You can see the Sony Vaio Pro 13, the ultrabook we’re going to review for you in this article, as a successor for the famous Vaio Z lines of business laptops.
There are of course plenty of details setting the new and the old Sony Vaios apart, including their raw performances. But with Haswell, low-voltage platforms have reached an all-time best. They are still not incredibly powerful, but can deal with most everyday tasks at ease, while running for many hours each charge.
And that’s what’s expected from a business machine these days, among others. It should also be thin and light, durable so it will withstand the daily hassle, and secure. The Vaio Pro 13 can’t thick all the check-boxes, at least not the base configuration that we tested here. But it ticks most of them.
So, without any further ado, let’s jump to it. Read the article below and watch the videos. And if you have any questions or look for further clarifications, drop me a line in the comments section at the end of the post.
Sony Vaio Pro 13 video review
But before we get to the actual review, the video below will tell you most of the things you should know about this Vaio.
The specs sheet for the Sony Vaio Pro 13 SVP13
|Sony Vaio Pro 13 SVP13|
|Screen||13.3 inch, 1920 x 1080 px resolution, IPS, Triluminos|
|Processor||Intel Haswell Core i5-4200U CPU|
|Video||integrated Intel 4400 HD|
|Memory||4 GB DDR3|
|Storage||128 GB SSD|
|Connectivity||Wireless N, Gigabit Lan, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC|
|Ports||2xUSB, SD card reader, HDMI|
|Operating system||Windows 8|
|Size||322 x 216 x 17.2 mm (12.68″ x 8.50″ x 0.68″)|
|Weight||about 1.1 kg (2.4 pounds)|
|Extras||backlit keyboard, Ethernet to wireless dongle included|
Design and exterior
The 13 inch Vaio Pro is for sure one of the most beautiful laptops I’ve ever seen. It also feels like a high-end laptop should. Sony went for a fiber carbon body on their new premium notebook, used for the entire outer case and the area around the keyboard, while the palm rest is covered in aluminum. The carbon fiber shell is grippy, but will also catch smudges quite easily and the matte surface is not that easy to wipe clean.
Ditching the aluminum case, something most other manufacturers offer for their ultrabooks, helped Sony lower the weight of their Pro 13 to only 2.3 – 2.4 pounds, or under 1.1 kilos, while most competitors go for about 2.7 to 3 pounds these days.
It also helped them get a laptop that doesn’t look like any of its competitors. The Pro is definitely a beauty, with its angular design and very slim profile. Sony made sure everything fits just perfectly on this notebook, with an exceptional care for details and overall manufacturing quality. However, its sharp edges and especially the pointy corners don’t make it exactly the most comfortable to use, as those corners will bite deep into your wrists when typing for hours, like I did.
Still, while annoying, that’s not that big of a problem. The overall lack of sturdiness however, could be. The laptop flexes and bends no matter how you use it. See the video for details. Having it on my desk and pressing the keys caused the entire body to flex, grabbing it makes the lid-cover bend and so on. My contacts at Sony claim the Pro is specifically designed with a certain amount of flexibility in mind and is tested to withstand all sorts of usage scenarios. That might be so or not, only time will tell, but I for one would surely feel a lot more confident in this laptop if it were sturdier.
In fact, the stiffest part of the laptop is the glass covered screen, which holds firm while taping it, swiping, etc. On the other hand, the lower body beneath the keyboard is flimsy. Once again, just to be clear, the laptop is not poorly built, but because it bends and flexes easily, it surely doesn’t give the best of first impressions.
The bottom of the laptop is just as flat as the top. You do get some rubber feet and a slice battery connector in the middle down here, while on the sides, there’s the PSU with a charging LED and a cooling grill on the left, plus the SD card-reader, microphone-headphone jack, two USB ports and a full-size HDMI connector on the right.
There’s no Ethernet and no VGA. However, Sony does bundle an HDMI to VGA extension in the pack, and a LAN to Wireless dongle, but more about it a bit later.
All in all, the Vaio Pro 13 is an astonishing looking machine, with a sharp angular design and a thin and light body.
This does make the laptop a bit too flimsy for my liking and maybe for its well being (speculation, hopefully time will prove me wrong), but surprisingly, the Pro is also very well balanced. You can lift the screen with only one hand and the lower body will slightly raise on the plastic pads on the lower edge of the display, which leads to better cooling and a more comfortable typing angle.
Keyboard and trackpad
Speaking of that, the keyboard on this Vaio Pro 13 is surprisingly very good. The keys are proper sized and spaced and have enough travel for a machine this thin. The layout is nice as well, although those tiny arrow keys are a bit annoying. But you’ll get used to them.
