Sony VAIO Pro 13 Subjective Evaluation

First impressions of the Sony VAIO Pro 13 are good if not exceptional, and I definitely like the look of the laptop. Sony has gone with a very thin chassis that uses carbon fiber, and it’s one of the thinnest Ultrabooks around (though not quite as thin as the Acer S7). Unfortunately, the choice of materials and the thinness feels a bit too flexible to me. Sony would counter by saying that a bit of flex rather than bending or breaking is a good thing, and that the added weight of more rigid materials is undesirable; some people will agree with them. I personally like something that feels a bit more solid, but the VAIO Pro 13 isn’t so far off that I wouldn’t at least give it some thought.

As far as the subjective evaluation goes, I’m happy to report that the keyboard works well and other than the lack of dedicated document navigation keys I have no real complaints. Considering how thin the VAIO Pro chassis is, I wondered if the keyboard would suffer. Thankfully, unlike the Acer S7 it’s still a comfortable typing experience. Key travel is decent and you get the usual backlighting that’s found on any modern non-budget laptop. There’s a bit of flex to the keyboard when typing but nothing horrible – the flex is endemic to the chassis design.

The touchpad isn’t quite so good, and it’s a bit baffling how many companies miss in this area. I’ve had inadvertent “zoom” gestures register quite frequently (instead of the expected scrolling), including when the drivers are “coasting” on a scroll and I happen to press the Control key. On the bright side I haven’t had a ton of accidental touchpad activations, and Sony uses a Synaptics Clickpad for the hardware. It’s also a large touchpad area, which means the lack of accidentally clicks while typing is even more impressive. The touchpad gets a pass, but I’d rate it a B rather than an A.

The touchscreen works well, though as usual you’ll first have to overcome the desire to avoid putting a bunch of fingerprints on your display (which is a personal pet peeve of mine and something my children seem to love doing). As I’ve discussed in the past, touchscreens are something that makes perfect sense to me on a tablet or smartphone, but on a laptop it’s something I don’t find necessary at this stage. Using a laptop is a different experience than using a tablet or smartphone, and with no true tablet mode to speak of I don’t have a huge need for the touchscreen. Others are sure to disagree, and since it’s easy enough not to use the touchscreen if you don’t want to, it’s mostly a moot point. However, given it's a $100 price increase I'm sure some will appreciate the option to skip the inclusion of a touchscreen.

The real benefit to the Sony VAIO Pro 13 is when we start discussing mobility. The VAIO Pro 13 comes with a relatively small, internal 37Wh battery, but even with that battery it still manages to deliver up to eight hours of usable battery life (in our Light benchmark – and that’s 90 minutes longer than the 6.5 hours Sony claims), while moderate to heavy loads will give you three to six hours depending on what you’re doing. If you need more than that, Sony also supports an additional sheet battery that basically doubles battery capacity and battery life. There’s also intelligence with the battery subsystem, so the laptop will first drain the sheet battery before using the integrated battery, and when charging the integrated battery will get charged to 80% before the sheet battery begins charging.

Basically, battery life is awesome on the VAIO Pro 13 – with or without the extra battery. The only problem I have is with the connection for the sheet battery, which just feels a bit flimsy to me – it always worked, but if the laptop felt a bit too flexible before, the added sheet battery only serves to emphasize the problem. The extra battery adds over half an inch to the back of the laptop and around half a pound, which isn't too bad but it would be nice if the sheet battery integrated better into the overall design. Oh, and the sheet battery adds another $149 to the cost of an already expensive laptop. That's pretty steep for a battery, but the extra intelligence that Sony includes (for charging/discharging) is at least partly to blame.

The mobility aspect isn’t just about battery life, though. I find 13.3” to 14” to be just about ideal for me when I’m on the road – but I’m pretty tall so you can hopefully understand when I say 11.6” laptops tend to be smaller than I like. 13.3” screens are a good size for keeping mobility while also being large enough that you can fit plenty of content on the screen – and 1080p is still usable. Given the screen size, you might expect the weight to be in excess of three pounds, but in fact it’s far less than that – 2.34 lbs. (1.06kg) to be precise. That’s only moderately heavier than a lot of 10” tablets, and you still get a keyboard and a larger display. This goes back to the material choices of course, and the lack of rigid metal on the chassis definitely helps keep weight down.

WiFi tesitng of the VAIO Pro 13 showed good transfer rates, with around 100Mbps on a 2.4GHz network and as much as 200Mbps on a 5GHz network. I also had no trouble using the VAIO Pro 13 within my entire house, which is a relatively modest two-story 2400 square foot abode. However, connectivity outside of my house is basically non-existent unless I'm outside of my office window. In fact, throughput and range on the 5GHz band is generally better than on the 2.4GHz band, which is not how things should be. I also had issues with the occasional WiFi dropout that required disabling/enabling WiFi to resolve (and an updated driver from Intel appears to have fixed that problem). The range question ends up being something you'll have to decide how important it is; I've seen better range on a lot of other laptops, but most of the time I don't tend to stray that far from my router (the farthest point inside my home is probably 40-50 feet away, through a couple interior walls and one floor). If you're looking for something that can work on a campus or in an office setting where the access point might be 100-150 feet away, the VAIO Pro 13 will likely not maintain a suitable connection.

