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

    I don't know about the Tri-luminos tech confusing my colorimeter, but I have verified on a couple laptops that the calibration just looks really off, so I've held off doing any more potentially flawed testing.

    As for build quality, I noted that it's by design, but I disagree with the design. Yes, it should hold up reasonably well, but laptops like the ASUS U-series, MacBook Air, heck even the Acer S7 all feel better (though the keyboard on the Acer is not at all good in my book). It's a sacrifice of rigidity in favor of being ultra lightweight, and that's fine -- I can live with it and not complain too much. Still, I wish Sony would reinforce the chassis just a bit more. Carbon fiber is not at all heavy, so another layer or two bonded on there would do wonders.

    SSD performance is good, and really maximum transfer rates start to become meaningless past a certain point. I would rather have a somewhat slower 256GB SSD than a faster 128GB SSD, simply because I need more capacity. But the VAIO Pro 13 does boot and load programs very fast (other than Windows 8 Apps, which as usual take far too long to load).
  • teiglin - Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - link

    My 256GB unit has a Samsung, and I got 1GB/s sequential read and 825MB/s sequential write just now, if you're curious. Is the Toshiba worse?

    As for the build quality, I didn't think Jarred was too harsh on it--he mentioned that he liked a more "solid" feel as a matter of preference and not that there's anything inherently wrong with the flexible chassis. I can get a noticeable amount of flex even when mine is closed though, if I squeeze it--again not problematic necessarily, but I can understand if people would like a more rigid design better. Obviously increasing rigidity isn't going to keep the laptop at 2.3lbs.
  • juhatus - Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - link

    When I was ordering, I picked the free 256gb option. I just checked the sony webstore again and now they are offering msata and pci-e options for SSD atleast in Europe. (256gb pci-e upgrade is free btw).

    I remember the Toshiba being very similar to 840pro speeds, maybe its the msata version. But anyhow its plenty fast. SSD is just something that people should make note because there are alot of different versions Sony ship with these.
  • SetiroN - Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - link

    You really need to re-think your benchmark suite.
    Who gives a crap about how far an ultraportable goes below 20fps in games.
    We need to know how its SSD performs, how long it takes to elaborate files, zip them, copy them. How fast network transfers are. REAL WORLD USE, not freakin' cinebench.
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - link

    The PCMark scores more or less encapsulate all of the data points you're after. I noted that the SSD is quite fast, and has very good boot times. The CPU results are there just as reference points, and the gaming tests are there to show that, no, this is not a gaming laptop. You'll notice how much time I spent discussing the benchmarks, and that's because for the most part the benchmarks (outside of battery life) simply aren't important. It's more than fast enough. If you have to know how much faster it is than other laptops, you're probably going to want something with a quad-core CPU and a dGPU. Ultrabooks for the most part target the mainstream user that values mobility over performance, so that's the focus of the review.
  • piroroadkill - Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - link

    ASUS UX301: with the desired i7-4558U (which is also what I'm interested in) is available in Germany.

    Since it's publicly available, there's no NDA. I say buy one from Germany and get it shipped. You know people want an indepth review on it.
  • piroroadkill - Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - link

    Also, I mean the i7-4558U is what I'm interested in. The Asus Zenbook Infinity (UX301) does look good, too. I'd love to see it released properly so I could play with the available configurations.
    However, pretty much any laptop with this CPU that is 13" is worth reviewing.
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - link

    Now if only I had the money to buy things and have them shipped to me for review....
  • Fatality - Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - link

    Great review, But where is the mention of bloatware? Does this thing come with lots of it? I ask this because specs and presence of Bloatware are the primary factors I base my buying decision on. I know a lot of people who do that as well. Has Bloatware? no buy.
  • juhatus - Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - link

    I think win8 has generally reduced bloat, but on this vaio pro 13 Sony has put few modern app's and mcafee virus protection (witch i instantly uninstalled and went with win8 defender) Also i think there was the office365 trial included, have not even started that. But id say very little bloat.

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