In fact, I’ve typed this entire review on the Pro without any problems whatsoever. And that’s a big thing, as I come from the excellent classic keyboard on my ThinkPad X220 and usually have a hard time adapting to anything else. Yes, the entire body flexes quite badly, even when gently taping each key, but while slightly bothering, that did not affect my typing performances at all.
The keyboard is also backlit. I couldn’t find a way to manually adjust the back-lightning intensity, but there is a sensor that will turn ON and OFF the illumination according to the ambient light.
The clickpad however does not rise to the high standards set by the keyboard. It’s not bad, but there’s definitely room for improvement, particularly when it comes to registering taps and some gestures, like two-finger scrolling. I’ve tried mingling with the settings, but that didn’t make any difference.
Besides that, I did find the trackpad’s surface a bit rough to touch, while most other producers use those smooth glass covered clickpads these days.
Those out of the way, let’s turn our attention on the display. There’s a 13.3 inch IPS Full HD touchscreen on this Vaio Pro and there’s little I can say wrong about it.
It responded promptly to all my touches and swipes, while displaying very sharp and vibrant content. Sony bundled their Triluminos technology on this screen, which does lead to popping colors, although a bit over-saturated. The contrast and brightness levels are good and there’s a light sensor that automatically adjusts the brightness based on the amount of light around, which works pretty good.
There’s also this other technology called X-Reality (details), meant to improve lower-definition video quality, but I for one really couldn’t see any differences with it activated or not. Perhaps I had to try with some really poor looking clips or something.
Still, there is one thing Sony should have done better here. There’s a rather big gap between the panel and the layer of glass on top, around 1 mm or more I’d say, and that leads to reflections and contrast fading, which is mostly visible on whites and lighter content. And that’s very annoying, especially with the screen that doesn’t lay flat on the back and doesn’t offer full flexibility when it comes to adjusting the vertical viewing angles.
In other words, even when looking at the screen straight-on, the corners and up and bottom parts of the screen will show slight color degradation, and that’s more visible when you can’t have the screen facing properly towards you, because it can only lean-back that much.
Hardware and performances
Alright, but enough talking about this laptop, let’s see what it can actually do.
As I mentioned in the beginning, the Vaio Pro is one of the first ultrabooks to offer Intel’s new Haswell hardware platform. Our unit is the base version of the Pro 13, with an Intel Core i5-4200U processor, Intel HD 4400 graphics, 4 GB of RAM and a 128 GB SSD.
You will notice there’s a GT2 graphics chip on this machine. Later down the line we’ll see GT3 graphics bundled on the i5 and i7 ULV processors, and those 5000 HD lines will offer slightly better performances than this combo we have here. Besides that, it looks like there are 2x 2GB modules of RAM in dual-channel, based on Sisoftware Sandra (one of the pics below). I can’t confirm this for sure though as I cannot open this review unit and have a peak at the components.
One final thing I should add regards the SSD. This is an NGFF SSD (details), which means that it’s more compact than the regular mSata SSDs seen lately and also uses a different connector. Intel and several other manufacturers are trying to standardize the SSDs inside ultrabooks and that’s a good thing. We’ve seen many types of SSDs on portable laptops in the last years, with different types of connectors and that creates confusion between buyers and also makes these laptops more difficult to service or upgrade. Performance wise, the 128 GB SSD on this Vaio is quite fast, although we’ve seen better. Check out the pics below for details.
Anyway, this entire hardware combo makes the Pro 13 powerful enough for pretty much everything you might throw at it, from basic things, like browsing, chatting or listening to music, to more advanced tasks, like editing photos and videos, watching multimedia content and even running some games.
The excellent sound system has a massive impact on the overall multimedia experience as well, as the Pro does offer punchy and good–quality sound for an ultrabook.
You can see how the Pro handled titles like Starcraft 2, Dirt 3, the latest Need for Speed and some others in the clip below. All those games are running on 720p resolution with details towards LOW, and as expected, the Vaio can handle decently some of the older titles, but has problems dealing with recent complex games. Still, it’s not a gaming ultrabook or anything like that.
If you’re interested in some benchmarks, I’ve run several of them on this Vaio Pro and you can see the results below:
- 3DMark 11: E996, P600;
- 3DMark 13: Ice Storm – 27957, Cloud Gate – 3440, Fire Strike – 465 ;
- PCMark 07: 4375;
- Windows Rating: 5.6;
- CineBench 11.5: OpenGL 14.18 fps, CPU 2.11 pts.
