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March 24, 2014

Sony Vaio Pro 13 Review

It might have taken Sony some time to release a proper ultrabook but the Vaio Pro is probably among the most competitive and well-made model that could take a lot of attention away from other brands. Check out our Vaio Pro 13 review after the break.

The Vaio Pro has been in the local market since the last quarter of 2013. However, only the Vaio Pro 13 was initially available.

A couple of months ago, we decided to just ago ahead and get the Pro 13 locally after not being able to get the upgraded Vaio Pro 11 in our recent trips in KL, SG and the US. We were also hoping to get that limited edition red-colored model but it costs an arm and a leg.

Design and Construction.

The Vaio Pro series comes in both 11.6-inch and 13.3 inches. Both are among the lightest ultrabooks ever produced by any manufacturer which was achieved by using uni-direction carbon fibre for the entire body of the laptop.

The 13.3-inch variant alone only weighs 0.870kg and even the 13.3 inch variant is just a hair over a kilo at 1.06kg (2.34lbs). It is surprisingly very light as though it feels there’s not much inside it.

The corners are thin and slightly tapers along the edges. The edges are also very sharp and can bite thru skin easily.

The lid is covered in matte-black with a subtle metallic brushed finish with the Vaio logo right smack in the center (and a much smaller Sony logo on top of it). The palm rest also has the same black finish except the keyboard tray that comes with a rough charcoal coating over it.

The power button on the top right corner of the keyboard is small and flat. All the physical ports are found on the right side — a full-sized HDMI port, 2 USB 3.0 ports, 3.5mm audio port, and an SD card reader.

That signature Assist button by Sony still exists, found just above the keyboard, and serves some system features and backup.

The entire body is painted in deep black, except for the rear end of the lid which has a silver trimming. The lid extends backward up to about 130-degrees with the rear side serving as a stand to allow a little bit of lift from the base and giving space for better ventilation.

Display.

The Vaio Pro 13 sports a full HD 1080p resolution using an IPS display. Sony also boasts of its Trilominos Display technology which they used to only employ in their HD TVs.

The glossy screen is easy and comfortable to use with the touchscreen functions, especially with navigation when surfing websites.

Colors are rich with deep contrast, pictures are clear and crisp while maximum brightness is still good and does not looked washed out.

There is some amount of glare on the screen when the laptop is used in the outdoors but that’s to be expected. You are still able to use it though and the visibility is still enough to have some work done in that environment.

The touch sensitivity and accuracy is also very good especially with the common gestures like swiping up or down to scroll, pinch to zoom, swiping left or right for forward/backward.

Keyboard and Trackpad.

The Vaio Pro 13 has a standard keyboard layout with some signature styling that’s noticeably Sony. The chiclet-type keys are just the right size although we think it could be 30-40% bigger and the spacing between keys are very wide.

The individual keys are made of some polycarbonate material painted in dark glossy finish with the characters in white paint. The keys are backlit and responds according to the intensity of ambient light. There’s no option to turn off the back-lights altogether, just in case you want to save up on battery life.

The keyboard has some flex and just a little short with travel but it’s still tolerable. The trackpad is large and wide with some sort of textured finish. While it is fairly reponsive and sensitive to touch commands, there’s one basic hardware flaw we immediately discovered.

The left click button gets stuck into position very often. This leaves the trackpad almost un-usable and makes accidental commands that makes it very frustrating.

While searching the web for a possible fix, we found out that it’s a common occurrence among new users (found a thread in a Sony website discussing the very same problems other owners found during their first week of using the laptop).

We would end up turning off the trackpad and just using an external mouse during the times the trackpad gets stuck. It’s a frustrating experience and not really what we’d expect from a Sony and a high-end model at that.

Speakers and Multimedia.

The speakers are hidden at the rear end of the base which is an odd place to position them. However, once you open the lid, it makes more sense as the speakers will be facing the screen and the sound bounces back to the front.

Audio is good to great depending on use — music playback is nice and crisp, sounds from movie playback is good and loud enough on close proximity.

The built-in HD webcam uses a Sony Exmor R CMOS sensor. Video quality is pretty good for streaming or video conferencing like Skype of Google Hangout.

