In 2012, ultrabooks are everywhere. Ostensibly, they're thinner, lighter, possibly more stylish laptops. And, as of late, they're pretty affordable, too. The average Windows ultrabook may have achieved MacBook Air-level prices in 2011, but this year prices have dropped to fit a landscape of more budget-minded Windows computers. Sony, one of the few laptop manufacturers to have skirted the ultrabook wave thus far, has finally unveiled its own in the Sony Vaio T, and counter to the usual trend of Sony Vaios being more expensive devices, this one stays at the affordable end of the spectrum: an entry-level Vaio T costs $799.
The more pressing question is this: does a Vaio ultrabook make sense? Sony actually has several quite capable thin laptops in its stable: the Vaio S line, and the nosebleed-expensive Vaio Z. Credit Sony's engineering for that, but those products make the Vaio T blend into the crowd rather than stand out.
A lower-voltage third-gen Ivy Bridge Intel processor and no optical drive seem like compromises compared to last year's Vaio S, which had practically the same thickness, and started at the same price: $799. The Vaio T's thicker than some ultrabooks, but it's really more of an affordable, spiritual variation of the Vaio Z, with ultrabook branding.
If you've always wanted a Vaio Z but couldn't afford one, maybe the Vaio T will make your dreams come true. Truth be told, it's a good Sony debut ultrabook, but not really a very surprising one.
|Price as reviewed||$799|
|Processor||1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U|
|Memory||4GB, 1,333MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||500GB 5,400 HDD hybrid with 32GB SSD|
|Graphics||Intel HD 4000|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||12.7x8.5 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||13.3 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||3.4 pounds / 3.9 pounds|
Glance at the aluminum-and-plastic chassis of the Vaio T13112 FXS and you'll have a hard time seeing the difference between it and a Vaio S, or a Vaio Z. A Vaio-loving colleague assumed it was an S at first glance. The trapezoidal wedge-shaped profile is nearly identical to the last Vaio Z we reviewed: about the same thickness, with a deeper footprint. The top lid, like the Vaio Z, has a downright bizarre hinge: tucked to the rear and covered in a flimsy-feeling chromed plastic, the back lid opens up and pushes down on the rear of the Vaio T, thrusting the keyboard up a bit. Ergonomic or annoying? I side with annoying.
The wide island-style keyboard has generous key spacing, but some of the shallowest keys I've ever typed on. They nearly feel painted on. The Vaio Z had similar keys, but backlit. Thin laptops like the MacBook Air have shallow keys, too, but usably so. The Vaio T crosses the line, and the typing comfort on this Vaio ultrabook suffers for it. Also, there's no backlight: Sony claimed that the reason was that there was no room in the ultrabook's thin design, but this ultrabook is thicker than others I've seen. There's no good reason for keyboard compromise like this.
Below is a slightly recessed multitouch click pad, reasonably wide and tall enough and with good sensitivity, but the touch pad could have been made bigger to fit the space available. The slight recessing also makes bottom clicks just a tad harder to do when your thumb's lying on the slightly higher palm rest.
Above the keyboard are a few dedicated keys: Assist, Web, and Vaio. Assist launches Vaio Care, a service for diagnosing and fixing problems, while Web launches your Web browser of choice and Vaio launches Media Gallery or PlayMemories, part of Sony's music and photo software that comes preinstalled.
The 13.3-inch glossy-coated display's inset in a thick silver bezel, with a 1,366x768-pixel native resolution. That's standard for this size, but the Vaio's screen, while bright, didn't seem as vivid or colorful as you'd expect from a Sony product. Viewing the screen off-axis at vertical and horizontal angles produced washed-out results. It's not a showcase screen.
Front-firing stereo speakers are tucked onto the Vaio T's thick front edge, emitting sound via a small hole on each side. Sound quality is a little tinny, but louder than a MacBook Air by about a factor of two. Movies and video chats are, at the very least, quite audible.
Speaking of Web chat, the included. Arcsoft Webcam Companion 4 and Skype are both preinstalled and can be launched from the Vaio Gate pull-down dock at the top of the screen. The 1,280x1,024-pixel-resolution camera demonstrated good contrast and light sensitivity in my office.
|Sony Vaio T13112FXS||Average for category [ultrabook]|
|Video||HDMI, VGA||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone combo jack||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||1 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0, SD card reader, memory card reader||2 USB 2.0, 1 USB 3.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|