Sony VAIO SE review

When looking around for a new laptop you have a slew of options to choose from.  You’ll want the complete package, good storage space, fast processor, quality video graphics, nice design and form that can work with how you use your laptop.  The Sony VAIO SE is a laptop that brings a lot of heat behind it.  You have an Intel Core i5 processor, switchable AMD graphics, a DVD drive and a full HD display  You can also have an optional battery sheet to extend your already quality battery life for over 10 hours of enjoyment.  All of this can be yours if the price is; oh wait I might get in trouble if I finish that, so let’s just say all of this for under $1000.  Want to jump to the video review?  Feel free to check it out here

Design

The design of the laptop shows a unique take on a minimalist look and feel.  You have a brushed aluminum interior which is the same material as the outside of the case.  That really helps cut down on fingerprints.  You won’t see any flashy graphics or swirling lines, Sony kept it simple and clean.  Just the VAIO badge on the lid’s center and chrome rear hinge. Above the keyboard you have some hotkeys to select like the Eject button, VAIO assist, Web browser, power, VAIO media gallery and the Stamina/Speed switch to toggle between the GPUs and to top it off two thin speakers.

Sony VAIO SE is 4.4 pounds, the 14.9 x 10.1 x 0.9 and incredibly light, in fact it is one of the lightest 15-inchers on the market. It’s lighter than both the 5.6-pound Dell XPS 15z (15.2 x 10.3 x 1-inches) and the 5.8-pound HP Envy 15 (14.9 x 9.6 x 1.1 inches). However, when its extended sheet battery is attached, the VAIO SE weighs 5.7 pounds and has a thickness of 1.3 inches.

Impressions

From the moment I started using the Sony VAIO SE I fell in love with it. I mean sure I also fell in love with the Dell XPS 15 MLK, there are a slew of major differences between the two loves of my life in laptops.  The display was amazing and the quick jump options at the top of the screen made moving from certain apps even quicker.  Plus the front facing camera can also be used to control your onscreen music player.  With simple swipes of the hand you can jump to the next track or turn the volume up and a whole slew of other options.  It is those little tweaks that help propel this device beyond others I have tested out.  Just the unique little twists to the UI that can make or break a laptop.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The keyboard on the VAIO SE features a silver island-style backlit keyboard with a full number pad and plenty of spacing.  Some keys were downsized a bit but overall typing performance wasn’t hindered.  The backlighting on the keyboard was bright enough to clearly distinguish letters and symbols in very dim settings.  However, at times we would notice the keys would have a significant amount on light bleeding from underneath the keys to where it would seem the keys were trying to become 3D.  It was annoying and distracting and we would have to move our heads around from time to time to compensate the bleeding.

The touchpad was very responsive and even simplified the use of gestures to one-finger scroll, pinch-zoom, two-finger scroll, flick and press all worked quite well.  The one problem I had was every once in a while when my palm would slightly touch the pad the cursor would jump all over the screen making it very difficult to work with.

Display and Audio

The 1920 x 1080 backlit IPS display was stunningly beautiful to watch video and read text.  The full HD screen’s matte finish could take direct sunlight viewing like a champ.  Text on some websites was crisp and images were very clear and vivid.  Watching trailers on YouTube had the VAIO SE screen popping out amazing quality in the video allowing you to see each video available in HD and not believing what you are seeing.  The clarity of the colors and quality of video showing on the VAIO SE was stunning.

The audio quality was very pleasing to us as well.  Even with those tiny speakers when you pumped to the max it would easily fill up a small room.  One thing I would like to see more focus on is some deeper bass, even with the Dolby Home Theater technology it wasn’t all roses.  Lack of deep bass and some distortion when playing Slipknot at a high level was a few things we noted.

Battery and Heat

The battery life on the Sony VAIO SE ran 4 hours 23 minutes on the Speed setting.  The average battery life for a similarly compared laptop ran just shy of 5 hours.  When switch to Stamina mode the Sony VAIO SE lasted 5 hours and 31 minutes, not too shabby but still short of the Dell XPS 15z which ran over 6 hours.

Now when we connected the $150 sheet battery we saw the VAIO SE battery last a mind blowing 10 hours and 38 minutes.  All that extra battery life costs you an additional 1.3 pounds of extra weight.  Simply amazing to think of all the work you can get done on a full charge.

Now you would think with all that battery and long lasting battery life that the laptop would get really hot. Right?  After playing some Civilization 5 we noted the touchpad temp was 80 degrees Fahrenheit and the hot space on most laptops between the G and H keys and the bottom of the notebook hit 81 and 84 degrees.

Ports and Webcam

A USB 3.0 port, two USB 2.0 ports, an SD card reader, a Memory Stick Duo slot, HDMI, VGA, Ethernet, secure lock and power port can be found on the VAIO SE’s right side. A tray loading CD/DVD burner and a headphone jack sit on the left side.  So needless to say if you need ports this little baby has anything you could want.  I enjoy the Memory Stick Duo slot since NO other laptop has one but Sony is going to hang onto that little proprietary as long as it can.

 

The VAIO SE’s HD webcam can capture stills at 2560 x 2048 pixels and video in 1280 x 1024.  The images were smooth but you can definitely see graininess to the photos and unless you are using really good lighting colors appeared duller than normal.  Not a complete killer but not something to write home about either.

Performance

With its 2.5-GHz Intel Core i5-2450M processor, 4GB of RAM, 640GB 5,400-rpm hard drive, AMD Radeon HD 6470M with 512MB of VRAM and Intel HD Graphics, the Sony VAIO SE can handle high-def movies, productivity tasks and some moderate gaming.  I decided to really test the machine and I did so by playing some Civ 5, streaming some music from Spotify and then run Google Chrome with 13 tabs open and downloading some clips and uploading a movie file to YouTube.  The end result is the Sony VAIO SE handled all these tasks extremely well.

Boot up time was around 79 seconds which is really good but still behind the Dell XPS 15z which was able to boot up the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium in 64 seconds.  You can find other laptops that boot up quicker than that but still not a bad time overall.

Graphics Performance

The Sony VAIO SE has hybrid graphics comprised of an AMD Radeon HD 6470M GPU with 512MB of memory and an Intel HD Graphics GPU. Users can toggle between GPUs using the switch marked Stamina/Speed in the top left corner of the notebook. It took approximately 2 to 3 seconds for the laptop to make the switch, complete with a blacked-out display.

Overall the graphics card is more than capable of handling your daily video game usage and your video editing jobs.  There are other laptops out there that have a better graphics card and can outperform the Sony VAIO SE however those settings were on autodetect and the machine would settle for the graphic layout that would best suit the game to play while not using too much auxiliary resources

Even playing on some really heavy graphic games you can see a much better performance than other machines when you crank the settings up to the max.  World of Warcraft for example looked much smoother and played better on the VAIO when settings were maxed out.  Yet on other games the VAIO would perform below other machines.  I found that to be very interesting.

Final Thoughts

There’s a lot to like in the $999 Sony VAIO SE. This 15.6-inch notebook offers a full HD display, good performance and a well above average graphics card.  You also get a very light and super portable machine and the only downside is if you want the extra battery life you will sacrifice that lightweight with the battery blade.  While the Sony VAIO SE can handle most if not all of your multimedia needs some people would still rather have the Dell XPS 15z which gives you better graphics and audio for around the same price.  That being said we now take it to the crack team of scientists and get a verdict.  On the Kyle Scientific Scale-o-Rama we give the Sony VAIO SE a well-deserved BUY IT.

Article first published as Sony VAIO SE Review on Technorati.

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