(Pocket-lint) - Sony Vaio left the laptop world in 2014. But now Vaio is back, sans Sony, with the Vaio SX14 (on review here) and the 2-in-1 Vaio A12.
Vaio used to be one of the most revered names in laptops. Only the top execs got a Vaio, while you were left with a Dell that weighed as much as a small stack of bricks, and was about as attractive.
But after five years of one per cent pay rises, you finally manage the unpaid intern. You're a boss. And what does a boss deserve? A Vaio.
Bad news: your first reaction to the Vaio SX14 is likely to be, "jee, how much?" It's priced roughly to match the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, arguably the greatest pro laptop around. Although very solid in some respects, the Vaio SX14 just doesn't quite justify the cost in the same way.
- Ports: VGA, HDMI, Ethernet, 3x USB, 1x USB-C, SD card
- Measures: 320.4 x 222.7 x 17.9mm
- Weighs: 990g
This might be the only laptop review you read this year that starts off talking about the connectors on its sides. It's usually the most boring part of a computer, but the Vaio SX14 really sticks out here.
It has connectors retired from laptops this portable years and years ago. There's a VGA port, so you can still connect that monitor so neglected it's now 50 per cent dust.
An RJ45 is another blast from the past. MacBook Pros haven't had them since 2012. You might wonder: "what is Vaio thinking?" But it does make a kind of sense.
The Vaio SX14 can saunter into an office whose computers run Windows XP. Computers so old their keyboards haven't had visible key lettering in a decade. And it'll fit right in. Ask for a Thunderbolt adapter in such a place would be like asking for a soy latte in a greasy spoon that still doesn't offer a vegetarian breakfast.
The SX14 offers a very low weight build too. It's a few grammes under a kilo, but still feels reasonably tough. It doesn't bend or flex much.
Much like the sober look, though, the Vaio SX14 isn't made to wow your fingers. The casing is mostly a carbon fibre-reinforced polymer. Only the keyboard surround is aluminium.
This lets it achieve toughness without much weight, but it feels and looks much like plastic. The lid is a flat panel set inside a frame too, and the seam this adds just isn't the look you expect from such a high-price laptop.
The Vaio SX14 look is more conference room than coffee shop. Still, that's weirdly refreshing in 2019.
Keyboard and Trackpad
- Backlit chiclet keys
- Plastic trackpad with separate mouse buttons
- Fingerprint scanner
It has a good keyboard to go with the serious look too. The SX14 has proper key travel with light but pleasant resistance. Get a typing pace on and you'll start to feel as if your fingers are simply gliding around.
But is it as good as the traditionalist's favourite, the Lenovo X1 Carbon? No, not quite.
It's a classic backlit chiclet laptop keyboard, which has started to look better and better over the years as other laptop makers have jumped on the thin and light trend like the latest fad diet.
The Vaio SX14 trackpad is perhaps a little too traditional for its own good. This is a small rectangle with two separate outboard buttons that further eat into the pad's space. You don't have much room for swiping, and the idea people will plug a mouse into a laptop this portable most of the time is well out of date. That argument works for chunky gaming laptops, not sub-1kg ones, even if they do seem tailor-made for CIOs.
There's also a fingerprint scanner, sat unceremoniously in the keyboard surround. Some other laptop makers have found ways to make such pads blend in a bit better. But who cares, really, the fact is it has one for rapid logins.
- 14-inch IPS LCD display, matte finish
- Full HD (1920 x 1080) resolution
- 4K option (450 nits brightness)
The SX14 has a very ordinary screen with only one notable feature: it has a matte finish, which is just what you'd expect from a business-like laptop. Reflections become diffuse white blobs, which are much easier to ignore than a mirror-like reflection of your face.
It's a 14-inch LCD screen with Full HD resolution. There's no touchscreen, and this is not a pure flat design, where the screen and its surround are covered by a single pane of glass. At least the borders are slim, if not the thinnest around.
Actual display quality is solid, if not quite what some of you may expect from one of the most expensive laptops in its class. The Vaio SX14 has enough brightness on tap for any kind of indoors lighting, but outdoors we found the Acer Swift 7 holds up much better even though it has a glossy screen.
