- Review Date: 09/11/2012
- Bottom line: The Sony VAIO S13 (SVS13112FXW) isn't the most innovative or powerful ultraportable available, but its inclusion of some nifty features and capable multimedia performance makes it a solid choice for users looking to add some flair to their everyday computing.
- Pros: Sleek, well-designed chassis. Built-in optical drive. Good port selection. WiDi.
- Cons: White finish prone to smudging, stains. Ho-hum battery life.
You may be forgiven for thinking, at first glance, that the Sony VAIO S13 (SVS13112FXW) ($899.99 list) was a MacBook. Indeed, with its white chassis, the VAIO S13 bears a striking resemblance to Apple's now-discontinued MacBook line. The inevitable comparison does a disservice to the VAIO S13, though, detracting from its multimedia capabilities as well as its sleek chassis, internal optical drive, WiDi functionality, and dual USB 3.0 ports. MacBooks aside, S13's dimensions are nearly identical with those found in ultrabooks, but with one critical difference: it sports a standard-voltage processor, thereby leading to its classification as an ultraportable. Regardless of its appearance, however, the VAIO S13 is a solid choice for anyone looking to add a bit of flair to their everyday computing, even if it isn't the innovative or powerful ultraportable available.
Design and Features
The VAIO S13 measures 0.95 by 13.04 by 8.85 inches (HWD). Its moderately light weight of 3.75 pounds (as weighed on our Labs' scale) lands between the Editors' Choice Toshiba Portege R835-P88 ultraportable (3.2 pounds) and the Acer Aspire Timeline Ultra M5-481TG-6814 (4.16 pounds) ultrabook. Its svelte magnesium alloy chassis strikes a nice balance between sturdy and portable. As for the white finish, it's ultimately a matter of taste. Some may like the look because it distinguishes the VAIO S13 from its ultraportable peers as well as the deluge of ultrabooks currently on the market. Others may argue that it unjustly apes the Apple aesthetic. Regardless of which camp you belong to, however, it's worth mentioning that the white finish leaves the VAIO S13, particularly the palmrest, vulnerable to smudging and staining after prolonged use. Taken right out of the box, though, the VAIO S13 looks as stylish and modern one would expect an ultrabook to be, especially when the lid is closed and the shiny VAIO logo embossed on its surface is attractively displayed.
The glossy 13.3-inch display has a resolution of 1,366 by 768, which is standard for its class. The resolution is good enough for 720p video and does a nice job displaying text and images alike. Likewise, movies look sharp, an easily verifiable attribute since the S13 features a slot-loading CD/DVD burner. Meanwhile, the VAIO S13's built-in speakers are on par with most other laptops, capable of pumping out sound at a decent volume for one or two folks in a small room, but nothing that'll keep your next-door neighbors awake at night.
The VAIO S13 sports a backlit tiled keyboard whose keys are decked out in a matte-finished silver color, which looks somewhat odd juxtaposed with the white chassis. Regardless of your aesthetic preference, typing on the VAIO S13 is a breeze, and its sturdy chassis exhibited minimal flexing during use. Sony has included several hotkeys above the keyboard's top row, such as an Assist button that launches VAIO Care for system tune-ups and troubleshooting, a Web button that launches the browser of your choice, and one simply labeled "VAIO" that can be configured to trigger any chosen application. While hotkeys are fairly standard on any keyboard, Sony has also included a "Performance Selector" switch that can be toggled between "Stamina" or "Speed" modes. Reminiscent of the Mode Dial on the Samsung Series 7 Gamer (though not nearly as exaggerated), this switch adjusts power settings on the fly; "Stamina" aims for battery preservation, and accordingly disables the VAIO S13's fans while slightly dimming the screen, whereas "Speed" mode optimizes performance by "maxing" everything out. Like the keyboard, using the touchpad was a smooth endeavor, and it fluidly responded to two-finger scrolling and pinch-zooming. The left- and right- click buttons are both integrated into the touchpad surface. The palm rest is rather narrow, though, so be prepared for some inadvertent clicking with a stray thumb.
Port selection on the VAIO S13 is solid. The slot-loading CD/DVD burner and a headphone jack occupy the left side of the system, while the right side features dual USB 3.0 ports, a USB 2.0 port (with sleep and charge capability), two card readers (one for Sony's proprietary Memory Stick interface and one for SD cards), an Ethernet port, a VGA port, and a full-size HDMI output. I'm personally fond of the latter because it removes the need for dongles, making connecting the system to a larger display far less cumbersome. Additionally, the VAIO S13 features Intel Wireless Display (WiDi) technology, so wires can be removed from the picture entirely since high-definition audio and video can be beamed to any HDTV kitted with an aftermarket adapter, like the Netgear Push2TV ($99 list).