The last thing I want to mention before moving on is that Sony has really done some work on tuning the boot process, plus the use of a PCIe SSD helps in reading large amounts of data. Turn on the VAIO Pro 13 and you might almost think it’s just waking up from sleep it boots so fast. Windows 8 definitely helps as well, but boot times of under seven seconds are very impressive. Elsewhere, performance is generally okay for typical home/office tasks, but the one area where the VAIO Pro comes up short is in gaming or graphics workloads. We’ll see this in the benchmark results, but for a Core i5 Haswell part, I just expected more from the GT2 iGPU. The CPU and SSD don’t have any such problems, but graphics performance is actually a step down from what we saw on most Ivy Bridge U-series parts. It's basically the only real shortcoming in terms of performance, and it's the one thing that's missing when we compare the VAIO Pro 13 with Sony's VAIO Z laptops.

Sony VAIO Pro 13: Exceptionally Portable Sony VAIO Pro 13: Performance
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  • Drumsticks - Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - link

    Two months ago or so Sony had an awesome sale (presumably back to school) on this. I helped my friend pick out the Vaio Pro 13 with the 4200U, 8GB Ram, and a 256GB SSD for $1200 or so. I thought it was a pretty decent deal at the time, especially given the relative rarity of haswell ultrabooks at the time. The SSD upgrade was only $120 and I think RAM upgrade was about $50. I think we might have added the battery sheet at some point.

    Then of course her (rich and trying in every way to spoil her great daughter), against any advice I could muster, found the need to throw in a 512GB SSD (SEVEN HUNDRED dollar upgrade), the i7, and some other obnoxiously useless upgrades for a friend of mine who browses facebook and simply needed a nice laptop for class. End price ended up being about $2500.

    But regardless, if this can be had on sale I think it's definitely a great choice. Personally, I think I want the Asus you mentioned as soon as it's out!
    Reply
  • Drumsticks - Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - link

    Oh yeah, great review, thanks! Reply
  • kevin_newell - Thursday, October 9, 2014 - link

    It's nice I agree! But it doesn't change the fact that Sony VAIO Pro 13 stands no chance to some of the top laptops on the market. /Kevin from http://www.consumertop.com/best-laptop-guide/ Reply
  • teiglin - Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - link

    Yeah I bought just a bit ahead of that sale; I was super annoyed when I saw it. With that sale, the Vaio Pros were actually a bit cheaper than a lot of the higher-end Ivy ultrabooks available at the time. It was something like $50 off the RAM/CPU upgrades, $100 off the 256GB SSD upgrade, $50 off the sheet battery, and a $100 rebate to boot.

    I don't really know who they're trolling with that $720 512GB SSD upgrade. I'm really glad I can live okay in 256GB. And $2500 sounds about right for the fully-kitted out version--if I had more money than sense, I'd love to tote around the red version they sell (http://store.sony.com/vaio-pro-13-zid27-SVP1321BPX... - $2600!).
    Reply
  • Brutalizer - Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - link

    Gamin sucks, but it seems to be a great laptop, because it is small. If only you could connect an external graphics card everything would be good. I saw someone modded an Mac book Air to use an external graphics card. Can this be modded too? Reply
  • purerice - Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - link

    "Modding" in that case essentially means they used a Thunderbolt/Lightpeak cable to connect to an externally housed GPU. Technically you could also do that with Firewire or USB but even USB3.0 bandwidth is so limited that you would be better off with the Intel graphics.

    In the case of the Macbook, Somebody was guessing the cost of the housing at $200-$250 without a GPU. That would put the cost of a good GPU+case at $350-$500. For some people it would be worth it, for others not so much.
    Reply
  • hodakaracer96 - Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - link

    "The keyboard gets a pass, but I’d rate it a B rather than an A" I think you mean touchpad. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - link

    Thanks, corrected. :-) Reply
  • Samus - Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - link

    Considering Sony's reputation for making short-life laptops it's hard to justify dishing out a months rent on something that will probably fail right after the warranty expires. Practically every VAIO I've ever come across beginning with the Transmetta Crusoe ultraportable's a decade ago have had chronic overheating problems, failed hard disks (from overheating) and terrible, terrible, terrible driver and warranty support.

    Some people think HP and Dell are bad, but man you haven't seen anything until you've owned a Sony. 4 week turnaround time on warranty repairs for something that was likely purchased at a price premium over the competition. They are pretty machines, but if you want something pretty with decent reliability at this price, why would you pass up a MacBook Air 13?
    Reply
  • br1an - Thursday, October 17, 2013 - link

    I've owned several Vaios but only needed one warranty experience (in the UK) and it was excellent. The collection and turnaround time was very quick (4 business days from pickup to return) and they checked and replaced a whole lot of stuff that wasn't within the specified scope of the warranty claim. Okay it wasn't major technical stuff - the palmrest cover had unglued on my F series, which they replaced - but they also replaced the fan, the whole keyboard and trackpad because they felt it needed it. Also nice were all the updates so I knew exactly what was going on - even DHL were announcing delivery with automated option to reschedule or re-address. Reply

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