Back to our review, I do have to add that the Vaio Pro comes with Windows 8, which does offer the touch-friendly interface with all the apps inside the Windows Store, plus the classic desktop environment. There are also about 15 or so pieces of Sony software presintalled on this laptop, and some MIGHT be useful (Vaio Care, Xperia Link, Kaspersky antivirus). However, you should uninstall most of them, they just eat up precious space on that small 128 GB SSD and slow down the unit.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity and others
The Vaio Pro manages to run cool and quiet most of the time. When dealing with full HD videos, games and some other demanding apps, the bottom part will get warm, but not uncomfortably hot or anything like that. Air is sucked in from those cuts in the hinge and blown-out through the grill on the left edge, and the entire cooling system is efficient, but can also get quite loud when pushing this machine.
The connectivity options are very good as well, with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC. The wireless performances of the Intel N7260 card inside this Vaio is alright as long as you’re close to your router, although occasionally (happened two or three times in a couple of days) the laptop failed to connect to my network and I had to restart it to get it to work.
Not sure if that’s a Windows 8 glitch or anything else.
Update: These Wi-Fi signal drops are a known and unfixed issues with most, if not all the Vaio Pro 13s. Just like I mentioned above, the Wi-Fi module disconnects out of the blue and you need to restart the laptop to make it work again. And that happens very often. On top of that, the signal’s strength and speed drop very fast if you get a bit further away from the router (15+ feet with some obstacles in between), as you can see in this long forum thread.
I should also mention the webcam on top of the screen, which is unfortunately very noisy and lacks the details I was expecting from a laptop in this class. It works alright in Skype and Google hangouts if there’s enough light around, but I’ve definitely seen better.
But how about the battery life? There’s a 38 Wh battery inside this unit and that’s enough to push the Vaio Pro 13 for about 5 to 7 hours of everyday use, which really proves the efficiency of the new Intel Haswell hardware. If that’s not enough, Sony also offers a slice battery for their Pro, for $149, that can easily push it to 10-12 hours of life or even more.
In practice, I got about 6 hours of life while looping a 1080p mkv file with Windows Media Player HC, on PowerSaving, with the screen at 60%. While typing this review and a couple of other texts, I drained about 45% of the battery in about 4 hours, using it with the screen at 30%, on Power Saving. Of course, if running games or editing videos you’ll get a lot less, around 3 hours or so. But on average, I’m very happy with the results.
Under heavy loud, you won’t see a big gain from previous Ivy Bridge ultrabooks, but under everyday and light use, this Haswell powered machine ran for 30 to 50% longer than similar Ivy machines. Also, the standby-time was great, Windows estimating 10+ days of Stand-by with the battery fully-charged, which makes little sense in ever turning OFF you laptop again.
There’s also one cool trick worth mentioning about the power-brick. As you can see here, it does come with an USB slot, so you can charge your various accessories. But Sony also offers an USB powered Wireless dongle, that perfectly integrates with the brick.
There’s an Ethernet port on this unit, you just have to stick in the cable, press the WPS button and get yourself a secure and easy to use Wi-Fi network. Definitely something I’d wish other manufacturers will offer on their ultrabooks in the future.
Prices and availability
Sony sells the Vaio Pro 13 for $1250 and up, but some online stores offer it discounted these days. Our review unit is the base configuration, with an Intel Core i5-4200U processor, Intel HD 4400 graphics, 4 GB of RAM, 128 GB SSD and Windows 8.
You can also get an Intel Core i7 config, add more memory and extra storage space, but those will push the Vaio Pro 13 above 2 grand. The more powerful options will also offer Iris graphics (Intel HD 5000/5200 lines) and extra features useful on a business machine, like vPro, Windows 8 Pro and so on.
All in all, the Vaio Pro 13 is an excellent device. Yes, it feels a bit fragile, but I don’t think the flexible chassis will have negative effects on the long term if you treat it right. Of course, there are things I’d wish Sony would have done better, like the trackpad and the pointy corners, but those shouldn’t be enough to steer you away from this machine: a slim, light, beautiful, fast and long running business ultrabook.
So, should you buy the Vaio Pro 13? Well, if you want a new ultrabook right now, it’s definitely something to consider, although it is more expensive than similar Ivy Bridge machines and even some of the (very few) other Haswell notebooks also available.
If you’re not in a hurry though, I advise you to wait till the end of the summer. This is just one of the first Haswell ultrabooks hitting the stores, and I’m sure we’ll see plenty of other very good choices down the line. Not necessarily better than the Vaio Pro 13, but it’s always good to have more viable options to pick between.
Anyway, that’s about it. I hope you enjoyed this Sony Vaio Pro 13 review, and if you have any questions or things to add, I’ll be waiting for your comments below. Cheers.