- Editor's Rating
- Durable build
- Great port selection
- Quiet keyboard
- Low display resolution
- Touchpad too small
- No USB Type-C
The VAIO S is well-built for a demanding office environment, and has power to spare. It’s a great fit for a business user, but cheaper options abound for everyone else.
VAIO devices haven’t changed much since Sony shed the brand. New VAIOs have all the same hallmarks, with premium builds coupled with premium prices.
And that works for the VAIO Z Canvas and VAIO flip model, which have unique designs and features that justify the high price tag. So what to make of the VAIO S? Starting at $1,099, it’s the cheapest VAIO, and it’s also the most basic. It’s a straight-up notebook, complete with a full complement of ports and non-touch display. But it has power, starting with a 6th-gen Core i5 processor and 8GB of RAM, and a business-quality build.
Does the VAIO S laptop meet the high standards set by its predecessors and other devices in the lineup? Can this utilitarian notebook justify its price? Read this VAIO S review to find out.
Build & Design
In acquiring the brand from Sony, VAIO wisely kept the brand’s device characteristics. For notebooks, that primarily means a sharp edge along the rear display edge and two nubs, which act to slightly slope the keyboard with an opened display lid. It’s a minor flourish, but it’s the best kind because it’s both distinctive and offers a real benefit, in this case a better typing experience.
Otherwise, you’re looking at a good-ole notebook. By any reasonable standard, it’s thin and light, measuring 12.68 x .52-.71 x 8.53 inches (WHD) and weighing 2.34 pounds. But compared against unreasonably-thin Core m devices like the 2016 Apple MacBook, Samsung Galaxy TabPro S, and Huawei MateBook, it’s large. Still, users will have no issue lugging it between meetings or finding space for it in a carry-on travel bag.
VAIO claims its “molded magnesium alloy and high-rigidity resin ensures long-lasting durability,” and we believe it. Inside, VAIO outfitted the chassis with what VAIO reps call “ribs” that aid in durability and drop protection. The display lid and base flex when stressed, but don’t creek. They’ll absorb the shock of an occasional drop. In fact, VAIO extensively drop tests its S models, so there’s little doubt the VAIO S will survive the daily rigors of office and personal use. Overall, it’s pieced together nicely, with no gaps. It’s not water or dust resistant, however.
Too bad then it’s also a smudge magnet, particularly on the smooth areas around the keyboard.
Ports & Inputs
Want a decent port selection? Get a notebook. Today’s thin-and-light tablets can’t offer much beyond a USB Type-C, and even the vaunted Surface Pro only has room for a Mini DisplayPort, USB 3.0, and microSD card reader.
The VAIO S laptop outdoes both with three full-sized USB 3.0 (one with charge), full-sized HDMI, VGA, Ethernet, full-sized SD card slot, and a 3.5mm audio in/out jack. Power is handled by a 10.5v input, and the charging adapter includes an additional full-sized USB input for smartphone or tablet charging.
This is a great selection by laptop standards, and it tempers our complaint that the VAIO S has no USB Type-C (really, all high-end and mid-range devices should have it by now). The additional USB charging input on the adapter is one of those small additions that proves so useful, you’ll wonder why all manufacturers don’t also include it.
Display & Speakers
The VAIO S laptop has a 13.3-inch display with a Full HD (1920×1080) resolution, resulting in a 16:9 aspect ratio and 166 pixels per inch. It’s not a touchscreen, but there’s a tradeoff.
The display has a semi-flexible matte finish, which not only shrugs off overhead glare remarkably well, but also provides a degree of protection. To illustrate it, VAIO reps encouraged us to place a pen on the VAIO S keyboard and slam the display lid down. We did just that, multiple times, and the VAIO S display ended up no worse for the wear; no scratches, no dings, no dents.
A touchscreen would add a rigid element, and while something like Gorilla Glass would also protect the display, VAIO’s approach makes the VAIO S display nearly shatterproof.
There are drawbacks either way. For VAIO, the matte finish affects overall imaging. Colors are vibrant and blacks deep, but white tones suffer from a discernible glitter effect. This likely wouldn’t be the case with a glossy touchscreen, where glare would be the primary concern.
So while we can overlook the lack of a touchscreen, the 1920×1080 display resolution is tough to accept. The Full HD display is just not pixel dense enough for a 13.3-inch screen, or a product of this caliber. Individual pixels are discernible from a medium viewing distance, and it mars the overall VAIO S experience.
It’s a shame, too. The VAIO S is powerful, with the base unit shipping with 8GB of RAM and a sixth-gen Core i5. It could make for a decent imaging machine in a pinch. But with its display limitations, imaging pros will want to turn to an external monitor. Even business users, the VAIO S target audience, will feel the frustrations of low resolution, particularly with large and unwieldy spreadsheets.
The speakers line the bottom far edge, above the keyboard and facing the bottom of display bezel. This way, they bounce sound off the bezel and at the user. They are fine for personal use, pumping out reasonably loud sound. Output is clear, but limited. The bass is nonexistent and tones slightly shrill at the upper ends of the sound spectrum.
Keyboard & Touchpad
The backlit keyboard has 82 island-style keys, with the QWERTY measuring about .7 x .7 inches. Spacing between the keys is ample, and the keys have decent snap. Key travel measures 1.2mm, and could be a bit longer (the Surface Type Cover’s 1.3mm is our preferred minimum). But the VAIO S laptop still achieves a reasonably comfortable typing experience, aided by the sloped design described above.
