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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  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - link

    The sheet battery raises the back about half an inch (1.34" total height at rear -- 34.1mm) and according to my little food scale the laptop with the battery weighs 2.97 pounds (1.348kg).
  • Amkitsaw - Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - link

    Thanks so much! It's a great review; I completely agree with your assessment at the end about manufacturers raising the ~$1200 ultrabook spec to 8GB/256GB. It's a little ridiculous so many manufacturers are holding onto 4GB in 2013.
  • teiglin - Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - link

    Nice review as always, Jarred. One issue though--my Vaio Pro 13 claims to have Dual-Band Wireless-N 7260 (<3 Intel part naming) and has no apparent issues connecting to my 5GHz AP. Is it possible that this varies between models?

    The one other downside of the flex-y chassis you don't mention (maybe didn't encounter?) is that you can actually click the clickpad by pressing down on either side of the touchpad, or by placing a thumb between the touchpad and the edge, and lifting the laptop with your hand underneath it. Practically this is only very rarely an issue (if I'm walking around and holding the laptop by the front, mostly--and the lightness makes this something I do more often than I would have thought), but it bears mentioning.

    On the pricing front, I would love to see Sony come down a bit, but it's been four months and there is still pretty sparse competition. There's the Acer S7--on Amazon, $1300 for the i5/128GB SSD/8GB RAM model, or $1580 for i7/256GB SSD upgrade--or the ATIV Book 9 for $1400, but in order to get its beautiful screen, you have to suffer its ridiculous single configuration of 128GB SSD/4GB RAM. Dell's XPS 13 is still Ivy if you buy it today, and the XPS 12 is neither priced much better (especially with upgrades), nor to my mind a directly competing product. Especially now that you can shave $100 off by dropping the touchscreen, Sony's still at or near the front of the Haswell ultrabook pack in value here. It'll be interesting to see how the rMBP 13 compares--and the Zenbook Infinity, if it ever materializes.
  • teiglin - Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - link

    Forgot to mention the Surface Pro 2, since you did--if you're comparing to that, you should probably compare the 11" flavor, which starts at $100 less than the 13 and essentially costs the same as Surface Pro 2 when you include a type cover. I do think for roughly the same price, Surface Pro wins that value comparison easily, though again if the tablet-y-ness isn't a factor you save $100 by dumping the touchscreen in the VAIO.

    Also on that topic, you wrote that Surface Pro 2 comes out in "ten weeks"--doesn't it come out next week? The Anandtech article (admittedly old at this point) says Oct 22.
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - link

    Should have said 10 days. Heh. Wrote that earlier so now I need to edit it....
  • 7heF - Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - link

    There is A LOT of Vaio Pro 13 owners that has huge wifi-problems. If you are in the same room as the AP, it can be ok, but some distance a a couple of walls and this pc is one of the worst on the market. No antenna in the screen - just a small cable behind the motherboard.

    I use a usb-dongle for wifi. With the internal solution, some of my 802.11g-based old pc's have much better range. My house ain't that large, but all over the house I can get coverage on the iPhone and the iPad - but with the Sony the performance is very low, unstable or completly without a connection.

    Sony have for months said there will be an software update for this problem. I doubt it. I belive the antenna is the problem and that it really can't be fixed.

    There is a huge thread at the Sony forums about the issue:
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - link

    Text on pages 2 and 6 has been updated. It's odd that the WiFi works so well within my home, but the exterior walls just kill throughput (assuming you can connect at all). I had some similar issues with the Acer R7, though oddly only on the 2.4GHz band.
  • whatever61 - Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - link

    You don't mention an important factor, that this laptop has a problematic wifi.
    There's no solution for months and probably the problem is in the hardware.

    To be more specific, the speed drops drastically when the signal is not good. Some say it's because of a bad antenna location. Anyway, it's a very strong factor to take into account before buying this awesome (besides that one flaw) laptop.

    Also, take into account that the back cover is very easily scratchable (way too easy!)

    And yes, the extremely light weight is really exceptional!
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - link

    As noted above, the text on pages 2 and 6 has been updated. Thanks!
  • juhatus - Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - link

    I bought the Vaio Pro 13 (i7-4500, 8Gb, 256gb toshiba ssd, no touch, 3year warranty) almost 2 months ago for 1200€. I must admit that it had it driver problems on start but every update has actually made a difference and now all problems are solved. It had a bit problems with fan, bluetooth and wifi, but as i said, updates solved those.

    I have to totally disagree with the "built quality"-issue, flexibility is by design not because they used sub-par engineering and materials. If you check how big the actual motherboard is, its about half of the depth of the laptop so its not flexing at all. One reviewer also noted that Sony has done these flexible design's before and now few years after those laptops haven't gotten any problems. If you close the lid than vaio 13 isnt bending almost at all. Jarred if you need a crowbar, than use something else than laptop :)

    Jarred could you add some benchmarks about the ssd speed? If you get the samsung model.. its should do almost 1Gb/sec sequantials and the 4k read/writes arent that bad either. I got the 256gb toshiba and it still beats a samsung 840pro.

    One thing about the display and calibration, Pro13 should use Sony's Tri-luminos tech and that surely could confuse the colormeter?

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