One of the USB 3.0 ports also supports a USB sleep charge port for charging phones and other devices even when the laptop is in sleep mode.

OS, Apps and UI.

The Vaio Pro 13 came with Windows 8 Pro and we only upgraded to Windows 8.1 after the unboxing. The UI is the familiar Windows Tile with some native Sony apps to go along with it.

The Assist button we mentioned earlier launches Vaio Care which provides some security, perform maintenance on the system and even run a fresh install of the OS.

The system is pretty stable although we noticed some frequent crashes with Google Chrome especially after Sleep Mode. Perhaps, it’s got to do more with Chrome than the system.

While there’s the MS App Store, we still found ourselves using the conventional download-and-install-from-anywhere habit we’ve had for a long time.

The Start button is now present in the tool bar but it brings up the Tile window so we had to get used to that as our shortcut menu.

Connectivity and Configuration.

This is perhaps the very first laptop with NFC built into it. While it’s a new concept for a laptop, we found it very useful especially when pairing it with other NFC-enabled speakers. (However, that feature is currently limited to speakers only.) The NFC chip is placed just above the trackpad area.

The Vaio Pro has fast WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity. The full-sized HDMI port easily get you a second screen when you plug it to an external monitor or HDTV display.

We’re also impressed with the idea of adding another USB charging port right into the charging adaptor so the laptop is spared with the burden of being used as a charger.

Heat, Performance and Battery Life.

Heat and ventilation is among the concerns we’ve been able to appreciate lately and wanted to include in our reviews. With the Vaio Pro 13, we’re fortunate that the carbon fiber materials reduces the heat that seeps thru the keyboard and the back panel of the laptop.

There’s a ventilation grill on the left side of the base to allow for hot air inside to dissipate. It’s the perfect placement as it is away from anywhere you’d normally place your hands (and get burned in the process).

The Vaio Pro 13 is a powerful ultrabook. While it uses the same Intel chip as many other ultrabooks in its generation. The Windows Experience Scores we got from it shows pretty good results. The laptop can pretty much take whatever we throw at it.

The high-capacity 4,470mAh battery allowed us about 6 to 6.5 hours of normal usage with WiFi on and at 50% brightness. The battery can be pushed a bit further to a little over 7 hours once you crank the screen brightness down to a bare minimum and turn off all wireless connectivity.

The Vaio Pro allowed us that much time during our recent flight from Manila to Barcelona. There’s also an optional Vaio Pro Sheet Battery ($149) which is a battery extender that slips at the bottom of the laptop and can add up to 17 hours of battery life with its 4,690 mAh capacity.

Conclusion.

There’s no denial that Vaio Pro is Sony’s best ultrabook yet with its sexy design, very light weight and great performance. However, that comes with a hefty price as well.

With a price tag of Php79,999, it’s one of the most expensive ultrabooks in the market today.

Then, there’s also that frustrating problem with the trackpad that won’t go away. It’s a pity that this is supposed to be the last ultrabook under Sony before they give up their their Vaio brand to that Japanese investor.

Probably the biggest reason why we bought it because it was the last of its kind.

Sony VAIO Pro 13 specs:
13.3-inch full HD Triluminous touchscreen IPS LCD display @ 1920×1080 pixels
Intel Core i7-4500U 1.8GHz (Intel Turbo Boost 3.0GHz)
Intel HD Graphics 4400
4GB DDR3 1600MHz SDRAM
256GB SSD
WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n
Bluetooth 4.0 + H
1 x USB 3.0
1 x USB 3.0 with USB charge
HDMI out
SD card slot
Webcam powered by ‘Exmor R for PC’
NFC
HDMI to VGA adapter
AC powered Ethernet to WiFi Router
TCG ver1.2 Security chip
Stereo speakers with ClearAudio+ mode
322 mm x 17.2 mm x 216 mm
1.06kg (with standard supplied battery)
Li-Ion 4,470 mAh battery
Windows 8.1 Pro

What we liked about the Vaio Pro 13:
* Powerful hardware
* Great design
* Very light materials
* Full HD IPS display
* Very good battery life

What we did not like:
* Crappy trackpad
* Very expensive


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