- Review Date: 05/09/2013
- Bottom line: The Sony VAIO Fit 14 is a mainstream laptop that comes as close as you can without being an official ultrabook, but it went over specification. It's nice to look at and somewhat powerful, but a couple of issues keeping it from scoring higher.
- Pros: Nice styling. Comes with multimedia creation software like ArtRage, ACID, and Sound Forge. Sharp 1,600-by-900 resolution screen.
- Cons: Uncomfortable keyboard. Only four hours battery life. Sealed battery.
The Sony VAIO Fit 14 (SVF14A15CXB) ($849 list) is an almost-ultrabook. Coming in at a hair over the 21mm thickness specification, the VAIO Fit 14 is a mainstream laptop that doesn't qualify as an ultrabook, even though it shares its Intel Core i5 processor, SSD+Hard drive configuration, and quick wake from sleep capabilities with systems that meet the ultrabook spec. We surmise that Sony called it the Fit to fill a niche between its thinner ultrabooks and its larger desktop replacement laptops. Most times, system manufacturers choose to go off-spec to gain some benefit that the strict specifications can limit. Other than the inclusion of an optical drive, however, we can't seem to find a reason. The system costs as much as competing ultrabooks and performs on most benchmark tests just as well. However a couple of drawbacks emerged during testing, including a short battery life and a very uncomfortable keyboard. These downsides held the VAIO Fit 14 from gaining a better overall score in the end.
Design and Features
The VAIO Fit 14 has the hallmarks of a Sony VAIO design, with its black-brushed metal lid, embossed VAIO logo (now with chrome outline), matching palm rest, and one piece trackpad. The system measures 0.87 by 13.5 by 9.25 inches (HWD) and weighs 4.26 pounds. These are quite respectable stats for a 14-inch laptop, though the system is thicker than touch ultrabooks like the Toshiba Satellite U845t-S4165 ($799).
The center of attention on the VAIO Fit 14 is the 14-inch screen with its 1,600 by 900 resolution. This is a much higher resolution than the 1,366 by 768 resolution screen we see on run of the mill laptops in this segment like the Samsung Series 5 UltraTouch NP540U3C-A01UB ($849). While not true 1080p HD, the VAIO Fit 14's screen is sharp, clear, and bright, which is everything we expect from Sony. The 10-point touch screen is responsive, and is protected by a seamless piece of glass. The black border around the screen is necessary to give your finger an off-screen starting point for Windows 8 gestures, and on the whole the system has a pleasing aesthetic. The multi-touch trackpad is also compatible with Windows 8 gestures, so you can use either to get around in Windows and on the Internet.
The backlit keyboard has an intelligent layout, with reduced sized keys for the F1-F12 keys and the arrow keys. The only other buttons on the top of the system are the power button and the VAIO Assist button, which opens a help utility. The chiclet-style keyboard could use some help: the keys are very stiff, which let you type quickly, but the flat key tops and very shallow key travel means that the keyboard feels uncomfortable to use. While you'd be able to easily type at 60 words per minute or more, the keyboard feels uncomfortable during use, and your fingers and wrists may tire quickly. It is similar to the touch keyboard cover on the Microsoft Surface Windows 8 Pro ($999): you can use the keyboard part time quite successfully, but it will start to become uncomfortable after about ten to fifteen minutes of use. Since the built-in keyboard is one of the main reasons to buy a laptop over a slate Windows 8 tablet, we see the uncomfortable keyboard as a glaring flaw. The Sony VAIO Fit 14 comes with a utilitarian, yet unremarkable set of I/O ports. The VAIO Fit 14 has two USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, SD card reader, Ethernet, and a headset jack.
The system comes with a 750GB hard drive for storage with a 8GB cache SSD. Sony calls this setup a Hybrid Hard Drive, but essentially it's like the cache SSD plus spinning hard drive configuration common to entry level ultrabooks like the Editors' Choice Acer Aspire M5-481PT-6644 ($730). The cache drive helps these systems on day-to-day tasks (as seen by the PCMark7 scores below), as well as helping these systems wake from sleep quicker than systems that have a hard drive-only configuration. The VAIO Fit 14 took less than three seconds to wake from sleep mode, which is as fast as SSD-only systems like the Toshiba Satellite U845t-S4165. The VAIO Fit 14 comes with an optical DVD burner, which will come in handy if you want to watch programs from your DVD library or want to install older programs that came on CD or DVD.
The VAIO Fit 14 has a very good selection of multimedia content creation apps, like ArtRage Studio (a painting program that leverages the touch screen), Sony's ACID Music Studio, DVD Architect Studio, Movie Studio Platinum, and Sound Forge Audio Studio. If you don't already have these programs, they can help turn your den or dorm room into a music/video/podcasting studio. Other preloaded programs include music and photo library programs by Sony, Sociallife (a social networking aggregator), Skype, Solitaire, Minesweeper, Slacker Radio, iHeartRadio, Music Maker Jam, PlayMemories Home, VAIO Movie Creator, Intel AppUp, Hulu Plus, and Skype. It's a lot of programs that you have no say in receiving, but most of them can be useful to the creative hobbyist. The VAIO Fit 14 comes with a one-year warranty.
The VAIO Fit 14 comes with an Intel Core i5-3337U processor, 8GB of memory, and that 750GB hard drive with 8GB cache SSD. The combination of components garners the VAIO Fit 14 a very good score on the day-to-day PCMark7 benchmark test. It's not quite as fast as the SSD-powered Toshiba U845t-S4165, but it's close. Likewise, the VAIO Fit 14 comes in with very close scores with the Toshiba U845t-S4165 on the multimedia benchmark tests (Handbrake and Photoshop CS6). Taken together, this means that the VAIO Fit 14 will be a good companion to the multimedia maven, provided she can get over the uncomfortable keyboard. The 3D numbers from the VAIO Fit 14 were good, thanks to the integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 in the Core i5 processor. You won't be able to play high-end 3D games, but you should be able to play light 3D games and browser-based games fine.
Battery life is important to laptop usage, and unfortunately the VAIO Fit 14's score of 4 hours 8 minutes on our battery rundown test is another of the system's disappointments. Systems like the Toshiba U845t-S4165 (6:17) and Acer M5-481PT-6644 (6:04) go past six hours, which means that they will be able to last most if not all of your afternoon's schedule. The VAIO Fit 14 might last the afternoon, if you lay off the social networking and let the system sleep while you're not taking notes. The battery is sealed in the chassis, so you won't have the option of carrying spare charged batteries to extend your day.
The Sony VAIO Fit 14 is a mainstream laptop that's almost an ultrabook with a few glaring drawbacks that keep it in the middle of the pack. If you're interested in the system and its higher resolution screen, give the system a tryout in your local big box store. If you can tolerate the keyboard and if you won't mind carrying the AC adapter with you, the system is a good find. However, for most users, systems like our Editors' Choice for entry-level touch ultrabooks Acer Aspire M5-481PT-6644 are a better choice overall.
This review is in partnership with PCMag.com.
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