Connectivity is accomplished for such a slim and light ultraportable, especially considering Sony also packs in a tray-loading DVD rewriter (upgradeable to a Blu-ray writer for an utterly ridiculous £350!). This is found at the left, along with a headphone jack, which we have a few issues with. First there’s the jack’s placement: set behind the optical drive, the cable of any headphones will get in the way of the drive’s tray when inserting or ejecting discs. Secondly, this is not a combined headphone/microphone jack, but rather only supports the former, meaning non-USB headsets aren’t supported – a real annoyance on a premium machine such as this.
Thankfully, things improve from here on out. There’s a handy wireless switch at the laptop’s front, and all the other connectivity is found on the right side, where we have two memory card readers (one for Sony’s proprietary HG Duo format, the other supporting SDXC), a Kensington lock slot, VGA and HDMI 1.4 for video, a USB 3.0 port, two older USB 2 ports, and a Gigabit Ethernet jack. As for wireless, there’s Wi-Fi N and Bluetooth 2.1.
While we found the keyboard on Sony’s plasticky VAIO C to be nice but flawed, on the S Series we have no real complaints. With its seamless metal keyboard surround the chiclet keyboard looks great, and both layout and spacing are excellent.
Though key feedback is shallow it’s nicely defined with a positive click, and overall it makes for a great typing experience. Adding further to the goodness is white key backlighting automatically controlled by a light sensor, to make working in the dark child’s play. Our only minor niggle with the keyboard is that there is still a little flex and a hint of rattle, especially on the left side.
Above the keyboard you’ll find a number of controls. On the left there’s the optical drive eject button and a Stamina/Speed switch, which allows you to change power plans at the – well, flick of a switch. This is an important point, because setting this switch to Stamina completely disables the dedicated Radeon graphics. In other words, if you want to game or run GPU-accelerated software, make sure it’s set to Speed.
To the right of the laptop we find the usual VAIO triumvirate, consisting of Assist, Web and VAIO buttons. Assist brings up VAIO Care, which is an interactive support centre that does troubleshooting, diagnostics and recovery, or puts you in touch with Sony’s support. Though it offers nothing new, having it all on a single physical button is a great feature for those new to computers. We only wish Sony hadn’t made the unfortunate choice of labelling the Assist button in pink. Painfully obvious pink, which puts a noticeable dent in the executive look and feel.
The Web button is rather boring if you press it in Windows, where it merely launches the browser. However, if you press it when the computer is turned off, it boots into a Linux-based ‘lite’ OS which lets you browse the web using Firefox, supposedly tripling the VAIO’s battery life compared to doing the same under Windows. Last but not least, the VAIO button opens the VAIO Media Gallery by default but is user assignable.
Set into the laptop’s front edge, the large touchpad naturally supports multi-touch and offers a pleasant, smooth surface. Its individual buttons – between which you’ll find a fingerprint scanner for secure, password-free logins – can be rather stiff depending on how and where you press them, but they’re still quite usable.