With up to 6 hours of battery life, a 1080p touch screen, and very good performance, this is a strong Windows 8 competitor to Apple's MacBook Air.
Splashy convertibles and hybrids might be what many laptop makers are using to get people interested in buying a new Windows 8 system, but we've been waiting for some good ol' traditional clamshells that are more than Windows 7 models with touch screens. And, apparently, all it took to get them was some new Intel processors.
Case in point, Sony's new Vaio Pro 11 and Pro 13, two Windows 8 ultrabooks that can go clickpad-to-clickpad with the current Apple MacBook Air lineup. Weighing 1.9 pounds and 2.3 pounds respectively, the Pro 11 and Pro 13 are both only 0.68 inch thick. With their new fourth-generation Core i5 and i7 dual-core processors come longer battery life, improved integrated graphics, and better security and wireless features.
That's great and all, but why not just buy an Air, right? Well, aside from the obvious reason that not everyone likes Apple products, the Pro 11 we reviewed here comes well-equipped for its base price of $1,149 with a fourth-gen Intel Core i5 processor; a 1080p touch-screen IPS (in-plane switching) LCD; battery life in excess of 6 hours and the capability to get up to twice that battery life with an add-on battery; and a wake time of about 2 seconds and boot time of less than 10 seconds. Standard features include an HD Webcam, backlit keyboard, and solid-state drive for storage.
Simply put, it is an excellent little Windows 8 laptop.
Design and features
Slim, small, and lightweight, the Sony Vaio Pro 11 looks the part of an ultrabook. Measuring 11.2 inches wide by 7.8 inches deep by 0.68 inch high and weighing a hair less than 2 pounds (2.5 pounds with its power supply), it's a laptop that begs to be taken everywhere. The carbon fiber construction feels like it can stand up to the rigors of a daily commute, too.
Open up the lid and the back of the laptop lifts up, giving it a more comfortable typing angle. Sony did well with keyboard considering the space that it had to work with. The keys are small, but not uncomfortably so, and there are no odd shapes or cropped keys. The deck is shallow so there isn't a lot of key travel and there is some flex, particularly in the center.
The clickpad is nice: responsive without being jumpy, and with good multitouch support. Like the keyboard, it's small, but not to the point of being unusable. Besides, you can always use the screen to get around.
|Sony Vaio Pro 11||Apple MacBook Air 11.6-inch (Summer 2012)||Samsung Ativ Smart PC Pro 700T||Asus Taichi 21|
|Display size/pixel resolution||11.6-inch, 1,920x1,080 touch screen||11.6-inch, 1,366x768||11.6-inch, 1,920x1,080 touch screen||11.6-inch, 1,920x1,080 touch screen|
|PC CPU||1.6GHz Intel Core i5-4200U||1.7GHz Intel Core i5 3rd Gen||1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U||1.9GHz Intel Core i7-3517U|
|PC memory||4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz||4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz||4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz||4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz|
|Graphics||1,748MB (Shared) Intel HD Graphics 4400||384MB (Shared) Intel HD 4000||32MB (Shared) Intel HD 4000||32MB (Shared) Intel HD 4000|
|Storage||128GB SSD||64GB SSD||128GB SSD||256GB SSD|
|Networking||802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC||802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Operating system||Windows 8 (64-bit)||OSX 10.7.4 Lion||Windows 8 (64-bit)||Windows 8 (64-bit)|
The new 10-point touch LCD uses Sony's Triluminos Display for Mobile technology, which is similar to what you'll find in Sony's high-end LCD TVs. Sony also says the computer has X-Reality for Mobile technology that improves video quality. Regardless of technologies, the screen is really nice for viewing movies and photos.
Its native resolution is 1,920x1,080 pixels and it does use IPS technology, giving it wide viewing angles on the sides, top, and bottom. Text is nice and sharp, but the screen's 11.6-inch size is small, so text might just be too small for some to read comfortably. Touch does come in very handy on a screen this size, though, allowing you to easily drag windows around on the desktop.
Lastly, Sony includes some mode options for color: Vivid for viewing photos and movies, Natural for, um, natural colors, and Text to make it easier to view things like e-books.
Above the screen is a 1-megapixel Webcam that uses one of Sony's Exmor R backside-illuminated CMOS sensors, which should be better for low-light video. It isn't, so we still recommend having as much light as possible for the best results. Or even just good results. The camera can be used for gesture controls such as turning up or down the volume or going back to a previous Web page in a browser. For the most part, it's more trouble than its worth, but we did like being able to increase the volume on our music from a couple feet away.
