Sony VAIO VPC-Y21S1E/SI

26th Aug 2010 | 14:30

Sony VAIO VPC-Y21S1E/SI

A highly portable laptop with a sharp screen, but offers limited performance

TechRadar rating:

3 stars

Like:

Attractive, slim and light; Sharp and bright widescreen display; Excellent battery life; Highly usable; Strong networking

Dislike:

Flimsy lid; Stilted performance; Limited graphical capabilities; No DVD drive; Not much storage space

Sony VAIO VPC-Y21S1E/SI: Overview

Sony's rather immense range of VAIO laptops can be more than a little daunting for first-time buyers. Although most high street retailers only stock a handful at any one time, there are actually a huge number of VAIO models, split into various skews depending on the components used.

From the tiny PDA-style VAIO P Series, to the powerhouse VAIO F Series, it can be tricky working out which VAIO laptop suits you best.

Sony's VAIO Y Series follows the mantra of 'everyday mobility', with the aim of packing decent multimedia performance into a slim and light chassis.

Sony already has a strong catalogue of ultraportable laptops, including the recently released VAIO VPCZ11Z9E/B which weighs just 1.4kg yet is powered by an Intel Core i7 processor. Performance is unbeatable at that weight, but the price – which tops the two grand mark – is well beyond most consumers.

This is where the VAIO VPCY VPCY21S1E/SI fits into the ultraportable picture. Sony has trimmed back on the cost of components, so while the VAIO Y-Series has considerably less power than the Z-Series, it also comes at a price that won't worry your wallet.

Build quality

First impressions are certainly promising, thanks to a solid plastic chassis that sports an attractive metallic look. The VAIO VPCY's power button has unusually been placed on the right hinge, and glows seductively when the laptop is turned on.

At a weight of 1.7kg, and with a thickness of just 30mm, this is an excellent laptop for slipping into a bag and carrying around all day.

However, although the VAIO VPCY's body is mostly well constructed, it does suffer from one potentially fatal flaw. The lid is surprisingly flimsy and buckles in the centre under even light pressure, so a hefty knock could easily damage the display and mean lights out for your laptop.

As long as you're careful there shouldn't be a problem, but accidents do happen and we'd recommend a sturdy padded case for transporting the VAIO VPCY.

Thankfully the keyboard has no such problems, as a firm and well-sized isolation-style board is in place. This is a popular keyboard design of late, with keys that protrude through individual holes cut in the laptop's chassis.

This increases the space between each key, making touch typing easier while reducing the amount of dust, crumbs and other rubbish that can settle beneath them. The VAIO VPCY's keys are well sized although the Return key has been squashed to just a single row, and there's no room on the compact chassis for a dedicated numeric pad.

Sony VAIO VPC-Y21S1E/SI: Specifications

That compact chassis means the VAIO VPCY has a display measuring just 13.3-inches, a little larger than most modern netbooks but still quite small for a laptop. Thankfully it has a sharp WXGA resolution, so images are crisp and photographs appear highly detailed.

A glossy Super-TFT coating has been used, which adds greatly to the vibrancy of the display. Colours are rich and lifelike, as you'd expect from a Sony screen.

The VAIO VPCY's screen is also pleasingly bright, so you shouldn't suffer a migraine from squinting at it well into the early hours. Our only complaint is the reflective nature of the display, which greatly hampers use outdoors and in bright surroundings.

A widescreen aspect ratio is great for working on documents side-by-side, and is also perfect for watching movies, as you don't get the annoying thick black bars at the top and bottom of the screen.

Film fans may be well catered for by the beautiful display, but the VAIO VPCY's compact chassis is a limiting factor for anyone who wants to enjoy their media on the move.

Limited storage

Firstly, there's only 320GB of storage available in the VAIO VPCY. If you have a large collection of songs and movies this space will rapidly fill up, which leaves you with two options.

Either you stump up for a server and access your media remotely, which can be an expensive and complicated process, or you carry an external hard drive around with you.

Or, of course, you could simply take a small selection of your favourite tunes and films with you on your travels - but with most people's media collections growing by the day, this can be a frustrating option.

The VAIO VPCY's small stature also leaves no room for a DVD drive, which means either lugging an external one with you, or burning a digital copy of your DVDs for watching on the road – again, you're limited here by the 320GB hard drive.

Other features are fairly standard for a laptop this size. VGA and HDMI ports allow an external display to be hooked up to the VAIO VPCY, while there's also separate slots for SD and HD Duo memory cards.

Sony has also included a Mini Firewire port, and an ExpressCard slot for attaching peripherals.

Networking is strong, with 802.11n Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet available for wireless and wired connections respectively. However, there's no built-in Bluetooth for exchanging data with compatible mobile devices.

VAIO button

Sony always includes shortcut buttons on its VAIO laptops, and the usual VAIO and ASSIST buttons are in place on the VAIO VPCY.

VAIO button

The VAIO button launches a simple media gallery that gives you quick and easy access to your photos, movies and music. It's intuitive to use and responsive, although we can't see it replacing most people's favourite media players.

