Sony Vaio T Series 13 £679
12th Jul 2012 | 18:20
Sony's Ultrabook debut is light on heavy tech but also light on price
Sony may be late to the Ultrabook party, but it's sure to make quite an impression with its debut device - the Sony Vaio T13.
Not just because the first Ultrabook-branded Vaio machine looks like an incredibly desirable bit of tech. But, because Sony has managed to cram in a decent hardware setup and a wealth of features into a stylish slimline chassis that comes in comfortably inside £700/$1,000.
This Sandy Bridge-configured Sony Vaio T13 isn't the cheapest Ultrabook that we've seen - that honour belongs to the Novatech nFinity 2367 Plus - but the Sony Vaio brand carries so much weight that we're delighted to see it priced as it is.
But while the price tag is fairly low, the design and build is anything but. Despite it not being as sleek as the Dell XPS 13, as pretty as the Asus Zenbook UX31, or as feature-ridden as the HP Envy 14 Spectre, the 13.3-inch Sony Vaio T Series is a seriously slick machine with a robustness and sharp finish unlike any other Ultrabook we've seen.
At 17.8mm thick, and with a weight of 1.6kg, the Sony Vaio T13 is certainly not the skinniest Ultrabook on the catwalk, but its square, almost industrial edges set it apart from its rivals. A MacBook clone it is not - although that's a crime that more than one of the Ultrabook brigade are guilty of.
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The housing is made up of a mix of aluminium and magnesium alloy, with the lid's brushed aluminium finish creating an instant sense of excitement.
The all-over silver design scheme helps to create an industrial and rugged impression for the Sony Vaio T13. And this impression isn't misleading either - the lid and screen, while thin, are plenty sturdy, and it should be safe enough in your bag for a day out and about.
This £679 version of Sony's first foray into the Ultrabook market is packing a second generation Intel Core 13 processor in the UK. There are third generation Ivy Bridge versions now available but these will cost you at least £100 more. So, because of its appealing price-point, we feel that this particular model deserves a standalone review.
In the US, the Sony Vaio T13 range starts with a third generation Intel Core i5 version for $769.99, or a Core i7 version for $150 more.
We will, of course, bring you a comprehensive review of the Ivy Bridge-powered Sony Vaio T13 Ultrabooks in due time.
Powering the Sony Vaio T13 that we reviewed was a Sandy Bridge i3-2367M dual-core processor clocked at 1.4GHz, with Intel HD 3000 integrated graphics and 4GB of RAM. With the Ivy Bridge revolution now in full swing you would be forgiven for having reservations about forking out for an Ultrabook with, essentially, outdated tech on board.
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If that is the case, then you do have the option of upgrading to either an Intel Core i5-3317U chip for £100 extra, or an i7-3517U one for £140 more.
As we said, in the US the third generation Intel Core i5-3317U version, clocked at 1.70GHz, costs $769.99, and the third generation Core i7-3517U model, at 1.90GHz, costs $919.99.
However, if you're on a strict budget then it's worth remembering that the original Ultrabook lineup - including the HP Folio 13, the Samsung Series 5 and, the-Ultrabook-that-isn't-actually-an-Ultrabook, the MacBook Air - all run on Sandy Bridge processors and are more than up to the job.
Running Windows 7 Home Premium Edition (with the option of upgrading to Window 7 Professional for an extra cost), the Sony Vaio T13 boasts a quick response time from sleep mode, thanks to the hybrid storage system made up of a 320GB HDD and a 32GB SSD.
The SSD aspect kicks the Intel Smart Response Technology and Sony's Rapid Wake into action, meaning almost instantaneous wake times. There is a standard SSD option too, which will give you an extra couple of hours battery life - nine as opposed to seven. Our hybrid hard drive review unit managed a fairly ordinary 212 minutes under duress.
A strong point of the Sony Vaio T13 is its connectivity options, which include a raft of 'legacy' ports. There are a couple of USB ports on the left-hand side, one of which is of the faster USB 3.0 variety, and on the right-hand side of the machine there is a VGA port, an HDMI port, an Ethernet option and a 3.5mm jack for your headphones or speakers. There's even a multi-card reader, as well.
In terms of wireless connectivity, you're presented with 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0. Ultrabooks are great for digital media, social networking and keeping in touch while on the go, and the Sony Vaio T13 is no exception to this rule.
