This 15.5-inch version of Sony's multimedia notebook features a top-of-the line 1080p IPS display and is less than an inch thin. Keep reading for our full review.
The Sony VAIO line of notebook PCs has historically been easy to identify by two features; a sharp, angular-edged chassis with Chiclet-style keyboard (a Sony design innovation that many people incorrectly attribute to Apple) and a high price tag. The 15-inch VAIO S is one of the more affordable notebooks in Sony's lineup but it retains the design features and performance that people expect from a Sony product.
Build and Design
The VAIO S's all-black exterior is rather plain; it doesn't have distinguishing features other than the fact that it's not. The exterior is actually made of magnesium alloy, not plastic which feels cool to the touch. The use of this material helps keep the notebook light; the VAIO S is practically a featherweight for a 15.5" notebook at 4.4 lbs. It's also extra thin at just 0.95 inches.
The chassis isn't as sturdy as one might think given the magnesium alloy construction; it flexes a bit like we are used to seeing from consumer notebooks. The lid is too flimsy for my comfort but no ripples appear on the display when pressing in on the back. Fit and finish is good with no sharp edges of areas that look like better quality than others. Overall the VAIO S earns a "B" grade in the design and build quality department.
Input and Output Ports
The Sony VAIO S includes an adequate if not impressive variety of ports. USB 3.0 and HDMI are included. Like most modern notebooks the VAIO S lacks ExpressCard, eSATA and DisplayPort, but the 15-inch size provides adequate room for a slot-loading optical drive. All picture descriptions are left to right.
Left: slot-load optical drive, Kensington lock slot, headphone and microphone jacks
Right: Memory Stick Pro DUO slot, SD card reader, Ethernet, VGA out, HDMI out, 2x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0, AC power jack
Keyboard and Touchpad
The VAIO S has a full-size keyboard with separate numeric keypad and white LED backlighting. The not so subtle backlighting is a nice touch and is visible in the daytime. The keys take too little effort to press down which results in a lack of tactile feedback. It's not a bad feeling keyboard by any means; it simply needs more definition. The full-size numeric keypad is appreciated; I've noticed a lot of notebooks that included a separate numeric keypad use smaller than usual keys. Other pluses of this keyboard include its extra quiet operation and smooth key surfaces.
The Synaptics clickpad doesn't have physical buttons; press down anywhere to produce a click. Unfortunately this is not one of the better implementations of a clickpad. The clicks are inaccurate; clicking and dragging just doesn't work. In addition it's not clear where the left clicks end and the right clicks start; you're better off clicking at the bottom left or right like a normal touchpad with physical buttons. At least the clickpad has a good surface and the clicks are quiet.
Screen and Speakers
The screen is one of the biggest reasons to consider this notebook; the VAIO S is one of the only notebooks on the market with an IPS display. This display has unlimited viewing angles unlike the TN panels on most notebooks; it can be viewed from any angle vertically or horizontally without color distortion. The panel itself is of high quality -- contrast is excellent and saturation is just right.
My sole complaint about the screen is that reds tend to look more orange. A screen calibration device could probably fix this if you're picky and want to use this notebook for photo editing. Other pluses of this display include the anti-glare surface -- there's no annoying reflections like on a glossy display - and the excellent 1920x1080 resolution, perfect for using two windows side-by-side and doing as little scrolling as possible.
The speakers won't win any awards; they're not much different than "typical" notebook speakers. The static-free headphone jack and HDMI port are two good ways to get audio out.
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