The VAIO S13's 640GB 5,400rpm hard drive comes preloaded with a decent serving of pre-loaded software on it. As is often the case, it ranges from useful apps (like Microsoft Office Starter) to trial software (30-day trial to Kaspersky Internet Security suite). There's also a slew of proprietary software by Sony (VAIO Care, Media Gallery, PlayMemories Home, and so on), though this is tempered by the near-total absence of anything that can be classified as bloatware, so at the very minimum you won't be forced to deal with the usual suspects like desktop links or game suites.
Armed with a 2.50GHz Intel Core i5-3210M processor and 6GB RAM combination, the VAIO S13 was a fairly average performer in our benchmark tests. Its PCMark 7 score of 2,128 fell to the bottom of its class, landing within striking distance of the Portege R835-P88 (2,313) but, falling short of the rest of its class by a considerably larger extent. However, the VAIO S13 fared significantly better when it came down to multimedia capabilities. With the exception of the Editors' Choice Lenovo ThinkPad X230 ultraportable (1:35) it led the pack in our Handbrake video encoding test (1 minute 43 seconds), breezing past the both Toshiba Satellite U845-S406 ($879.99 list, 3.5 stars) (1:57) and the Timeline Ultra (1:59) and leaving the others in the dust. Likewise, its Cinebench R11.5 score of 2.84 fell short of the class-leading ThinkPad X230 (3.09) but trumped the rest of its class, including the HP Folio 13-1020US (1.93). It completed our Photoshop CS5 test in a brisk 3 minutes 56 seconds, falling short of the both the Portege R835 (3:56) and ThinkPad (3:37), but still outgunning the Satellite U845 (4:33) and, to an even greater extent, the Folio 13 (5:27)..
The VAIO S13's integrated Intel HD 4000 GPU performed admirably against most of the ultrabooks and ultraportables in its class since they, too, were equipped with integrated GPU's. The only exception was the Aspire Timeline Ultra, whose discrete 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT640MLE GPU propelled it graphical domination across-the-board. The yawning chasm between the VAIO S13's 3DMark06 scores (5,255 at medium detail settings and 1,024-by-768 resolution; 3,272 at native resolution with 4x anti-aliasing) and that of the Aspire Timeline (10,294 and 8,501, respectively) therefore doesn't come as much of a surprise. The VAIO S13 fared better among the rest of its class, though, and only fell short of the Satellite U845 (5,792 and 3,278, respectively) while nonetheless outgunning both the Folio 13 (3,765 and 1,912, respectively) and the Series 5 Ultra (3,234 and 1,934, respectively). Similarly, while the VAIO S13 failed to break the 30 frames-per-second (fps) playability barrier in either Crysis (24fps in medium quality at 1,024-by-768 resolution) or Lost Planet 2 (19fps in medium quality at 1,024-by-768 resolution; 10fps in high quality at native resolution), it nonetheless led the rest of its class, save for the beefier Aspire Timeline Ultra (55fps and 25fps in Crysis, respectively; 50fps and 31fps in Lost Planet 2, respectively) and, in one instance, the Portege R835 (20 fps in Crysis in medium quality at 1,024-by-768 resolution).
We were unable to run our usual MobileMark 2007 test to determine the lifespan of the VAIO S13's removable 4400mAh lithium polymer battery. As an alternative, we utilized a ten-hour video rundown test. While this approach is admittedly not as accurate as MobileMark, it's nonetheless a helpful indicator of a system's battery life. Accordingly, with the VAIO S13 in "Speed" mode and with the display dimmed to 50 percent and Wi-Fi activated, the VAIO S13's battery lasted for 5 hours 25 minutes. The Toshiba U845 lasted 5:02 on the same test, which is 23 minutes shy of the VAIO S13.
The Sony VAIO S13 (SVS13112FXW) isn't the most innovative or robust ultraportable out there. It does, however, have plenty going for it, such as a sleek chassis, WiDi functionality, a decent port selection, and a cheaper price tag than most ultraportables. While its battery life and overall performance falls short of both of the Editors' Choice-winning ultraportables, it's nonetheless a solid choice for anyone seeking to add a bit of flair to their everyday computing.