Sony VAIO S Series review: first look
After our exclusive reviews of Sony’s brand-new CA Series notebook and L Series touchscreen all-in-one, Sony’s launch event in London’s Century Club promised to be tinged with an overwhelming sense of deja-vu.
Our eyes soon lit up, however, as Sony unveiled its newly redesigned S Series. As the more affordable, albeit slightly less attractive, sibling to Sony’s mighty Z Series, the S Series was always one of our favourite business ultraportables. Now after a deft nip and tuck in Sony’s design department, the S has emerged transformed: slimmer, sexier, and appealing as much to lap-of-luxury consumers as upwardly mobile business users. In short, the S is ready to provide a Windows-powered alternative to Apple’s high-end MacBooks.
A rigorous weight-loss program sees the S Series now rise a mere 24mm off the desk, while tumbling the S Series in our hands was enough to believe the claimed weight of only 1.75kg — this is one notebook that’s light enough to carry around all-day long.
A new reinforced central hinge helps keep the notebook’s clean, crisp lines, and the exhaust vent nestles underneath, blowing hot air to the laptop’s rear.
And despite that lean, lithe figure, the S feels remarkably solid — both the millimetre-thick lid and angular hinge proved surprisingly resistant to our hands tugging it to and fro.
The new design carries over the excellent scrabble-tile keyboard we’re used to, and the wide channels between each key and light, crisp key action make for lovely typing. It’s now backlit, too.
The touchpad also feels great; the lightly textured feel and wide clicky buttons adding to the S Series’ luxurious high-end feel.
It comes as little surprise to find Intel’s new Sandy Bridge generation of processors taking centre stage on the specifications. Intel’s 2.3GHz Core i5-2410M is the CPU of choice — although Sony’s configure-to-order service will serve up some more affordable options — and with Turbo Boost 2.0 taking clockspeeds right up to 2.9GHz, the 64-bit copy of Windows 7 Professional felt positively silky-smooth. There was no word on whether Intel’s vPro platform would make a showing in final retail units, however.
Another first for the range is the addition of graphics switching, courtesy of Sony’s Dynamic Hybrid Graphic System. It’s not just a fancy new name for Nvidia’s Optimus, however, as Sony has partnered Intel’s on-chip HD Graphics 2000 with AMD’s Radeon HD 6470M. And as the S Series is graced with a manual graphics switch, swapping from discrete to integrated graphics requires nothing more than the flick of a finger.
Sony claims that the new graphics switching technology allows the S Series to last up to seven hours in Stamina mode (with Intel HD graphics engaged), but an optional battery slice is capable of pushing the notebook’s stamina well over the ten-hour mark.
Connectivity receives a relatively minor update — a single USB 3 port added to the two USB 2 ports — while dual-band 802.11n and Bluetooth 2.1 are complemented by the optional VAIO “everywair” 3G WWAN card. There are few other surprises: the Sony’s right-hand edge squeezing in those USB ports alongside D-SUB, HDMI and SD and Memory Stick card readers.
With a nod to the S Series’ new dual-personality, Sony is also planning to add Blu-ray as an optional extra sometime in the near future. Our contact couldn’t confirm whether the HDMI output was 1.4 compliant, however, so those hoping to hook the S Series up to their 3DTV will have to hold tight.
The S Series will be shipping in March with a starting price of around £999 inc VAT for the basic 3G-free model. Keep an eye on PC Pro’s website for an imminent review.