Sony Vaio S Series 13P (SVS13A190X) review:

Sony Vaio S Series 13P (SVS13A190X)

A 1,280x1,024 HD Webcam had good light sensitivity in a dim office, but exhibited a grainy quality using the included ArcSoft WebCam Companion software.

Sony Vaio S Series 13P S13A190X Average for category [13-inch]
Video HDMI, VGA HDMI or DisplayPort
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone combo jack Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 2 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0 w/power-off charge, SD card reader, MagicGate card reader 2 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0, SD card reader
Networking Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband
Optical drive DVD burner, optional Blu-ray DVD burner
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The Vaio S Series 13P's got you covered when it comes to ports and features: USB 3.0, a USB 2.0 port that can charge while the laptop is powered off, Ethernet, HDMI, and VGA along with two media card slots (SD and MagicGate/Memory Stick) line the Vaio's right side, while the slot-loading DVD drive sits alone on the left next to an oddly placed rear headphone jack.

This $1,199 Vaio S Series fits a nonultrabook (meaning, faster) third-gen Core i5 processor, a 640GB hard drive, 6GB of RAM, a slot-loading DVD drive, Nvidia graphics, and a higher-res 1,600x900-pixel display into the package.

The pricing and distinctions between various Sony models can often get confusing, and with the new Vaio S it's not much easier to understand. The Vaio S series comes in three pricing tiers: Standard (starting at $799), Enhanced (starting at $999), and Premium (starting at $1,119). Enhanced and Premium include Nvidia graphics, but the differences between Enhanced and Premium are harder to appreciate. Premium, based on what we can suss out on Sony's site, includes TPM for business security, solid-state drive (SSD) storage options, and a fingerprint reader. The average user can probably skip that $119 upsell and go for the Enhanced version (the review unit sent by Sony is the Premium model).

Upgrade options are plentiful: you can pick from a trio of Core i5 or i7 processors, Nvidia 1GB or 2GB graphics, up to 12GB of RAM, up to 1TB of hard drive storage or 512GB SSD, and even an optional Blu-ray player or burner. One thing you can't upgrade is screen resolution.

With a third-gen 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-3210M processor, the Vaio S Series 13P handled everyday tasks very well. It matched up surprisingly closely with the 1.9GHz Core i7-3517U ultrabook CPU seen in the Acer Aspire S5 391-9880, an indicator that the gap between "full-fledged" dual-core laptops and ultrabooks is diminishing by the month. The Vaio S13A190X I reviewed still outperformed most ultrabooks, but as you can see, the difference is sometimes in terms of seconds. In some tests, the Vaio S came close to the performance of the more affordable but less robust Vaio T13112FXS. The 13-inch MacBook Pro still outperformed the Vaio S Series 13P in several of our multitasking and single-tasking tests, but software such as iTunes tends to perform better on Apple hardware.

Nvidia GeForce GT 640M graphics with 1GB of memory add a nice boost for gaming, and the leap in performance is obvious, although it's not enough to get you into the territory that would satisfy a serious gamer. Street Fighter IV ran at 64.8 frames per second at 1,600x900, and Metro 2033 -- always a challenging game to run well -- ran at 14.3fps at 1,366x768 with graphics settings on High. Mafia II ran at 28.6fps when I ran its benchmark at 1,600x900 resolution and default graphics settings. You can expect a better experience for games than you'd get at this weight class otherwise.

I appreciate that, at long last, the Vaio S can boast good battery performance without relying on an annoying slice battery add-on. The integrated battery lasted 5 hours and 37 minutes in our video playback test. The last Vaio S I reviewed only made it 3 hours and 24 minutes when set on Speed mode. The extra $150 slice battery (still an upgrade option) boosted battery life back then, to only about a half hour more than the current Vaio S got without one. Finally, you can skip the battery purchase and go a day on what Sony included built-in. It's still not stellar battery life, but it's better than what you get from most Windows machines in its class, including the larger 15-inch Vaio S we recently reviewed.

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The Sony Vaio S is backed by an industry-standard one-year mail-in warranty. Support is accessible 24-7 via a toll-free phone line, an online knowledge base, and a Web site with driver downloads. Sony's support sites are clean and easy to navigate, but upgrades can be a bit steep, running $179 for a three-year mail-in plan, or $329 for a three-year plan that includes accidental damage protection.

The new 13-inch Sony Vaio S is a big step up from the last generation, resulting in a laptop that, while still not perfect, finally finds a good middle ground between ultrabook and full-size machine without feeling too redundant. More hard drive space, better graphics, more upgrade options, and an optical drive that's Blu-ray-upgradable may make the difference for some shoppers, but make sure you price out a sensible model that doesn't needlessly break the bank. Most consumers probably don't need the extra features of the Premium edition.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Sony Vaio S13A190X

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Sony Vaio S13A190X

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Sony Vaio S13A190X

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Sony Vaio S13A190X

Annual power consumption cost
Sony Vaio S13A190X

What you'll pay

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