Welcome to our very first Windows 8 laptop review! High five! Sony is the first brand to have lent us a laptop running Microsoft's brand new operating system. The computer they sent us was a Vaio S13 Series with a 13-inch matte screen, an Intel Core i5 processor, an Nvidia GT 640M LE graphics card and 640 GB of memory.
When we unboxed the S13, we found an ultra-portable laptop with an elegant design. The contours of the keyboard are lined with a nice-feeling magnesium coating. However, it would have been even nicer to have the same material on the lid and the rest of the chassis as well, because, as is, the body on the whole feels a bit too plastic.
But the Vaio S13 (sort of) makes up for this with a backlit chiclet keyboard that's comfortable to use, as long as you like low-lying keys and don't mind them making noise when you type.
The extra-large touchpad offers smooth and precise movements. Sony was right to do this part well, because Windows 8 is all about touch commands. For example, you can navigate through apps or launch them straight from Modern UI (once known as Metro, now often known as the Start Screen) by simply gliding a finger from the left side of the touchpad to the centre. Generally speaking, this touchpad is a good substitute for a touchscreen, since it understands all the same movements. To use these functions you first need to activate them in the touchpad's driver.
In order to do this, you have to leave Modern UI and return to the "regular" Windows desktop. From there, everything works just like under Windows 7, Vista or XP. The driver also includes videos showing you the gestures and their functions.
By this point you may have noticed that there's no Start menu. Sony added its own in-house programme to replace the classic Windows Start menu and give easy access to your full list of programmes. Just remember, Sony's module doesn't include a shutdown button.
To turn the computer off, you move the cursor to the upper right-hand corner of the screen, wait until the menu appears and then select Settings. The Settings menu is where you'll find the brightness, Wi-Fi options, control panel and, of course, shutdown button.
To get back to the S13 itself, the connectivity is mostly concentrated on the sides. On the right side are three USB ports (1 x 2.0 and 2 x 3.0), an RJ45 (Ethernet) port, an HDMI port, a VGA port and two card readers (SD and Memory Stick).
On the left side is a slot for the DVD burner and a headphone/microphone combo jack for a hands-free kit.
Heat levels with the components under stress.
Images taken with a Fluke Ti25 Thermal Imager.
As far as noise and temperature go, this clearly isn't the best laptop we've reviewed. When running full throttle the Vaio S13 expels winds of nearly 53° C (that's 127.4° F). To counteract the Saharan heat being blasted toward your person, the fan kicks in, making up to 50 dB(A) worth of noise.
How to put this lightly? Sony clearly didn't put one iota of effort into the screen's colours. We measured an average Delta E of 10.8, whereas 3 and below is what you would need to have accurate colours. And the stunted contrast of 250:1 doesn't help matters. In fact, the only thing this display really has going for it is the matte surface, which reduces reflections.
Our Review Model:The model we were sent for review features an Intel Core i5-3210M processor, 8 GB of RAM, an Nvidia GT 640M LE video card and a 640 GB hard drive (7200 RPM). Whereas the comments above refer to all versions of the Sony Vaio S13 Series, the observations below apply to the configuration we tested only, as each model has different specifications. Individual components may also vary depending on the country/region you live in (see inset).
The S13 we received features the same Intel Core i5-3210M processor as the Dell Inspiron 15R Special Edition we reviewed last week. It gives similar results to the Intel Core i5-2450M, meaning it has the processing power to handle everything from productivity and photo editing to 3D modelling and video encoding.
And the 8 GB of RAM aren't there for nothing. In Windows 8 you can't always close certain apps you've launched from the Start Screen before exiting (Internet Explorer, e-mails, webcam...). So after a day of diligent use, the number of programmes that end up running simultaneously can add up. If, however, you want to free up a little RAM, you can always move the cursor to one of the left-hand corners of the screen to open up the running apps menu (see video above). From there you're just a right-click away from closing the apps one-by-one.
The 640 GB hard drive provides a comfortable amount of storage space and doesn't appear to harm the S13's responsiveness in any way—this laptop takes just 25 seconds to boot up and 20 seconds to shut down.
Since the S13 Series has no aspirations to being labelled "an ultrabook", Sony was able to make use of the 2.39-cm-thick chassis to slide in an Nvidia graphics card, the GT 640M LE. It isn't quite as powerful as the GT 640M, but it's enough to allow you to play any game, from FIFA 13 to Metro 2033, in the screen's native resolution.
If you're going to export the image to a Full HD screen, however, you're better off avoiding any activities other than watching HD movies, because in 1080p you'll have to sacrifice a great deal of detail in order to avoid choppy gameplay. And sometimes even that won't be enough...
The audio output signal is satisfactory, with no distortion or excessive crosstalk, but when you switch between headphones and the speakers it's like a case of Jekyll and Hyde.
Frequency response curve from the speakers
Green = good / Orange = tolerable / White = torture
Green = good / Orange = tolerable / White = torture
The speakers have very low volume and harmonic distortion starts to rear its ugly head even at low levels—so hey, maybe it's a good thing the speakers aren't loud... Believe us, if you value your ears you'll only use the speakers if you absolutely have to. And even that's pushing it.
MOBILITY / BATTERY LIFE
As mentioned above, the S13 Series is too big (331 x 224.6 x 23.9 mm) and heavy (1.7 kg) to be considered an "ultrabook". Yet it's small enough to be easy to carry around in a backpack for a few hours without pulling your back. It has enough battery life (4 hours and 30 minutes during continuous video playback with Wi-Fi turned off, the screen brightness at 100 cd/m² and headphones plugged in) to get most people through the day.