Sony VAIO Pro 13 IRL Review

img_0007Sony VAIO Pro 13 IRL Review- The Sony VAIO Pro 13 is Sony’s answer to the Macbook Air 13 (with a Pro 11 targeting the Pro 11). Weighing 2.3 lbs, its much smaller in weight compared to the 2.96 lb Macbook Air 13, and incredible in that 3 years later, it still holds its own against modern ultrabooks (and even VAIO’s own S, the current model). Despite newer laptops being faster, or lighter, or more specs (Samsung has made a 15 inch model under 3 lbs!), its still one of the only models at this weight that still has a touchscreen. I’m impressed. Its one of my favorite models by far. It takes many of the problems I had with the VAIO Duo 13, and perfects the notion of the ultrabook. Of all the notebooks I have used, its probably one of the most well rounded, dare I say, perfect models I have used. The following IRL Review explains why I feel this way.

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Design- I love the design- as a Gestalt whole, it looks like a Sony- it has a character to it, that takes a lot of the angled designs Sony has incorporated in recent years across a wide range of products. I remember reading the Sony X laptop design blog, and seeing how Sony thought out everything- knowing that just making a thin laptop would not make their model stand out relative to other ultrabooks including Apple’s industry defacto standard Macbook Air. They chiseled the edges to make it appear thinner, on top of being thinner. Even the angle the chisel played a role in the design. Its ridiculously thin- 3 years later, I rarely see an ultrabook that makes me think that the Pro 13 is finally obsolete in looks. Compared to its current equvalent from VAIO now in 2016, it loses the touch screen, but gains ethernet, a third usb 3.0 port, and a VGA port in the VAIO S. I like the extra ports and VGA, and can see how these would be better for business users, but losing the touchscreen is a bit lame.

I’m still inpressed with the design, despite its age. The Pro 13 is still incredibly light compared to other ultrabooks, and it has a touchscreen. Awesome. I do have to live with the Sony design choice to use carbon fiber vs a unibody metal design. Its been repeated over so many generations of VAIOs that its not a surprise anymore, but its always a point of contention with other reviewers- there’s lot of flex in the laptop, and its designed to bend rather than break. Compared to modern ultrabooks, personally, I would rather take the unibody metal design. It just feels more sturdy, even if Sony claims its a non issue. While I would take the unibody for the build quality, I do recognize that its a common design language now, and its frankly kind of boring. The XPS 13/Samsung Series 9…they all begin to looks similar when they don’t make major changes to the design beyond unibody. So that’s kind of neat in a hipster kind of way, that its different. One thing that is really neat is that its so thin, that it makes the Vaio X unimpressive. The X is the successor to the X505, the mindblowing super pricey computer from 2004. The Pro 13 feels like what the X would have been if it was 13 inches and packed with a gun. Its just that much better. Even though the X is thin and light, the Pro 13 is just that much more better in every way possible.

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Build Quality- I noted the flex already previously in this laptop design- so far, no major issues on my end. However, there is a crack in the body which likely would have happened if you just grabbed the front edge of the laptop to lift the laptop up. On most laptops, this is a non issue, including plastic bodied laptops. Especially on unibody laptops, this is totally a non-issue. On a very thin and non-unibody, this is an issue. I don’t know if it was rough handling by the previous owner or not, but its not a lot of confidence building. I make sure this is one of the laptops that I baby, a total difference compared to the Thinkpad X301, another super thin laptop. There’s a bit of flex when I type, but nowhere near as bad as the stuff that I see in the Pro 11 reviews. The body also seems to scratch a little easier than others. Finally, while the aluminum metal strip in the back looks great, its just another light piece of metal that reminds me this is not a Macbook Air. So in a word, delicate. Its a delicate item. Not in a cheap way, but in an expensive way, like a crystal glass.