Pressing the ASSIST button launches the VAIO VPCY's system tune-up software, dubbed VAIO Care. VAIO Care detects and diagnoses any problems with your laptop, and can also create recovery discs or restore to a previous system snapshot.

Again, the software is easy to use even for beginners, and can save your VAIO VPCY from potentially critical problems. This is increasingly important these days, with many laptops shipping without recovery discs or even a physical copy of Microsoft Windows.

Sony VAIO VPC-Y21S1E/SI: Performance

The Sony VAIO VPCY is built to be portable and affordable, and unfortunately this comes at a sacrifice to performance.

Sony has used a low-voltage Intel Pentium processor as the brains of the VAIO VPCY, which is both tiny and consumes very little power when compared with standard Intel processors. This extends the battery life, and also reduces the size of the laptop as a powerful cooling system is not needed.

Of course, low voltage means that performance isn't as strong as standard Intel Pentium processors. In our benchmarking tests we found that the VAIO VPCY was more than capable of running basic office applications and browsing the web, and even some light multitasking.

But running more intensive software such as development packages tends to grind things to a halt. Games are definitely out too, with only basic or older titles able to run at a decent frame rate.

4GB DDR3

Still, the VAIO VPCY is considerably more powerful than most modern netbooks, and the 4096MB of speedy DDR3 memory is definitely not a limiting factor.

Sony has bigged up the multimedia capabilities of the VAIO VPCY, and there's no denying that it's great for watching HD films on the move – providing you don't mind the compact screen.

However, watching movies is unfortunately the limit of this laptop's multimedia potential. The simple integrated Intel GMA HD graphics card scored low in our 3D benchmarking tests, and is capable only of basic photo editing and not much more.

Professional designers would be better served by an ultraportable featuring a dedicated graphics card, such as the Sony VAIO VPCZ11Z9E/B.

Excellent battery

Although performance is limited, the low-voltage Intel Pentium processor has had a great impact on the VAIO VPCY's battery life. We managed to get 428 minutes of life from just a single charge, which beats most other ultraportables we've seen lately and is fantastic for a laptop.

Only the Asus UL20A has it truly beaten, with a mammoth 557 minutes of productivity away from the mains.

If portability is a serious priority and your budget is limited, then the Sony VAIO VPCY is a worthy choice. However, the Asus UL20A is a shade cheaper as well as having better battery life, and almost identical in weight.

On the other hand, if you want a bit more power and can afford a more expensive machine than the VAIO VPCY, there are plenty of ultraportable laptops that deliver.

The aforementioned Sony VAIO VPCZ11Z9E/B packs in an Intel Core i7 processor, 6144MB of DDR3 memory and a dedicated Nvidia graphics card, yet is just 1.4kg and still manages a respectable 285 minutes of battery life.

Fujitsu's Lifebook P770 is another great option and about a grand cheaper than the Sony VAIO VPCZ11Z9E/B. A low-voltage Intel Core i7 processor is still powerful enough for games and intensive multi-tasking, while the 1.5kg weight and 427 minutes of battery life make it effortlessly portable.

Sony VAIO VPC-Y21S1E/SI: Conclusion

The Sony VAIO VPCY21S1E/SI is Sony's attempt to make an affordable ultraportable, with all the benefits of a netbook - such as slim dimensions and a long-lasting battery - but with a higher specification also.

Unfortunately, while there's a lot to like about the VAIO VPCY, a flawed design and subdued performance greatly reduce its desirability.

We Liked

The plastic chassis is reasonably solid in most areas, and looks sleek thanks to an attractive metallic finish. A slim and compact build, with a weight of just 1.7kg and thickness of 30mm, is perfect for slipping into bags for the daily commute.

The VAIO VPCY easily beats most modern netbooks in terms of performance, with office applications running smoothly at all times. Battery life smashes most other laptops too, with 428 minutes of productivity from a single charge.

Movie fans will love the VAIO VPCY's sharp and bright 13.3-inch display, with a widescreen aspect ratio perfect for watching the latest Hollywood blockbusters.

The VAIO VPCY is also a highly usable little machine, with a solid isolation-style keyboard and Sony's usual helpful shortcut buttons giving easy access to your media and system backup tools.

We Disliked

Although the VAIO VPCY is light, thin and reasonably solid, the lid exhibits a worrying amount of flex in the centre. A hefty blow could easily damage the screen.

The 320GB of storage is limiting for anyone with a large media collection, and the lack of a DVD drive means you'll need to invest in an external drive or simply do without.

Finally, that low-voltage Intel Pentium processor and the basic integrated graphics card means that the VAIO VPCY's performance is highly restricted. Games and professional design packages don't stand a chance, and anyone requiring more power will have to up their budget.

Verdict

We were impressed by the portability of Sony's new Y Series laptop, and it's refreshing to see an ultraportable at such an affordable price. However, the flawed build quality and subdued performance are real turn-offs, and make this a difficult laptop to recommend.

If power isn't a priority, the VAIO VPCY is worth considering alongside the excellent Asus UL20A. However, if your budget can stretch to it, we highly recommend the Fujitsu Lifebook P770 or Sony VAIO VPCZ11Z9E/B, which pack a lot more power into a similarly light and compact chassis.

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