It’s worth noting that the VAIO S has one of the quietest keyboards we’ve tested, which should please business users concerned with these things. VAIO reps claimed VAIO engineers built the keyboard in such a way to eliminate the high pitch sound keyboards often emit. Judging from our time spent pounding on the keys, it worked.
The touchpad surface measures 3.25 x 1.75 inches, and sits just under the spacebar, aligned with the FGHJ keys. That puts it slightly to the left of the notebook’s center. It’s good placement as it enables easy thumb access from the standard typing position. It also has two physical buttons underneath, which many users prefer to a single-piece touchpad. Count us among them. We’d rather push a button than tap a finger.
Overall, it’s responsive and two finger shortcuts work well. But the touch area it’s too small. VAIO S users will want to keep a mouse handy.
The VAIO S laptop ships with either an Intel Core i5-6200U processor (2.30GHz with Turbo Boost up to 2.80GHz and 3MB Cache), or and Intel Core i7-6500U processor (2.50GHz with Turbo Boost up to 3.10GHz, 4MB Cache). All VAIO S models have 8GB of DDR3L (1600 MHz) RAM. The Core i5 units have a 128GB PCle SSD, while the Core i7 units have a 256GB PCle SSD.
Our VAIO S review unit features the following technical specifications:
- Windows 10 Pro Signature Edition
- 13.3-inch FHD (1920 x 1080) non-touch display
- Intel Core i7-6500U processor (2.50GHz with Turbo Boost up to 3.10GHz, 4MB Cache)
- Intel HD Graphics 520
- 8GB of DDR3L (1600 MHz)
- 256GB PCIe SSD
- IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.1
- 1280 x 720 webcam
- Dimensions: 12.68 x .52-.71 x 8.53 inches (WHD)
- Weight: 2.34 pounds
- MSRP as configured: $1399
Even the base VAIO S is a powerful device, as the sixth-generation Core i5 is a very capable chip. Traditionally, the leap from Core i3 to Core i5 represents the most salient improvements from a user perspective, with Core i5 and i7 offering a similar overall experience to a point. Both will handle the daily work grind exceedingly well. The fan may kick in sooner with a Core i5, with multiple apps open and a few dozen Chrome tabs, however. In fact, we can’t remember hearing the fan in our Core i7 review unit, even during benchmarking, and the unit remained very cool.
The Intel HD Graphics 520 is the only thing holding back VAIO S performance, and it limits gaming to older AAA titles from about 2013, likely on low settings, and casual time killers. Looking at the 3DMark 11 benchmark below, you can see how much better the Dell XPS 15 performs thanks to its dedicated GPU.
All VAIO S units ship with Windows 10 Signature Edition, which means no onboard VAIO bloatware. Unfortunately, Microsoft has picked up the slack with its own gunk, like Candy Crush Soda Saga and full but inactivated copies of Office.
PCMark8 Home (Accelerated) measures overall system performance in Windows 8 for general activities from web browsing and video streaming to typing documents and playing games (higher scores mean better performance):
3DMark 11 measures the overall gaming performance of the GPU (higher scores mean better performance):
Geekbench 3 is a cross-platform benchmark that measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):
CrystalDiskMark storage drive performance test:
VAIO claims the S notebook has 9 hours of battery life. With regular usage and the Windows 10 power savings feature engaged, the VAIO S will hit that mark. Our VAIO S review unit lasted 3 hours and 55 minutes running the strenuous Powermark benchmark, putting it slightly ahead of other Core i laptops in its class. Here, the Full HD display actually benefits battery life, as high-resolution screens can be major battery drains.
The VAIO S laptop starts at $1,099. For that, users get a Core i5 unit with a 64-bit Windows 10 Home and a 128GB SSD. Upgrading to Windows 10 Pro brings the total to $1,149.
A Core i7 unit with Windows 10 Home and a 256GB SSD starts at $1,349. Windows 10 Pro pushes up the price $50 to $1,399.
There are cheaper options for Core i5 or i7 power. An Acer Aspire S 13 with the same Core i5 processor, 8GB RAM, 13.3-inch non-touch display, and 256GB SSD is only $749.99. And a Core i7 unit with a touch display and 512GB SSD is only $999.99.
On the other hand, a Core i5 Surface Pro 4 with 8GB of RAM, 256GB SSD, and Surface Type Cover (sold separately) costs $1,428.99. That also includes the Surface Pen.
The Acer Aspire is probably the best value in laptops as of this writing, and it’s a quality device. The Surface Pro 4 is still the best Windows 10 two-in-one, and it defines the premium market. The VAIO S is also a good product, and buyers are ultimately paying for overall build quality. In a demanding environment, the VAIO S will likely outlast the Aspire, but the pricey Surface Pro 4 is a more robust device thanks to its world-class design, display, and excellent pen features.
Call the VAIO S the VAIO Classic. It’s a standard thin-and-light notebook with all the hallmarks that defined the brand during the Sony days. It’s a well-built and well-designed machine with power and performance to spare.
Its biggest drawback is the display resolution. Considering the VAIO S price, it should be higher than Full HD. That’s suitable for mid-range devices, not high-end devices that cost north of a $1,000.
Fortunately, that’s not a deal breaker. Nor is the small touchpad or lack of USB Type-C. But before plunking down the dollars, potential VAIO S buyers should consider their needs. A cheaper Aspire will serve just fine as a primary device used for occasional travel or just between rooms. The VAIO S laptop is a better fit for an office environment where it will be lugged from home to work, and possibly handed down to multiple users/employees over the years.
- Durable build
- Great port selection
- Quiet keyboard
- Low display resolution
- Touchpad too small
- No USB Type-C