If you like to listen to movies or music without headphones, the Pro 11 doesn't give you anything to get too excited about. The tiny speakers can get reasonably loud without distortion; however, that's the best we can say about them. You're probably going to want to use headphones or external speakers for an enjoyable experience.
|Sony Vaio Pro 11||Average for category [11-inch]|
|Video||HDMI; Intel WiDi-ready||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jack||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||2 USB 3.0, SD/Memory Stick card reader||2 USB 2.0, 1 USB 3.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Bluetooth, 802.11n Wi-Fi, NFC||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
Given the limited space on the sides of the Pro 11, the port assortment is understandably lean. In fact, on the left you won't find anything but the power input. The SD card slot is hidden under the front lip of the laptop, and the right side houses the remaining ports.
Sony did, however, put a USB port in the side of the Pro 11's power supply, giving you a place to charge a mobile device without tying up one of the laptop's USB 3.0 ports.
Along with support for Intel's updated Wireless Display technology for beaming video and sound to a TV or monitor, the Pro 11 has near-field communication technology (NFC) built in, letting you do things like send URLs of Web sites and directly connect another NFC device over Bluetooth and Wi-Fi simply by touching the device to the laptop.
Performance and battery life
The Pro 11 we tested is the base model priced at $1,149. The fourth-generation Intel Core i5 low-power processor backed by 4GB of memory did well in both our lab tests and anecdotal testing. It's not going to blow you away, but for day-to-day tasks it's sufficient, and the Pro 11 came close to matching the performance of laptops using third-gen Core i7 CPUs.
Waking the laptop from sleep takes less than 3 seconds, which is awesome for when you want or need to just start working. Also, with the Pro 11, from off to the Windows 8 Start screen takes less than 10 seconds.
The integrated graphics were plenty for basic photo editing and we didn't have problems with trimming or playback of 1080p video clips, either. The Pro 11 can handle some graphically demanding games, but it's not a pleasant experience -- stick to casual games. Also, the system will heat up under heavy load and its tiny fans really start to whir.
If you think you might need more storage or a bit better performance, the Pro 11 can be configured with a 256GB SSD and a Core i7 processor. It is limited to the 4GB of system memory that it comes with, however, and there's no option for discrete graphics. Stepping up to the Pro 13 will get you 8GB of RAM (but that's the maximum), slightly better integrated graphics, and a PCIe solid-state drive that is faster than a traditional SSD (though we didn't have any sluggishness when opening applications or large files on the Pro 11).
True to Intel's claims of better battery life, the Pro 11 ran for 5 hours and 56 minutes in our video playback battery test. Sony's engineering estimate puts battery life at up to 6.5 hours and we have no doubt that with power management and normal use, you could hit that mark.
That's not the end of the story, though. For $149.99, a sheet battery that fits on the bottom of the laptop can double the Pro 11's battery life. So, although its battery can't easily be swapped out for a fresh one (and you're still stuck with a service call when the internal battery out and out dies), you aren't without options for keeping the laptop up and running past its 6-hour battery life.
The Vaio Pro 11 comes with a standard one-year limited warranty that covers hardware, parts, and labor. You can also opt for extended Vaio Care with protection against accidental damage, an on-site service plan, and express shipping coverage. And the laptop's Assist button, positioned above the keyboard, gives you one-button access to tune up, update, and troubleshoot the Pro 11, and includes the option to connect with a Sony expert by phone, chat, or online.
The Sony Vaio Pro 11 is an excellent little laptop for frequent travelers or daily commuters. You're paying for a reduction in size and weight here, so if you don't need to travel with a laptop regularly, there are certainly less expensive options. But for those who spend more time working in coffee shops and airports than in an office, it's a smart choice.
Find out more about how we test laptops.
Sony Vaio Pro 11
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-4200U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1,748MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 4400; 128GB SSD
Asus Transformer Book TX300
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-3517U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 4000; HD1 SanDisk 128GB SSD, HD2 500GB 5,400rpm Hitachi
Windows 8 (64-bit); 2GHz Intel Core i7-3667U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 256GB Toshiba SSD
Acer R7-571-6858 Touch Notebook
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Core i5-3337U; 6GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 4000; HD 1 24GB SSD, HD 2 500GB 5,400rpm hard drive
Apple MacBook Air 11.6-inch (Summer 2012)
OS X 10.7.4 Lion; 1.7GHz Intel Core i5; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 384MB (Shared) Intel HD 4000; 64GB Apple SSD
Acer Aspire S7-391-9886
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-3517U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 128MB (Shared) Intel HD 4000; 256GB Intel SSD
Toshiba Satellite U845T-S4165
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Core i5-3337U; 6GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 128GB Toshiba SSD