Sony VAIO S Series VPC-SB1V9E £899
14th Apr 2011 | 14:31
Feature-packed Sony ultraportable laptop
Sony S Series review: Overview and specification
The Sony VPC-SB1V9E is Sony's latest power ultraportable laptop but it's unusual for Sony - itfalls into the business-oriented VAIO S-Series range.
The VAIO Z-Series is the Japanese giant's usual ultra-portable laptop range, producing ridiculously sexy mini machines that can handle any application. Of course, this combo of power and portability often comes at quite a cost, usually well on the wrong side of a grand.
But while the VAIO VPC-SB1V9E S Series may not have the looks of the MacBook Air or the Samsung 9-Series, this is still a fantastic laptop that doesn't skimp on performance. Even better, at £899, the asking price isn't too steep for an ultra-portable.
At first glance, the VAIO VPC-SB1V9E isn't much of a looker. The lid is attractive enough with a dark brushed aluminium finish, but the insides look a little too plastic. Still, it's available in black, white and silver, and is a solid effort all round. We found no areas that flexed under pressure, and the lid is tough enough to withstand a few knocks, unlike the VAIO VPC-Y21S1E/SI's effort.
A weight of just 1.7kg means you can carry the S-Series laptop around all day, while the 30mm depth is comparable to a netbook. Thankfully the chassis is wider than a netbook's, so the isolation-style keyboard is well-sized. Each key pokes up through individual holes, meaning they are separated from each other by a covered gap. This greatly aids touch-typing.
If you're a fan of late-night spreadsheet fiddling, you'll be overjoyed to hear that the keyboard is also backlit, which highlights the keys in low light.
Sony's usual VAIO, WEB and ASSIST shortcut buttons are stuck just over the VAIO VPC-SB1V9E's keyboard. WEB is self-explanatory, while ASSIST takes you to the proprietary VAIO Care application, which helps you to diagnose any problems with your laptop and improve performance. VAIO acts as a hub for your media, giving you quick access to your photos, videos and music.
We also enjoyed using the VAIO VPC-SB1V9E's surprisingly spacious touchpad, which makes the most of the compact palm rest. Two firm mouse buttons make a nice change from the typical single bar.
Working on your laptop when you're out and about can be a massive pain, thanks to the prevalence of glossy screens. Squinting at hazy images is never fun, so Sony has used an anti-glare TFT display for enhanced models in the VAIO S-Series, which eliminates any annoying reflections.
At 13.3-inches, it's a comfortable display to work on for extended periods. We were also impressed by the vivid colour reproduction, because images usually appear a little drained without a glossy Super-TFT coating. The 1366 x 768 resolution keeps things sharp, with excellent contrast levels.
A real surprise was the presence of a built-in DVD drive, a feature rarely seen on slender ultra-portables such as the VAIO VPC-SB1V9E. You therefore won't have to lug around a USB drive to watch movies or install and run applications.
Since the Sony VAIO S-Series are business laptops, Sony has included a tiny fingerprint scanner, which is nestled between the mouse buttons. This is a great security measure, especially if you struggle to remember complex passwords.
We were also impressed by the VAIO VPC-SB1V9E's 500GB hard drive, considering the compact chassis. Many ultra-portables use Solid State Drive technology instead – with the likes of the MacBook Air only featuring 128GB of storage – so it's refreshing to have plenty of space to take our media with us.
Networking is strong, with 802.11n Wi-Fi support alongside Gigabit Ethernet. VGA and HDMI ports can be used to hook up monitors or projectors, while one of the three USB ports is USB 3.0, for super speedy data transfer.
Sony S Series review: Performance
Sony VPC-SB1V9E review: Performance
Whenever we get our hands on a brand new ultra-portable laptop, we're always keen to test it out and see what it can handle. With the Sony VAIO VPC-SB1V9E, we expected great things.
The main reason is the inclusion of Intel's latest Sandy Bridge technology, specifically a dual-core Core i5-2410M CPU running at 2.3GHz in the VAIO VPC-SB1V9E. We've seen some incredible performance from these high-powered chips, going above and beyond the original Core i5 and i7 processors. With 4GB of DDR3 SDRAM memory also on board, we hoped the VAIO VPC-SB1V9E wouldn't let us down.
Benchmark test results:
Battery Life: 288
MobileMark 2007: 283
3DMark 2003: 12230
Our benchmark tests proved that this is the most powerful ultra-portable laptop we've seen so far. Multi-tasking even with intensive business software is little effort for the VAIO VPC-SB1V9E, although the laptop's fans do whine when it's busy, which proves rather distracting in quiet environments.
Impressively, Sony has also shoved an AMD Mobility Radeon HD 6470M graphics card into its VAIO S-Series laptops. While we can't imagine anyone doing much gaming on these ultra-portables, the extra graphical grunt is perfect for any design professionals who wish to edit video or run similar multimedia software.
Of course, this excellent performance is moot if the laptop dies ten minutes after unplugging it from the mains. The recent VAIO VPC-Y21S1E/SI survived for over seven hours on battery power alone, despite featuring a Core i7 CPU, so again our expectations were high.
Although the VAIO VPC-SB1V9E can't boast that kind of longevity, we did get almost five hours of use before it gave in and powered down. Considering the specs, this is a grand effort. You should have enough battery life for even the most arduous and delay-hammered commutes.
Sony's also included a Speed/Stamina switch at the top of the chassis, which can be used to elongate battery life by reducing a few performance settings. If you want to sacrifice some graphical power to wring an extra hour of life from the battery, this is an excellent option.
Sony S Series review: Verdict
Sony VPC-SB1V9E review: Verdict
If you find you're regularly stuck on malfunctioning public transport, with a dire need to conduct some urgent spreadsheet analysis, then an excellent solution is an ultra-portable laptop such as a Sony VAIO VPC-SB1V9E. These slender devices pack an impressive amount of power into a tiny chassis, perfect for taking on your travels.
There's no denying the portability of the VAIO VPC-SB1V9E. The slender chassis measures just 30mm at its thickest point and weighs a measly 1.7kg, while the near-five hour battery life means you won't need the charger for your daily commute.
But there's no sacrifice to performance, thanks to Intel's Sandy Bridge technology. The VAIO VPC-SB1V9E can handle anything you throw at it, making this the most powerful ultra-portable laptop we've tested. A dedicated AMD Mobility Radeon HD graphics card means you can even run video editing software and other fairly intensive multimedia applications.
Usability is another highlight, with a backlit isolation-style keyboard and spacious touchpad in place. The 13.3-inch anti-glare TFT screen reduces glare yet is still satisfyingly sharp and colourful.
Finally, the feature set is fantastic. A built-in fingerprint scanner, USB 3.0 connectivity and an HDMI output are all well appreciated, while 500GB of storage is more than expected. Even better, Sony has somehow found space for a built-in DVD drive.
Our first impression of the plain black interior was less than great – it's rather plasticky, considering the high price.
The laptop also tends to whine a little when running applications, although it's not so noisy that you'll be forced to don earphones.
If you want a highly portable laptop that still has enough grunt to run all of your applications, as well as a DVD drive and plenty of storage space, then the Sony VAIO VPC-SB1V9E is a fantastic option.