It’s been over a year since Intel endenizened the term “ultrabook”. Some of the manufacturers started manufacturing their incredible ultraportables substantially immediately, while others were biding their time. Sony made it into the second group (until recently, the manufacturer’s name has been conspicuously absent on the ever-growing list of Ultrabook makers).
In fact, Sony launched its ultracompact and ultraportable product lineup long ago — just think about the VAIO Z series. Notebooks of that family could boast their thin silhouette and impressively strong performance (for its form factor). The manufacturer managed to pack two SSD drives paired with powerful Intel chip into a slim chassis, not to mention configurations with four-core processors. But usually, speedy solid-state drives and high-performing CPUs with those nice-to-have extras don’t come cheap.
It is a known fact that the ultrabook concept being promoted by Intel means the ultracompact and ultraportable machine should have a cost of $1,000 max, it also means that the VAIO Z laptops can hardly fall into this category. For this reason, Sony had to develop the VAIO T family, which integrates all the manufacturer’s ultrabooks. Furthermore, some of them go for sale for below the point of $1,000, which is a very tempting buying option. This time, we are going to review one of those models – Sony VAIO T13 ultrabook.
Look and Feel
The Sony VAIO T13 at best price features a full flat brushed-aluminum design. With its clean lines (without any slopes or wedges) in an icy, elegant shade of silver, the laptop is quite the looker. The reflective silver hinge and the overall lid’s finish, accented by the chrome VAIO insignia, create an instant sense of excitement. The subtle groove leading from the palm rest with an engraved VAIO logo gives the T13 a hint of personality. As per the recent Vaio trend, there are three physical buttons above the F keys: Assist, Web and Vaio, which are all pre-set as shortcuts to Sony’s chosen destinations.
Measuring 0.71 inches thick and with a weight of 3.45 pounds, the reviewed model is certainly not the skinniest one on the catwalk, however, it’s industrial, sharp-finished design scheme makes an impression of a sturdy and seriously slick machine, which sets it apart from its rivals. For the sake of comparison, the 2.4-pound Toshiba Portege Z835 weighs a full pound lighter and is thinner at 12.4 x 8.9 x 0.3-0.6-inches; the Dell XPS 13 (12.4 x 8.1 x 0.24-0.71 inches and 3 pounds) is also thinner and lighter. Despite all this, our Sony Vaio T13 is by no means one of the most portable ultrabooks on the market.
Keyboard and Trackpad
With a bit of the MacBook flavour, the Vaio T13’s chiclet keyboard sports a black matte isolated, spacious layout. Unfortunately, the keys are not backlit, and there is not a lot of travel in them, but they spring back instantly, offering the user plenty of feedback while typing. Overall, the ultrabook’s full-size keys are a pleasure to use.
The 3.9 x 2.2-inch Synaptics touchpad is smooth and responsive, offering swift and accurate navigating experience thanks to some nice multi-touch features including horizontal three-finger flicks to navigate through photos and open documents, four-finger swipe to switch between open programs, Mac OS X-like two finger scrolling, and pinch-to-zoom. The built-in buttons accurately recognize right and left clicks, delivering solid feedback and responsiveness; the palm rejection is also impressive here.
Display and Sound
The Sony Vaio T13 features a 13.3-inch LED display with a resolution of 1,366 x 768 pixels, which seems to be standard for such a budget-priced ultrabook. Though that semi-gloss-finished panel kicks back plenty of glare and the viewing angles are not fantastic (the user will have to tilt the screen back to avoid washed-out images), the colors look accurate, pretty rich and natural with true blacks and other dark colors.
The sound quality is quite strong and rich for such a slim notebook thanks to the Clear Phase technology onboard used by Sony for crisper audio, and xLoud volume-boosting software to enhance the user’s listening experience with the built-in speakers. So, there is no trouble filling a small- to medium-sized room – the pair of tiny speakers on the front lip of the T13 gets surprisingly loud.
Ports and connectivity
The T13’s ports selection is definitely on a plus side. Its relatively thick chassis excels with all the connectivity options which can be expected from a full-size notebook: an Ethernet jack, VGA port, HDMI out and a full-size SD card slot, along with one USB 2.0 port, and one USB 3.0 variety. There’s also a card reader on the right side, and a 3.5mm jack for headphones or speakers.
In terms of wireless connectivity, the Sony Vaio T13 actually offers almost all communication options that one might want in a mobile device: a network card from Realtek is available for cabled Internet access (1000BASE-T, 100BASE-TX and 10BASE-T speeds); an Atheros card is installed for wireless connections and covers 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi standards and Bluetooth 4.0 technology, making it really great for performing any computing tasks while on the go (e.g. working with digital media, social networking and keeping in touch).
The T13’s built-in 1.3-megapixel HD webcam comes powered by the Exmor technology (it is used by Sony for its digital cameras) and captures still images notable for sharper details, higher contrast and rich colours.
