Sony Vaio Pro 11 review: Lighter-than-Air ultrabook winner

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MSRP: $1,149.99

The Good The Sony Vaio Pro 11 weighs less than 2 pounds and uses a fourth-gen Intel Core i5 to deliver long battery life and very good everyday performance. It has an excellent 11.6-inch 1080p touch screen and is competitively priced for its features.

The Bad The Pro 11, like its competition, has a nonremovable battery (though you can add an external battery), few ports and connections, and integrated graphics only. System memory is maxed out at 4GB.

The Bottom Line The superthin, superlight Sony Vaio Pro 11 is everything we expect from an excellent ultrabook.

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8.1 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7
  • Battery 8
  • Support 7

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

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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
Price $1,149 $999 $1,199 $1,479
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
Optical drive None None None None
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.

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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
Optical drive None None

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.

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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.