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Typing–  One of the reasons that I steer away from two in one devices now is because of typing. While the surface devices have improved with the 4th gen pro, I still prefer a solid laptop to type on- really can’t pinpoint what it is- its not the haphazard lap typing experience, because I don’t use my laptops there anyways. I just prefer the typing experience on a laptop over a keyboard cover- that’s using a variety of keyboards too. Despite the typing experience on the Pro 13 not being the best laptop keyboard I have exerienced by far, I put a lot of emphasis on this because of its hybrid nature. At this time, there is rampant comparisons between two in one hybrids like the Surface, traditional laptops, laptops with touch screens, and tablets with keyboards. Similar weight classes include the Surface line up, as well as tablets with bluetooth keyboards. I personally have never extensively used the newer type keyboards on the Surface 3 line up and above, but I do quite like the type keyboard for the Surface 2. I’ve also used the Microsoft Wedge bluetooth keyboard with the Surface. Overall, I much prefer to use the Pro 13’s keyboard. My point being that I prefer the key travel and key size in the Pro 13, vs convertible solutions. This is a major point for me, because one major point of using a convertible solution is weight- a tablet and a cover keyboard weight quite a bit less than a typical ultrabook or laptop. However, I’ve never fulyl enjoyed the typing experience, even if they offer unique typing solutions. At the end of the day, I prefer the typing on the Pro 13, which places it at a huge advantage because its the same weight or less than a lot of convertibles with their keyboard attachments, and it also has the benefit of a larger screen and more powerful processor. One thing that is rather odd here is that the black keyboard has excellent contrast with the backlight on and off. On the silver model, Sony opted for a clear font on silver- the result is that with the backlight on or off, the keys are hard to disinguish visually. Another thing that I really enjoy is that these keys are not some oddball designed keys to accomodate the thinness. The new 2016 Macbook Pro/Macbook use the butterfly mechanism that I generally do not like typing on- I’m sure there are people that love this mechanism, but I’m not one of them.

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Screen- I’m a pretty big fan of the screen. While its not a 4K screen or “retina” screen, its more than good enough for me- I’ve never had a concern over the DPI of it- 1920×1080 works perfectly fine for me as a laptop- there’s plenty of resolution for multitasking and powerhousing through work on the Pro 13. Everything looks sharp- its a clear step up from most 13 inch laptops, especially ones running 1366×768 resolution. This is one aspect that would be worth it for me to pay extra over the relatively low price of entry/mid tier laptops these days. I’ve seen complaints that 13 inch screen laptops should have 4K screens, but I’m not in that boat- I think its overkill, with not enough benefit. 1080P is perfect for me in the 13 inch range. Its brightness is perfectly adequate but not as bright as I would have wanted – i.e. my phone can get brighter. I havent had too many issues with it, but in a very bright backlit room, I have wanted more brightness. This is also because its a glossy screen. The gloss doesn’t necessarily add much more to the viewing experience for me- I’d much prefer a hybrid matte/gloss finish, much like the 2010 Z series- enough gloss to have the colors pop, but not enough to murder the viewing experience with reflection. Still, its a much better experience than just throwing a gloss screen on a crap TN panel. The IPS panel on this is solid, and provides good viewing angles. Generally, I’m pleased with the Pro 13’s screen- its not mind blowing, but its perfectly adequate. Oh and its also a touch screen! That works really well with Windows 10- I don’t notice too many issues with the screen bouncing with touches. Its quite responsive overall and I have no issues with touch.

