptop we reviewed, the VAIO S Series.
Noise from the little cooling fan could be an issue if you plan on using this laptop in a dead-quiet environment, but its whirring is no worse than what we've heard from other thin-and-light laptops over the last six months. Air rushes through the left side vent of the laptop when the load on the CPU gets heavy, and there is a series of vents along the top side of the spine, rather than at the bottom. You have to be careful not to block the side vent when using the VAIO Pro on your lap, as this can make the base get a little warmer than usual.
When you're operating away from a power outlet, the battery in the VAIO Pro 13 will give you plenty of life. We conducted our standard battery test, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise screen brightness and loop an Xvid-encoded video file, and the VAIO Pro lasted 5hr 23min. This is an excellent result for a 13.3in Ultrabook, and this is due to the slightly less power-hungry fourth-generation Core i5 CPU. You could get an extra hour (or more) out of it by using a balanced power profile and turning down the brightness level of the screen.
The VAIO Pro has dual-band Wi-Fi that goes up to 300Mbps, and it also has NFC for tap data transfers. If you require an Ethernet connection, you can buy the VGP-WAR100, which is an accessory with an Ethernet port that can be attached to the end of the power supply. It acts as a wireless router, which means that you can use a wired Internet connection in a hotel room, for example, without having to actually sit near the Ethernet outlet. It also allows you to distribute that connection to multiple devices and it supports WPS for easy set-up.
The bottom line is that the Sony VAIO Pro 13 is a great touchscreen laptop. We love the light weight and very mobile feel that it offers, and its Full HD screen is absolutely beautiful for viewing photos and videos. The storage performance is excellent from the PCI Express-based SSD, and the unit feels comfortable to use overall thanks to keys that have surprisingly good travel. We just wish that the graphics performance was a little better (especially after all the hype from Intel), and that the touchpad was a little more user-friendly. These are minor quibbles though and for $1399, we’d be very happy with this purchase.
Related Windows 8 laptop reviews:
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• Dell Inspiron 17R notebook
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• Samsung Ativ Smart PC 500T hybrid tablet
• Venom Blackbook Windows 8 gaming notebook
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