July 12, 2011
- Thin & lightweight design
- High-resolution display
- USB 3.0, Intel WiDi, Bluetooth
- Strong performance, dual-graphics
- High price
- Design may not please everyone
- Graphics switching is poorly designed
The Sony VAIO S Series VPC-SA21GX/BI has been redesigned and made more portable without skimming down on some high-end features. It has a 13.3-inch high-resolution HD display, a Blu-ray option and strong AMD graphics. The design, however, may not visually please everyone.
The Sony VAIO S Series VPC-SA21GX/BI measures 13 x 8.8 x 0.9-inches (wdh) and weighs 3.6-pounds, which is much thinner and lighter than previous Sony VAIO S models. While not quite as thin and lightweight as an ultraportable, like the Apple MacBook Air, it is still definitely portable. The SA model, which was our review unit, comes in either Jet Black or Platinum Silver and is the "higher-end" model than the SB version of this VAIO S line.
It has a magnesium alloy frame that makes it rather lightweight, yet strong. It has a design that's very similar to the previous white Apple MacBook design. It has a unique angular design that not everyone might like in terms of the visual appeal.
The keyboard offered on the Sony VAIO S Series VPC-SA21GX/BI gives plenty of room between keys, which are a little recessed into the keyboard deck. The keyboard is also backlit, which is a really welcomed feature that is missing on many laptops on the market today. The touchpad is about average-sized for a laptop of this size and has a rather frictionless surface that supports multitouch gestures. Between the mouse buttons under the touchpad is a fingerprint scanner for added security, but we found this to be a rather strange, yet unique, place to put it.
The 13.3-inch display has a resolution of 1600 x 900-pixels, which is slightly higher in resolution that comparable models. It also has a matte finish, which really helps to cut down on glare, but you do sacrifice some color vibrancy as a result. Other than that, the screen had good brightness levels and streaming HD content looked really good.
Sony's port selection on the VAIO S Series VPC-SA21GX/BI includes one USB 3.0 port, two USB 2.0 ports, HDMI-out, VGA-out, Ethernet, an SD/Memory Stick card reader and a headphone/microphone combo jack. In addition to that, you also get an optical drive (a Blu-ray option is available), 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and optional 3G wireless data capabilities. The inclusion of USB 3.0 really shows that Sony has updated this VAIO S series laptop and we appreciate that. There is also support for Intel's wireless display (WiDi) technology, which lets you stream HD content to an HDTV without any cables. Of course to do this, you must purchase a separate converter box for your HDTV.
The technical specifications include a second-generation, dual-core Intel Core i5-2410M CPU (2.3GHz) CPU, 4GB of DDR3 memory, a 500GB 5400RPM hard drive and a dual graphics setup (integrated Intel HD 3000 & AMD Radeon HD 6630M). The "Sandy Bridge" CPU combined with 4GB of RAM and discrete graphics really help the performance of this computer quite a bit over the previous models and help it compete with other similar 13-inch laptops.
The dual-graphics setup works a little less intuitively than the Nvidia Optimus laptops, which seamlessly swap between the integrated and discrete graphics systems based on your performance needs. Instead with this laptop, you have to activate the discrete AMD graphics via a button weirdly labeled "Stamina/Speed". In doing so, you must exit out of your programs that you have open and the screen flickers for a moment while the graphics are switched. This physical switching is much less "great" compared to the Nvidia way as we mentioned, but we still liked the ability to have discrete graphics capability when necessary.
Because of the discrete graphics, you can use this laptop for some occasional 3D gaming as it does give you decent performance in that category, but it definitely isn't the best you can get compared to both other laptops and desktops. Besides gaming, the VPC-SA21GX/BI gave us really great performance all-around, especially for multitasking and watching HD videos.
In terms of battery life, you can expect to get about 3.5 hours of life with the included battery while using the discrete graphics (about 5 hours without). If you want more life, you can purchase a "Slice" battery pack that will add about 2 hours onto each time.