Contrast is good, but colour isn't as rich and deep as you might guess considering the Vaio SX14's price. The HP Envy 13 is around half the cost and its deepest reds look much punchier. A matte finish does not help in making colour look vital, but the actual panel just can't render the deepest shades either.
This is all a question of value. Colour depth doesn't matter for most kinds of work, outside visual ones, and movies still look good on the SX14. But we have a right to expect a lot from a laptop this pricey.
You can upgrade to a 4K screen, which reportedly offers greater brightness and colour depth. But then you're talking about even greater spend: around £2250 with a Core i7 CPU and 16GB RAM.
- Up to Intel Core i7-8565U CPU
- Up to 500GB SSD
- Up to 16GB RAM
There's better news about the Vaio SX14's performance. Ours is a fairly high-spec model, with 16GB RAM, 500GB SSD and an Intel Core i7-8565U processor. It is one of the lightest laptops available with this CPU.
This CPU is much more versatile than the Snapdragon chips seen in some very-long-lasting thin'n'light models, and a lot more powerful than the Y series Intel processors used in MacBook Airs. We'd be happy to edit photos or video on the Vaio SX14, or run pro-level music production software.
The laptop also stays whisper-quiet if you don't do much more than edit documents and browse simple websites that don't start stealing your system resources with badly designed ads and autoplay videos. Its passive heatsink seems to be reasonably effective. That the Vaio SX14 isn't the thinnest laptop around probably helps too.
Of course, the design wasn't conceived with raw performance in mind. When you start stressing the CPU, the fan kicks in and makes its presence known. But even when maxed out it is relatively quiet.
The Vaio SX14 is also, no prizes for guessing this one, not made for gaming. It has the Intel UHD 620 graphics that come baked into the central processor, and that's it.
Integrated graphics like this have reached the point where they can scrape by with some older games, though. We let The Witcher 3 loose on it to push it beyond its comfort level. It manages around 20fps at 720p, Low graphics, which is just about playable. Skyrim runs at 40-50fps at Low settings, 1080p resolution, dropping to 20-odd frames per second when you up the graphics to Medium.
- 38Wh battery
- Cylindrical plug charging
- 'Up to 8.5 hours' battery life (1080p version)
A laptop this light seems made for portable use. The battery tells a different story. Its capacity is only 38Wh, a little over half that of some competitors. Perhaps Vaio decided to shave it down to this level to get the SX14's weight under 1kg. That spec looks great on a webpage, but is a major limiting factor.
Even when playing a video off YouTube at 50 per cent brightness, hardly the most taxing job, the Vaio SX14 only lasts roughly five hours. That might get some politicians through a day's work, but not the rest of us.
That there's a 4G SIM slot on the back is more proof this is a true portable computer. But five hours doesn't cut it for that job.
The speakers are weedy and weak, too, like thin laptop speakers from before Vaio was making laptops last time around.
You have to wonder which consultant Vaio hired to decide what matters in a laptop. The Vaio SX14 has some strange priorities.
It's very light and looks serious, so seems an obvious fit for a business traveller. However, the battery isn't powerful enough to last through a long flight or a day of skipping between meetings.
It costs a lot too. There's plenty of processor power and the Vaio SX14's connectivity is bizarrely diverse, but this is an overall odd package.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon
This is perhaps the closest alternative to the Vaio SX14 for those after serious business chops. It has a better keyboard, battery and screen. There's no VGA port, but we hadn't seen one of those in years before now.
MacBook Pro 13
Thanks to price drops that landed just before we reviewed the SX14, the MacBook Pro 13 now looks like better value than the Vaio at some configs. It has a radically better trackpad, a glossier-looking screen, more graphics power, and Apple's contentious Touch Bar. We do prefer the Vaio's keyboard for any serious writing jobs, though.
Dell XPS 13
It's not often you get to call the Dell XPS 13 a cheaper option, but it is in this case. Top specs compared, the Dell is a mind-boggling £500 less. Battery life is better too, and the design is better-looking. You miss out on the Vaio's unusual appeals of decades-spanning connectivity, though, and the Vaio's keyboard has a deeper-travel feel.