The Vaio T13 is Sony's very first ultrabook. Will the company successfully mobilise the wealth of expertise it has acquired from previous models, such as the Z series, to outperform the competition while adhering to Intel's standards of computing power, thinness and battery life?
Coming out of the box, the T13 looks fetching with its aluminium/magnesium alloy lid. Once you've got it open you notice the high quality of the finishing (unlike many of its competitors, the surface doesn't collect fingerprints by the kilo). That said, it isn't quite as elegant as the Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A.
We couldn't help but notice that the lid protecting the screen extends below the chassis when you flip open the display (see photo above). The result is that when the T13 is open it rests on the edge of the screen, rather than with the chassis flat on the table as laptops normally do. This lifts the bottom of the computer up a few millimetres off the surface of the table to allow air flow beneath the chassis. The drawback to this, of course, is that the hinges end up carrying much of the weight.
The keyboard is a good size and the keys well proportioned, but we can't say we were particularly thrilled with it. The keys are set so low that you almost feel like you're typing on a table. We didn't find this the most comfortable keyboard to use.
We much preferred the touchpad. It may not be the largest, but the entire surface is clickable, it offers smooth finger movements and accepts all the common multitouch commands (two-finger zoom, 2/3/4-finger scrolling...).
The 720p webcam produces detailed images in lightly coloured areas of the shot, but the noise really cranks up in darker areas. Try and sit in a well-lit room to get the most out of the webcam.
The Vaio T13 has enough connectivity to accommodate all the most common computing activities. It has two video ports (VGA and HDMI), an RJ45 port, a card reader (SD and Memory Stick), a headphone/microphone combo jack and two USB ports (1 x 3.0 and 1 x 2.0). The absence of a dedicated mic-only jack shouldn't be an issue for most people, but a third USB port on the right side would also have been nice—with the two sitting right next to each other as they do, when you plug a large USB key or connector into one port it could end up blocking the other.
Heat levels with the components under stress.
Images taken with a Fluke Ti25 Thermal Imager.
One good thing about the Sony Vaio T13 is that even when you push the components to the limit with processor-intensive programmes or any array of benchmarks, the noise level is always quiet enough to go unnoticed (unless maybe you're sitting in absolute silence). Also good, the T13 doesn't heat up much, which is surprising for a 17.8 mm chassis. Sony did some excellent work here.
Unfortunately, the colour rendering on the display is utterly disastrous, with a delta E of 12.8. A calibration profile will be your only remedy. And the contrast is even worse: 230:1. That's nothing, even for a notebook. But it doesn't stop there. The Vaio T13's brightness never makes it above 180 cd/m². With brightness like that and a glossy surface, the screen has zero chance of avoiding reflections from direct light sources (the sun, the lamp sitting behind you...). The 1366 x 768 resolution is no 1080p, for sure, but it's high enough not to be a strain on your eyes.
Frequency response: lows to the left, highs to the right. The rise at around 20 Hz is a measurement artefact.
The sound on the whole is respectable. The speakers won't set any records, especially in terms of volume, but the rendering is comprehensible and relatively clean.
The line in/line out signal is excellent and the volume should be just right for any headphone or hands-free kit. Just remember there's only a combo jack, no dedicated mic in.
Our Testing Model:The version we were sent to review features an Intel Core i3-2367M processor, 4 GB of RAM, an Intel HD 3000 graphics chipset and a 320 GB SSD supported by a 32 GB Express Cache. So far we've discussed features that are common to all versions of the Vaio T13; what follows applies only to the model we tested, as each model has different specs (see above inset).
The CPU is a low-consumption version of the Intel Core i3. It's an i3-2367M, which gives lower performances than models like the i3-2330M. According to our measurements, which, among others, include 3D modelling, data archiving and 1080p video encoding, the i3-2367M takes 45% more time to execute the same tasks as the i3-2330M.
That said, it's still twice as fast as the Intel Atom and AMD E-450, which you find in netbooks and certain low-power notebooks. While it isn't the quickest CPU on the market, it does give you a certain amount of leeway in your choice of applications. Productivity software and day-to-day tasks like web browsing are a walk in the park for the i3-2367M.
The addition of the 32 GB Express Cache SSD to help shoulder the 320 GB hard drive improves the T13's overall responsiveness, making the start-up time 35 seconds (including time for Wi-Fi to connect) and the shut-down time barely 5 seconds.
The Express Cache SSD isn't available for the user to use, it's only there to allow the computer to store data more quickly.
The Vaio T13's gaming capabilities come as no surprise. Without a dedicated graphics card, there's only a small number of recent games (like FIFA 11) that it can launch in their native resolution. But even then you can't be too picky about image quality—you'll get medium, at best—or else the frame rate will take a nose dive. Naturally, there's more room for manoeuvre on older games like Half Life 2.
The T13 may not work wonders with video games, but the HD 3000 chipset makes it able to decode 1080p movies effortlessly.
MOBILITY / BATTERY LIFE
Sony advertises 7 hours of battery life, but when we tested it (playing 720p video continuously, with the screen at 100 cd/m², headphones in and Wi-Fi turned off) we only got 5 hours and 20 minutes. That's decent, and at 1.48 kg the T13 makes for a good travel buddy that will fit easily into any regular-sized backpack.