Man, I wanted to love this laptop when I first heard about it. On paper, the Sony Vaio S Series has everything I could want in a machine.
It’s massively spec’ed out with a 2.8GHz Core i7 CPU, 6GB of RAM, a 640GB hard drive, and an integrated Blu-ray drive. Switchable graphics let you jump between a Radeon HD 6630M and an integrated chip, depending on how miserly you need to be with your power consumption. And the dazzlingly bright IPS screen, an odd 15.5 inches diagonally, offers a phenomenal 1920 x 1080 resolution — genuine 1080p right there. Ports include 3 USBs (one is USB 3.0), SD slot, Memory Stick slot, Ethernet, HDMI, and VGA.
All this in a package which, at 4.4 pounds, is lighter than most 14-inch laptops. What’s not to like?
Well, a few things.
First, there’s performance: The numbers aren’t bad when compared to the field, but when you consider its specs, this Vaio underperforms. It’s noticeably sluggish during many routine operations. I also experienced a few unexpected crashes — hardcore, hold-down-the-power-button-to-restart crashes — which dampened my enthusiasm. Perhaps it’s all the preinstalled, resident software that’s to blame, including the Mac-like Vaio Gate dock at the top of the screen.
And while the S Series has a truly phenomenal trackpad — a nice, large surface with the right level of traction, spacious buttons, and excellent tracking accuracy — the keyboard is no great shakes. The island-style keys have too little travel and feel a bit too small, with too much space between them. But the bigger issue is actually the backlighting. There’s a lot of air between the keys and the surrounding tray, and light absolutely pours out from these gaps. This actually makes the symbols on top of the keys — just transparent cut-outs — surprisingly difficult to read at a number of angles. And while the numeric keypad is a useful addition, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, there’s just no excuse for a keyboard this spacious to have arrow keys this small.
The S Series kicks out loud but somewhat scratchy audio, and the volume at least is a good thing, because the fan on this laptop is so noisy — even when idling — that it tends to drown out everything else in the room. Battery life, at 2.25 hours in “Speed” mode, is another miss.
At $1,430 as configured, the S Series is expensive, but not grotesquely so. Still, those performance and reliability concerns are nagging. But resolve the problems under the hood and this could be one of the most compelling notebooks on the market at any price.