Editors' note: This review is part of our spring 2010 retail laptop and desktop roundup, which covers specific fixed configurations of popular systems found in retail stores.
The Sony Vaio VPCS111FM/S is an exclusive Best Buy Blue Label laptop, like the Toshiba E205-S1904 and Dell Studio s15z-2249CPN. The Blue Label program is an initiative created by Best Buy based on customer feedback, claiming to offer more of what consumers want.
Though all three laptops are distinct, there are notable inclusions to Blue Label laptops we've reviewed: excellent battery life, a two-year warranty, 30 days of Geek Squad support, and one year of antivirus protection, as well as the most notable shared feature, Intel Wireless Display technology. While the Toshiba E205 was the first laptop we reviewed to have this capability, all three laptops come as bundles with the necessary NetGear Push2TV box needed to receive the wireless video on a TV or HDTV.
The VPCS111FM/S, however, is the most expensive laptop of the bunch. We categorized it as "high-end," because it eclipses $1,000, but otherwise it has very similar features to both the Blue Label Toshiba E205 and the Dell s15z. Those laptops had 14- and 15.6-inch displays respectively, while this Vaio S has a more compact build and a 13.3-inch screen. It's sturdy, professional-looking, and has a speedy Intel Core i5 processor. Is the extra bit of cost worth it to you? Well, that depends on whether you're looking for wireless video in a more portable form, but this Vaio doesn't offer anything different internally than its Blue Label cousins.
|Price as reviewed||$1,049|
|Processor||2.26 GHz Intel Core i5 430M|
|Memory||4GB, 1066 MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||500GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Intel Media Accelerator HD|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||13 inches x 9 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||13.3 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||4.3 / 5.1 pounds|
With its dull silver plastic case and angled edges, the Vaio S111FM/S could at first glance seem like a throwback design. It still has some standard Vaio touches, however: a round tubular hinge that houses the A/C jack on one side and a glowing power button on the other, a textured and raised palm rest, and a wide black-raised chiclet keyboard.
At less than 5 pounds and with simple and small dimensions, this Vaio is very backpack friendly and nearly crosses over into ultraportable territory. Although this Blue Label laptop goes by its own "S" moniker, it reminds us a little of Sony's Vaio Z series, or a Sony version of the 13-inch MacBook Pro. The outer touches are nothing special, though: the dull silver on the back lid is prone to scratches, and the bottom of this laptop is generic matte-black plastic.
What we really liked, however, was this Vaio's well-placed and comfortable keyboard. Vaio keyboards are often well-designed, but the spacing and relatively shallow keys made for quick, efficient writing in our use, feeling very much like a MacBook. The touch pad, too, is larger than normal for this size, with a smooth, but very responsive, feel and two solid, curved buttons beneath. While the available palm rest space wasn't generous, the raised surface had good friction and balance for either desk or lap typing. We wrote this review on the Vaio VPC111FM/S, and preferred using it to our work laptop.
The wide-screen 13.3-inch glossy LED-backlit display has a 1,366x768-pixel native resolution, which is standard for 16x9 screens at this size. The Vaio VPCS111FM/S can autoadjust its brightness, but maximum brightness is sufficient, though it stops short of being vibrant. To its credit, though, viewing images, text, and videos was comfortable, with the inset glossy screen exhibiting a little less glare than is typical on edge-to-edge displays.
Built-in audio comes through stereo speakers under a grille above the keyboard. Volume was sufficiently loud at its maximum for casual video viewing and Webchat, although music sounded a bit thin. Since this Vaio has the capability to transmit video and sound wirelessly, however, we imagine the average user will frequently be watching media on a connected television, instead.
Other than a set of standard function keys that double as volume/brightness controls, there are two discrete buttons on the top left of the keyboard. One launches Vaio Media Gallery, a relatively simple and attractive home base for music, videos, and photos/slideshows. The other launches Intel Wireless Display, or WiDi, the Vaio's means of instantly streaming video and audio to a TV by plugging in the included Netgear Push2TV box. Sending the Vaio's display to your TV is as easy as pressing the WiDi button on the Vaio, but in our office experience with WiDi we sometimes had interference issues. It's nice that WiDi gets a discrete button, however; it makes the process even more effortless.
WiDi is a great idea and a welcome concept for laptops, but there's also a notable delay when streaming video and audio--though videos look surprisingly good, the delay makes WiDi unusable for gaming. Also note that WiDi can stream anything the Vaio is showing on its screen, with the exception of DVD playback. It's a great solution for users looking to free themselves of cable TV and not be hassled with too many wires. You can also refer to our hands-on experience with WiDi if you want to know more about how it works and what its limitations are.
Despite its compact size, the VPCS111FM/S also manages to include an optical drive on the front right-hand side, with the eject button strangely placed on the front of the Vaio. Having a DVD burner/player is not a necessary inclusion on laptops anymore, but we're always glad to see one in a chassis that's this compact, and having the ability to play DVDs is never a bad thing for travel. Other manufacturers take note: compact laptops need not lose their optical drives.
|Sony Vaio VPCS111FM/S||Average for category [thin-and-light]|
|Video||VGA-out, HDMI||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader, Memory Stick reader, mini-Firewire||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
Jammed into this Vaio are an impressive number of ports for its size, including mini-Firewire and even an ExpressCard slot, along with HDMI. That's a lot better than an equivalent MacBook Pro. All edges of the VPCS111FM/S are efficiently used, including the front end; there isn't much more space to include anything else. On top of this, the Vaio S111FM/S includes Bluetooth, a feature that's all too often omitted from retail configurations.