Configurations and Performance
The Sony VAIO T13 is available in several configurations with up to a Core i7 Ivy Bridge processor, 8GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. The reviewed model of the T13 family comes with the following specifications: a Core i5 CPU clocked at 1.7GHz with 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive combined with a 32GB multi-level cell SSD and Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU. In real-world and synthetic benchmark tests, the T13 proves strong performance, particularly in day-to-day use. When simultaneously streaming video and running a full virus scan with several open tabs in two or even three Internet browsers, on PCMark07, the VAIO T13 scores 3,334 points, which is well above the 2,476 ultraportable average. To put this in perspective, the HP Folio 13, which has a second-gen 1.6-GHz Core i5-2467M CPU, scores 3,167.
It is also worth mentioning, that according to another office benchmark test, the VAIO T13 matches 20,000 names to their corresponding addresses in 5 minutes and 53 seconds, besting the 9:26 ultraportable notebook category average (the Folio 13 takes 6:44 while the Core-i3-powered Portege Z835 scores 11:36).
Packing the above mentioned 500GB 5,400-rpm hard drive and a 32GB MLC Hybrid SSD, the T13 is capable of booting the 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium in a fairly swift 25 seconds, twice as fast as the 0:51 category average. Cold booting into Windows 7 Home Premium takes 19 seconds, which is on par with other ultraportables. By comparison, the Lenovo IdeaPad U300s, the HP Folio 13 and the new MacBook Air all take 18 seconds.
The SSD aspect kicks the Intel Smart Response and Sony’s Rapid Wake technology into action, delivering almost instantaneous wakeup times. Thanks to the hybrid storage system, the Sony VAIO T13 wakes up from sleep in about two seconds demonstrating an impressive responsiveness expected from an ultrabook.
In terms of graphics, the T13 ultrabook doesn’t suggest out-of-this-world performance, scoring 3,829 points in 3DMark06 synthetic graphics benchmark with its Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU (that is still 412 points above the 3,417 ultraportable average). However, despite the lack of discrete GPU on board, the machine under discussion manages a playable 30 frames per second in moderately taxing games like World of Warcraft (with the resolution set at 1,366 x 768). Considering its budget price and skinny silhouette, the T13 does a good job here.
The reviewed ultrabook is quite energy-efficient thanks to state-of-the-art energy saving technologies and hardware. The idle consumption is 6.1 – 8.7 watts. When compared with other ultrabooks, the VAIO fares quite well here. Apple’s MacBook Air (2557M, HD 3000), for example, needs 6.0 – 14.0 watts. Sony’s VAIO also does a fairly good job under load with 27.0 – 31.9 watts.
When it comes to battery life, the Sony VAIO T13 excels in a runtime of about 5 hours and 40 minutes (the laptop battery test consisting of web surfing over Wi-Fi and watching video with brightness setting fixed at 65 percent), which puts it ahead of Samsung Series 5 and ASUS Zenbook Prime UX21A. In the Reader’s test (office use with reduced screen brightness and disabled Wi-Fi/Bluetooth) the ultrabook even manages more than the manufacturer’s specified 7 hours and achieves a total of 8 hours and 26 minutes.
All things considered, the T13 is a well-performing thin-and-light notebook, capable of breezing through HD video playback with no bother, playing photo slideshows with ease, and carrying out everyday tasks (e.g. document editing, file management and working in social media networks) with no trouble at all – even with multiple programs running simultaneously.
Heat and Noise
The Sony Vaio T13 is very restrained when idling. The fan remains mostly disabled and only the hard disk’s noise is audible. The noise level of 29.6 dB is very unobtrusive. However, the fan starts up quite quickly under low load and the noise level increases to 32.4 – 34.4 dB, reasonably tolerable levels.
There is no reason for concern when it comes to the VAIO’s temperatures. The ultrabook only heats up to a maximum of 35.1 on the top and 36.7 degrees Celsius on the bottom (95.2 Fahrenheit on top, 98.0 Fahrenheit on bottom) under load situations. Those are very good rates. When measuring the device’s idling temperatures, the top’s maximum temperature is 30.3 degrees Celsius (86.5 Fahrenheit), while the bottom’s maximum one is 31.4 degrees Celsius (88.5 Fahrenheit). So, the ultrabook can be safely used without hesitation on the lap at all times, particularly since an it will only rarely be used on the lap during full load.
The manufacturer bundles its T13 lineup with a standard Sony-branded package of software along with a few extras. An app launcher that sits at the top of the screen reveals shortcuts to several programs, including the VAIO media software, Skype, Internet Explorer and ArcSoft WebCam Companion 4.
There is Media Gallery for enjoying photos, videos and music (the program quickly organizes the user’s multimedia files by time and event); PlayMemories help the user import and organize his/her media (they can edit and create movies and then share them with friends); Sony VAIO Care lets you run system diagnostics and install the latest Sony software updates. Sony also pre-loads Microsoft Office 2010 Starter and a 30-day trial of Kaspersky Internet Security.
The entry-level model, configured with a Core i5 CPU, 4GB of RAM, and 320GB of storage teamed up with a 32GB SSD, goes for sale starting at $750 (currently making up the best price). The next-level configuration (1.9GHz Core i7 CPU, 6GB RAM, 500GB hard drive + 32GB SSD) retails for about $1,000. Upgrading to a 128GB SSD with 6GB of RAM will cost an extra $200. The USA gadget fans can buy the top-shelf model (Core i7 CPU, a 512GB SSD, 8GB RAM, Windows 8 Professional instead of the standard Windows 7 Home Premium) for the price of $2,100.