Striking a balance between business and pleasure was always one of the VAIO S Series’ strong points. Now, after a ground-up redesign for the arrival of Sandy Bridge, the S Series is more sharply tailored than ever.
Weighing 1.69kg, it’s light enough to carry around daily. But it doesn’t feel as stout as its metal-framed construction might suggest; there’s noticeable give in the chassis, and more heavy-handed grappling causes the chassis to creak. Gorgeous though it is, the build quality is no match for Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Pro.
Spend a little time using the Sony, however, and any qualms about its build soon dissipate. The keyboard’s Scrabble-tile keys feel lovely, and the spacious layout is exceedingly comfortable.
The touchpad is equally fine: a fingerprint reader nestles between the two buttons, and the wide, smooth surface makes for accurate cursor control.
The Sony has the measure of most 13-inch laptops when it comes to performance. It’s possible to configure the VAIO S Series with a range of Core i3, i5 and i7 CPUs on Sony’s website, and our retail model came with the mid-range Intel Core i5-2410M processor. It’s blazingly quick, and the Sony blitzed our benchmark tests.
Graphics switching also makes its VAIO S Series debut. Flip the switch above the keyboard from 'Stamina' to 'Speed' mode or vice versa, and the screen flickers momentarily as the Intel and AMD chipsets swap places.
With AMD’s Radeon HD 6470M chipset taking command, the Sony can manage Crysis at modest settings: at the native 1366 x 768 resolution and Low detail, the Sony averaged a smooth 55fps. For serious gaming, Sony’s website offers an upgrade to the Radeon HD 6630M for a small premium.
When battery life is the priority, Intel’s HD Graphics step into the fray. Where the previous generation of the VAIO S Series achieved only 3hrs 44mins in our light-use battery test, the new model manages 6hrs 49mins. With the optional battery slice promising to double that figure, the VAIO S Series has the potential to last a working day on battery power alone.
Sony has squeezed a huge amount into the tiny chassis: USB 3, D-SUB, HDMI and an SD card reader line up on the laptop’s right flank, while the DVD writer and a combined headphone/mic socket are on the left. The sheer range of networking options is impressive, too: there’s Bluetooth, a single-band 802.11bgn wireless radio, a 3G modem and Gigabit Ethernet.
Flip over the VAIO S Series and accessing the Sony’s internals is easy: remove two screws and the front panel slides off to reveal the removable battery, the single empty RAM slot (the 4GB of RAM is soldered onto the motherboard itself), a mini-PCI slot housing the Intel wireless card and the 500GB SATA hard disk.
The display is the only let-down. The matte, 13.3-inch panel is plenty bright enough, but image quality is mediocre. Greyish blacks result in a contrast ratio of only 196:1 and, while colours look vibrant, an average Delta E of 11.1 proves colour reproduction is far from accurate. Viewing angles are narrow, too.
Given the flashes of brilliance elsewhere, it’s difficult to be too hard on Sony’s latest laptop. With the ability to configure your ideal model on Sony’s website, the VAIO S Series is capable of masquerading as anything from a basic business model to a Blu-ray-equipped wunderkind.
Our review sample sits between the two, but regardless of what specification you choose, the VAIO S is a light, powerful, feature-packed laptop that will appeal to businesses and consumers alike.