If 2010 was the year of the 3DTV, perhaps 2011 is the year of the 3D laptop. Despite not receiving nearly the same level of hype as stereoscopic televisions, we've seen more 3D-enabled laptops this year than ever. The latest is Sony's 16-inch F-series Vaio laptop. Our $1,899 review unit is called the Vaio F215FX, but if you go to the Sony Style site, the closest current model number is the Vaio F21AFX, which is identical save for a slightly different processor (Intel Core i7-2730QM vs. Intel Core i7-2630QM).
As with most Vaio systems, it's slick, attractive, and well-built. It's also almost obscenely heavy for reasons we can't quite fathom; other 3D laptops manage to weigh the same as their non-3D counterparts.
Sony's take on 3D for laptops is unique. The system uses Nvidia's 3D Vision platform, which is the gold standard of laptop 3D (and honestly, beats most 3DTVs), but instead of using Nvidia's active shutter glasses, Sony includes a custom pair, which works on both this laptop as well as Sony's line of 3DTVs. It's a nice touch if you happen to own both, but it also highlights the consumer-interest-killing fragmentation in stereoscopic 3D.
The Vaio F215FX is still on the expensive side, even for a quad-core laptop. You're paying both the usual Sony Vaio premium, as well as the 3D hardware premium. If you're eager to get into laptop 3D, but want to spend less, there are 3D systems out there for around $1,000, but you'll end up with something that doesn't look or feel nearly as nice, and likely with a lower screen resolution and lower-end components.
|Price as reviewed||$1,899|
|Processor||2.0GHz Intel Core i7 2630QM|
|Memory||6GB 1333MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||640GB 7,200rpm|
|Graphics||Nvidia GeForce 540M|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||15.4 x 10.7 inches|
|Height||1.3 - 1.8 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||16 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||6.9/8.6 pounds|
This should come as a surprise to no one, but the Sony Vaio F is one sharp-looking laptop. Our version is in glossy black, and the body differs slightly from other Vaio laptops in that both the lid and lower chassis have a tapered, trapezoidal shape. It's unusual, but not a bad look, and helps the system look less bulky than it really is. The glossy top lid, however, attracts fingerprints and smudges easily.
At nearly 7 pounds, without the AC adapter, this is one heavy laptop. Sure, 16-inch models are on the larger side of the midsize family, but the Vaio F is way too heavy for a daily commute. By way of comparison, the slightly smaller 15.6-inch Vaio SE we recently reviewed weighed less than 4.5 pounds. The power brick is no lightweight, either. It's big and bulky, and adds about 1.5 pounds to the overall travel weight.
Sony has been doing the island-style keyboard, with its flat-topped, widely spaced keys, as long as anyone, and it has since become an industry standard.
The individual keys of Sony's island-style keyboard are large and easy to hit, and less shallow than the similar-looking ones on the Vaio SE. The wide chassis also fits in a full-size number pad, and the important keys (Shift, Enter, Ctrl, etc.) are large and easy to hit.
The keyboard is backlit, which we always appreciate, but the Function key commands for volume, brightness control, and other system tasks are unfortunately not function-reversed, so you'll have to hold down the Fn key to access them. On a multimedia laptop, we'd prefer either function-reversed Fn-keys, or dedicated buttons.
Like several other current Sony Vaio laptop models, the F-series can be dressed up with a custom-fit keyboard skin. This is a rubber overlay designed to fit specific Vaio laptop models; it comes in a wide variety of colors, and covers the entire keyboard area, edge to edge. This optional accessory, usually around $20, grips the keys fairly tightly, but there's still a little wiggle under the fingers, so it's not going to be ideal for everyone.
The touch pad is anonymous-looking, just a basic patterned patch of plastic on the wrist rest. For such an expensive laptop, we'd like to see nice mouse buttons instead of the cheap-feeling rocker bar that works for both right and left clicks.
As a multimedia laptop, we're pleased that the Sony Vaio F215 has a full HD display with a 1,920x1,080-pixel native resolution. Displays that do stereoscopic 3D can sometimes have a subtle screen door effect, which really degrades overall image quality, but that was not an issue in this system. For 2D use, the display was clear and bright, and even offered decent off-axis viewing.
|Sony Vaio F215FX/B||Average for category [midsize]|
|Video||VGA plus HDMI||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||1 USB 2.0, 2 USB 3.0, SD card reader, 1 FireWire 400||2 USB 2.0, 2 USB 3.0, SD card reader, eSATA|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
|Optical drive||Blu-ray player/DVD burner||DVD burner|
The upscale features, including two USB 3.0 ports and a Blu-ray-playing drive, were not totally unexpected, but a couple of things about the Vaio F were a bit unusual. First, the system includes a FireWire port, something we generally see once or twice a year now, even though they were once standard across nearly all laptops.
The second, and more notable, change was something we didn't find. This is the first Sony laptop we can remember that lacks a separate slot for Sony's proprietary Memory Stick digital media cards. But, before you think that Sony has given up on one of its last great proprietary formats, note that the standard SD card slot now also takes Memory Stick cards. You know, in case you have one lying around, which you probably don't.
Our review unit has a slightly different processor (Intel Core i7-2730QM vs. Intel Core i7-2630QM) than the model currently for sale on Sony's Web site, but both are powerful quad-core CPUs that should be able to handle any task you throw at the system, including intense multitasking. It was a strong performer in our benchmark tests, closely matching high-end systems such as theand , both of which also have the Intel Core i7-2630QM.
For a 3D laptop, this system seems better-suited to Blu-ray and video playback than games. The Nvidia GeForce GT540M GPU is midrange, and while it should play most current games, you may need to dial back the resolution and settings to get good frame rates. Also note that playing games in 3D will use some system resources. We played Street Fighter IV at the native resolution at 46.1 frames per second in 2D mode, but only 22 frames per second in 3D mode. Metro 2033 ran at only 12.3 frames per second in 2D mode at 1,366x768 pixels, but that's a deliberately very challenging test.