The built-in webcam is HD, has 1.3 megapixels and is powered by Exmor for PC. Exmor is a technology that Sony has used with some of its CMOS image sensors for its digital cameras, including the excellent Sony RX100, and we're told the inclusion "ensures sharper details, higher contrast and rich colours" and, after giving it the once over, we can't argue with that.
The PC's display may not be Full HD, with a 1366 x 768 resolution, but this seems to be the standard across sub-£1,000 Ultrabooks at the moment.
The Sony Vaio T13 had no issues playing back HD video from a range of file formats, and the sound quality is particularly strong for such a slim notebook as a result of the xLOUD and Clear Phase technology onboard - so it's more than acceptable as a media-based machine.
The 13.3-inch display isn't the greatest though; the semi-gloss finish is quite reflective, and viewing angles aren't fantastic.
The lack of an i5 or i7 processor, and the fact that we're dealing with a low-end Sandy Bridge processor, means that the Sony Vaio T13 is slightly underwhelming when it comes to performance. High-end gaming is a definite no and high-quality media editing isn't advised. Overall, it scored below average in benchmark tests compared to the rest of the Ultrabook posse, and these scores are reflected when it comes to everyday usage.
However, that's not to say that the Sony Vaio T13 is a sluggish affair. Far from it. It breezed through HD video playback (from a variety of codecs) with no bother, played photo slideshows with ease, and carried out everyday tasks such as document editing, file management and keeping up to date with your social media networks with no trouble at all - even with multiple programs opened at one time.
This being a Vaio laptop, there's a plethora of Sony bloatware pre-installed, although it's not all bad. We are fans of Vaio Gesture Control, for example - a Kinect-like motion detecting system that enables a Minority Report-style hands-off control experience.
It takes a while to set up and get used to, and is probably more gimmicky than useful, but we're were impressed nonetheless.
You are more than likely going to want to spend a bit of time uninstalling some of the other handy programs that Sony has chosen for your machine. The Vaio Gate toolbar is a bit annoying (although easily switched off) and the sooner you rid the Sony Vaio T13 of the constantly crashing Vaio Media Plus, the better.
Back to the build and a nice design touch is the lipped-hinge system that raises the angle of the keyboard when the display is tilted backwards. It's obviously down to personal habit, but the prime screen position also seemed to coincide with the perfect keyboard angle for us.
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. You can, however, point these whatever way you choose by tweaking the settings.
The keyboard has got a bit of the MacBook flavour about it - with a black isolated arrangement. Sadly, there's no backlighting for the keys though, and the response isn't quite as soft as Apple's slimline stunner. Key depth is shallow and taps are pretty loud compared to some of the Sony Vaio T13's rival Ultrabooks.
The trackpad is a solitary affair, orphaned by a lack of physical buttons. However, this integrated affair seems pretty natural after a short play, and there are some nice multi-touch features including a four-finger swipe to switch between open programs and a Mac OS X-like two finger scrolling option, which comes in handy when reading long articles on the web.
Battery Eater: 212 minutes
Sony's entry to the Ultrabook market was long overdue, and the Vaio T13 is certainly an encouraging debut. The price-point obviously means that some sacrifices have been made when it comes to hardware, and therefore performance, but the Sony Vaio T13 is a fantastic looking ultra-portable computer that is perfectly suited for somebody looking for a day-to-day media-friendly laptop.
The design of the Sony Vaio T13 is refreshing, to say the least. It may have substituted a slightly slimmer waistline in favour of a more robust, industrial and original design, but we're all for it.
The build quality is so sturdy and strong that we were never concerned when it came to carrying the Sony Vaio T13 around, even without a protective sleeve.
Although common across all Ultrabooks, we found that the Intel Rapid Start technology performed with particular aplomb on the Sony Vaio T13. While laptops are never going to compete with tablets for ease of use, it's certainly not a hassle to pick up and fire up the Sony Vaio T13 from sleep.
Performance isn't great, with a Sandy Bridge CPU used in order to keep the cost down. You'll have no bother with the day-to-day basics, but try to push the Sony Vaio T13 beyond the likes of browsing, photo viewing or video watching and you'll come unstuck.
There's also a wealth of Sony bloatware that you'll need to get through before you get the Sony Vaio T13 running as smoothly as it can do and, even when you do, you may just find the 13.3-inch display a bit too reflective.
And while it can't quite match that duo for speed and performance, its build and design blows them out of the water.