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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  • eamon - Saturday, October 19, 2013 - link

    You mention in the article that avoiding the touch-screen saves a few bucks which may be an interesting option therefore. There are a few other advantages to that choice: it also saves 130g on an already very light laptop and gives you a screen with less glare. (Subjectively, it feels about as heavy as an iPad with the magnetic cover, which is quite something - although at 931g it's still slightly heavier). Finally, I've seen several glass touchscreens in ipads+MBA's crack, and given the flex in the casing I'd be even more worried here. However, if you don't have the touchscreen then there's nothing to crack.

    In other words, if you want a road warrior (which this laptop indeed is quite good for), I'd definitely recommend avoiding the touch screen. The laptop's quite a bit better without it.
  • aliase - Saturday, October 19, 2013 - link

    a little expensive for 128 gb ssd version.
  • wdfmph - Sunday, October 20, 2013 - link

    It is a somewhat good review. But why is it 3 month late? I had this computer in June. Yes, I got it soon after its launch. I was excited but soon let down. I hate the fan/electricity noise, tricky touchpad, and the wifi connect issues. I am a consumer, not a repairer. I hate been told again and again about updating Wifi firmware when it doesn't really help. The computer comes with tons of useless/trial software. Why does PC companies want to deteriorate their image like this?
    If you have a budget like $1300, go with macbook pro. Somebody told me. I hated it. I tried and now I know why.
  • JarredWalton - Monday, October 21, 2013 - link

    It's three months late because Sony didn't want to ship us one earlier. Sorry!
  • sudz - Wednesday, October 23, 2013 - link

    We've got this laptop for a sales staff in my company - I've had it 3 weeks now and I haven't deployed it due to constant wireless issues. With no Wired option, its a dealbreaker - It WILL NOT connect after coming out of hibernate. I have to disable and enable to wireless card. Not acceptable for an end user to have to do. Odd thing is, it says its connected to the SSID, shows great signal strength, has an IP address... but I can't ping anything but loopback. 5 hours on the phone with sony invested. About to return the bloody thing.
  • Geronemo3 - Thursday, October 24, 2013 - link

    I would like to see this against Yoga 2 pro which was recently selling for $1299 for haswell i7, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD. Plus it also has a 2nd slot under keyboard for extra msata. For $1599 yoga 2 pro comes with 512. I am seriously considering it Also because it has that tablet mode. Also it would be nice if all ultra books come with microsd slots like the surface 2. But I know that's wishful thinking.
  • omaudio - Friday, October 25, 2013 - link

    I have been looking for a good 11.6" or 12-13" w/ backlit keyboard and decent battery life for awhile now. still using an old Atom netbook w 2GB RAM and an M4 SSD. These are pricier that what I wanted to spend but I am ready to finally get something soon. Are the RAM or hard drive user upgradeable? I see the HD is PCIe, is that mSATA? Is the RAM soldered to the MB?
  • strafejumper - Monday, October 28, 2013 - link

    I got the Sony Vaio Pro 13 but ended up returning it (-%15)
    Mine ended up having a wifi issue of low wifi speed
    When there is a direct line of sight between router and laptop I don't think there is any issue
    Where I use the laptop i'm on a different floor than the router
    My smartphone, old laptop & desktop all get good speeds browsing and in internet speed tests
    But the Sony Vaio pro Never could get decent speed - Icouldn't watch youtube videos (buffering) and sometimes couldn't even load gmail properly

    I took the Sony on a trip and had the same problem where ever I went - ipads, my old laptop, etc all worked normally while theSony Vaio Pro 13 was slow slow I gave up trying to browse websites or check email on it

    I tried fixing it for a month because overall its a pretty slick laptop but in the end returning it was my best option

    I'm not the only one who had this issue with the laptop - 117 pages on the Sony community forums about this issue:

    Other thoughts about the laptop:
    When the fan kicks in it is a little too loud - louder than you would expect - not a deal breaker but not a high class touch
    The multitouch trackpad was not as responsive as I would've liked - I tried the apple laptops in an apple store and I could scroll webpages up and down with a lot of speed, responsiveness and no glitches - with the Sony Vaio Pro I had to coax the trackpad to work by tapping a few times and then starting slowly to get things rolling and then ramp up to my speed and then it would start hiccuping and I would switch to using the touchscreen.
    I think you will find you need to use both the touchscreen and the touchpad because one alone is not very reliable/responsive as it should be
    Screen was beautiful - as good if not better than any i've seen (glossy not so great for getting work done outdoors but beautiful in the right conditions)
    The Macbook air has a TN panel and the TN panel is no comparison to this IPS panel
    (i don't see much difference between retina and non-retina but TN vs IPS makes a big difference for me)
  • alphadean - Thursday, October 31, 2013 - link

    Have owned several Sony Z ultraportable computers with great success. Primarily used for SolidWorks 3D modeling and assemblies. I want to upgrade and have considered the Pro Red 13 ($2600) for the configuration and addition support. Any opinions? What other high end 13" small lap tops should I consider?
  • aritai - Saturday, November 2, 2013 - link

    Just noticed the perf and power comparisons are to an Acer S7 391 (the year-old model), not this summer's S7 392 (the Haswell system, shipping a roughly the same time as the Haswell MBA). Would be great to see the Haswell-to-Haswell comparisons across these vendors - I suspect the 2013 MBA has met its match in every dimension ('cept brand).

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