Like Apple’s Macbook Air, Sony doesn’t change the name of its yearly laptop refreshes. So the new VAIO Series S is just the VAIO S, much like last year’s Sony VAIO S. However, considering 2011’s model did fairly well, we were excited to see what the new VAIO Series S had in store.
The VAIO S is a premium ultraportable – not an Ultrabook, that niche is filled by the completely new VAIO T13 and T11. Slotting in just below the VAIO Z, the S is basically the second-best in Sony’s entire line-up, with many drool-worthy features such as an attractive all-metal chassis, dedicated graphics, optional high-resolution IPS screens, optional Blu-ray drive, keyboard backlighting, and generous connectivity. It’s available in two sizes: the 13in S13, and a 15in S15. We’re checking out the former to see how it holds up against its Ultrabook and other ultraportable competition.
Where design is concerned, there’s been a subtle change for the better. This all-aluminium VAIO is now a little less edgy, with a more smooth and cohesive feel, but without loosing any of its executive slim appeal. Available in black or white brushed metal, both versions of the S13 look pretty good and match the colour choices of other popular products like the Samsung Galaxy S3.
As before, build quality is very good and the laptop’s bottom half is solid as a brick, though as with most of Sony’s ultra-slim models, the lid is perhaps a little too flexible. The VAIO S 13in is slightly thicker than the VAIO T13 thanks to the included optical drive, but this is a sacrifice we’re happy enough to make considering the added flexibility. Not only has Sony gone for a slot-loading model to maintain the S13’s slim designer lines, but you can even opt for a Blu-ray drive, making this one of the few ultraportables that let you get your HD-disc fix on the go.
Connectivity is also far better than your average ultraportable, with twin memory card readers for SD and HG Duo, VGA and HDMI for video, twin USB 3.0 ports plus a single always-on USB 2.0 port, and a Gigabit Ethernet jack all found on the laptop’s left edge. Other niceties include Wi-Fi N and Bluetooth 4, a physical power mode switch, HD webcam, and fingerprint reader for those who hate remembering passwords.
Getting to usability, the VAIO S sports one of the nicer chiclet keyboards we’ve come across in a while. Not only are the matt keys large and well-spaced, but there’s far more travel than on the VAIO T13 and the keyboard is fully backlit in white. The huge trackpad too felt more pleasant to use, with none of the issues we encountered on the T Series.
We didn’t get word on an IPS screen option for the 13in VAIO S – so far that seems to be reserved for the 15in model with its lovely 1080p IPS display – but at least the TN panel we saw in the S13 was a decent, high-resolution affair. Packing the same 1,600 x 900 pixels as the Samsung Series 9 900X3B if not the same quality, viewing angles appeared to be quite good with only the extreme sides or a top view instantly betraying its TN nature. The semi-glossy finish, which incidentally is also scratch resistant, helped to give colours that little bit of extra spark.
Specs are of course fully configurable, with a choice of Intel processors, up to 8GB of RAM, and a choice of SSD, hybrid or pure HDD storage up to 1TB. In other words, whether you want just a capable setup or the most power you can stuff into its 13in chassis, the VAIO S13 provides a flexible solution.
The single most interesting element to the spec sheet though is the inclusion of Nvidia GeForce dedicated graphics, specifically a GT 640M LE. Unlike the 620M which is actually based on previous-generation ‘Fermi’ Nvidia architecture, the 640M is proper Keppler, and should allow for some serious gaming by ultraportable standards. Yet despite all this extra goodness, the Series S still weighs just a gram less than the VAIO T13 at 1.59kg.
Throw in an optional battery slice and docking station, and the VAIO S 13in is looking like one of the most flexible ultraportable laptops around for business users and power-hungry consumers, not to mention gamers – if you can afford it. We’ll be bringing you the full review soon.
Update: There are rumours of Fermi-based GeForce GT640M LE models, but if true we're hoping Sony will still opt for the Keppler variant. Otherwise this may impact the S13's gaming potential. We'll bring you the definitive verdict in our full review.