Sony VAIO S Series laptop

The Sony VAIO S Series isn’t the most powerful all-purpose laptop, but I like it — and not just because I have a soft spot for Sony. Although the VAIO S Series offers mediocre general performance and modest graphics speed, it’s also light, thin, stylish, and very portable.

Our review model, priced at US$1000 (as of December 14, 2011), sports an Intel Core i5-2430M processor, an AMD Radeon HD 6470M graphics card, and 4GB of RAM. It also has a 640GB hard drive, a DVD-RW optical drive, and built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 3.0. This model runs the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium.

In our WorldBench 6 benchmark tests, the VAIO S Series earned a score of 112. This is a decent, but not excellent, score that puts the VAIO S Series right around the middle of our Top All-Purpose Laptops list. While the VAIO S Series should be fine for most basic work tasks and streaming video, it’s by no means a graphics powerhouse or a gaming laptop.

In our graphics tests, the VAIO S Series’ performance was acceptable. The system does have switchable graphics, which is a benefit for people who want to use this laptop for consuming multimedia and performing basic, nonintensive tasks (switching to integrated graphics will conserve battery life). In our Far Cry 2 graphics tests, the VAIO S Series managed a frame rate of 50 frames per second at the lowest quality setting (800 by 600 resolution), and a rate of 24 fps at the highest quality setting (same resolution).

Our review unit was the 15.5-inch VAIO S Series in black. The 15.5-inch model also comes in silver, while the 13.3-inch model comes in black, blue, pink, red, or white. The VAIO S Series’ most desirable trait might be its portability: The 15.5-inch version weighs 4.3 pounds (5.2 pounds with accessories), and measures 14.9 inches wide by 10.1 inches long and just about 1 inch thick.

The VAIO S Series has a thin, squared-off chassis with sharp corners. The cover is a plain matte black, with a medium-size mirrored VAIO logo in the center. The hinge — which sticks out of the back of the machine by about a quarter of an inch — is plastic with a dark mirrored finish, and it feels a little flimsy. The rest of the exterior is simple, and exudes a minimalist aesthetic.

The interior is also pretty simple, consisting of a matte-black wrist rest, a black Chiclet-style keyboard, and a smooth touchpad with two discrete buttons. Several buttons and switches sit above the keyboard, however–and when you turn the laptop on, it also has a lot of lights to go with those buttons and switches. From left to right, the controls include a physical eject button (though the DVD-RW drive is tray-loaded), a switch for changing between the Intel integrated graphics and the AMD discrete graphics, an “Assist” button (which opens the Help screen), a Web button, and a VAIO button (which you can program to open different VAIO multimedia programs).

The keyboard is backlit and easy to type on, and it comes with a ten-key number pad. The touchpad, which supports multitouch gestures, is smooth and sensitive; its two discrete buttons are big and easy to press, if a little light on feedback.

Ports-wise, the VAIO S Series is fairly basic. The very smooth left side has only a headphone jack and an optical drive. The headphone jack is located all the way toward the back of the computer–which means that if your headphone wire is particularly short, you may have to maneuver around a bit. (I have to admit, though, that the last VAIO I owned had the headphone jack located on the front of the machine, which is a lot more annoying.)

On the front of the laptop is a Wi-Fi switch, which is always a nice addition. The right side of the system is crammed with ports and slots: You’ll find two card slots (one for Sony Memory Stick and one for SD Card), a gigabit ethernet port, a VGA-out port, an HDMI-out port, one USB 3.0 port, two USB 2.0 ports, and a Kensington lock slot. I’m not a big fan of having all three USB ports on one side and next to each other, because USB peripherals are often bulky and can’t be placed side by side. Sony probably should have included at least one USB port on the laptop’s left edge, because that side has plenty of space.

The display is a bright, glossy 15.5-inch screen with a full HD native resolution of 1920 by 1080. The screen is just beautiful: It’s crisp and clear, and it honestly almost took my breath away the first time I saw it. Unfortunately, it isn’t perfect: At the lower brightness settings, the screen has a noticeably yellow tint, and skin tones are sometimes washed out.

The VAIO S Series is good for light multimedia usage. High-def streaming video plays smoothly, but the picture in full screen looks a bit soft. Audio playback is not very good. Though the speakers are loud, the sound is thin and lacking in bass. Music and voices sound almost like shrieking. I definitely recommend headphones with this laptop.

Sony includes a lot of software on its VAIO machines, which is good if you like Sony software, and not so great if you don’t. The VAIO S Series comes packed with Sony’s Media Gallery, VAIO Care, VAIO Gate, and PMB VAIO Edition photo/video management software. It also has other software, including Norton Internet Security, Adobe’s bundle (Acrobat, Photoshop Elements, and the like), and Sony’s Imagination Studio Suite.

The Sony VAIO S Series may seem like a mediocre all-purpose laptop, and it is one. But it’s also thin, light, and quite portable, and it sports Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Intel Wireless Display technology, and optional embedded mobile broadband. In other words, if you’re looking for an all-purpose laptop that’s stylish and easy to tote, the VAIO S Series might be the system for you.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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