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Power- Its awesome- I find it perfectly adequate for a ultrabook, if not more- i previously talked about the balance between an ultraportable and a convertible- the primary focus being portability with each of these devices. Despite similar weight, the Pro 13 absolutely smokes the convertible class (unless you are comparing like a Surface Pro). The i5 ULV is more than enough to destroy the Nvidia Tegra chipset in my Surface 2, the ULV Core 2Duo in my TZ series, and certainly feels apt to give a run to a full voltage i5 mobile chip. What I really like is that I don’t notice any difference in power when I’m running this ulv i5 vs the i7 quad core in the VAIO F1. That’s really awesome. Of course that will be different if I was using something more demanding, but in my line of work which is primarily office work with a shite ton of research articles open, and a displaylink display, it runs perfectly fine. I like that. I’d much rather carry this 2.4lb powerhouse, vs a Surface 2 plus the Type keyboard, or Wedge keyboard. I just don’t find the weight savings worth the loss in screen estate and power. Another thing that I love about this is that compared to the VAIO X that is a full pound lighter than the Pro13, I’d still rather carry the extra weight to get the larger screen size and power. That’s how awesome this is- it balances power and portability just perfectly. I recently went to play with the HP Spectre, which is a modern 2016 laptop with a similar weight of 2.45 lbs- but it loses the touchscreen! I would hate to lose that. To be fair, in return, it gets a much more solid metal body (sorry carbon fiber :() that doesn’t feel like it will snap in your backpack. Anyways, the point is that the Sony Pro 13 still holds its own in many ways even years after being on the market. That’s pretty slick.

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Heat- this is the oddball- I never notice heat being an issue at all with this laptop, which is awesome- its right up there with the Duo 13, in being a nice cool design, despite being hella thin. What I do notice is that fan is on. All. The. Time. I normally would have chalked that up to the thin desing/i5, but really the Duo 13 was able to handle heat with almost no fan noise and the same chipset. The only thing I can think of is that the Duo 13 has an extra intake vent when it is in laptop mode. Given its thin size, the fan produces a rather high pitched whine which can get annoying. This is probably the biggest drawback I have on this system. I really can’t figure out why its so noisy compared to the Duo 13.

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Speakers- these are adequate but forgettable. They certainly sound better than the anemic speakers on the VAIO S15, but they are largely forgettable- disappointing to me considering that Apple has nailed this down in even tinier laptops like the current Macbook. They fire upwards into the screen and make enough noise for dialogue but not for music. Get an external set of speakers or headphones for this.

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Battery life- I’m not seeing the insane battery life I got in the Duo 13- I know the Duo 13 packed a larger battery inside, so that’s one piece. I just don’t get the gigantic duration that let me leave the power adapter at home. It does come with an extended battery slice that pops up on the bottom, so that’s pretty nice. Its not as big of an issue for me anymore, since I rarely bust out a laptop without an outlet nearby anymore.  It is certainly adequate, and a big step up from previous generation laptops that were pre-Haswell, but I’ve definitely seen better battery life from other Haswell laptops. The extended battery does seem rather flmsy and chintzy in design, but it works. Its a really simple latch and lock design that also elevates the laptop to a nicer angle for typing. Its also hella light so it doesn’t really add much weight when the two are combined. Personally, I feel like the VAIO X’s extended battery gives a more premium feel in materials- while its just a battery, its a battery for a premium laptop and it should match as such. Its a 4690 mah capacity battery. You can see that the extended battery is also desinged for the Pro 11- its not as wide as the body, so it can mount on the Pro 11 as well- I like that. Accessories that are model specific are nice, because they fit exactly, but they have much more limited use. You can also see the contrast of the cheap black plastic, versus the carbon fiber chassis.

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Conclusion- I love the Pro 13- it takes a nice approach and balances design, power, portability, battery life, typing, and screen quality to make me feel like its a great laptop overall. Certainly its not the best in class at any one particular area, but it manages to handle everything without compromising too much. I’m a big fan of it, and would definitely go for it again. Honestly, overall I think the VAIO Pro 13 might be my most favorite design of all time- it just gets it done so so so right- having a still impressively thin design, gobs of power, touchscreen, screen quality, adequate ports, extended battery options, decent screen size, and alright typing experience. I think the only other laptop that I am in as much love with is the Vaio X, except that it drops in screen size/resolution/power/typing experience. In fact, the biggest drawback of the Pro 13, is that I want the Pro 11 now, knowing its just moderately bigger than the Vaio X, but with way more power.

TLDR- Pros- power, portability, thinness, typing experience, screen quality, touchscreen, battery life. Cons- flimsy feel vs unibody aluminum, fan noise

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