Sony VAIO T Series (SVT13116FGS) Ultrabook
Sony VAIO T Series review: a third gen Core i7 Ultrabook with plenty of style and a few shortcomings
- Core i7 CPU
- Fast SSD
- Battery life
- Good style
- Glossy screen
- Fairly noisy
- USB ports only on one side
- Keys feel too shallow
Good looks, fast performance and long battery life are the standout features of the Sony VAIO T Series (SVT13116FGS). However, it's an Ultrabook that could use a bit of refining: we'd like a better keyboard, dual-band Wi-Fi, a matte screen and a USB port on the right side. That said, it's still worth checking out this Ultrabook if lots of CPU speed in a thin chassis is what you're after.
Price$ 1,399.00 (AUD)
The Sony VAIO T Series is a 13.3in Ultrabook that has been designed to look good and offer lots of processing power in a thin chassis. It's based on an Intel Core i7-3517U CPU, which runs at 1.9GHz, and it's suitable not only for office work, but also for tougher tasks such as media encoding. Along with the fast CPU, you also get a very quick solid state drive and superb battery life. But even with good looks and lots of speed and battery life, the T Series still falls short in many areas, primarily when it comes to connectivity and user comfort.
Specifications and performance
As we mentioned in the introduction, the Sony VAIO T Series SVT13116FGS comes with a third generation Intel Core i7-3517U processor, which makes it one of the high-end models of the T Series range. It's joined by 4GB of DDR3 SDRAM (which is 1333MHz instead of 1600Mhz unfortunately), integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics and a 128GB solid state drive (SSD). It's a good configuration for a thin and light laptop, and it provided fast results in most of our benchmarks.
In our Blender 3D rendering test, a time of 42sec was achieved; in our iTunes MP3 encoding test, a time of 48sec was recorded, while our AutoGordianKnot DVD-to-Xvid conversion test took 50min to complete. All of these results are identical to the results posted by the ASUS Zenbook Prime UX31A Ultrabook, which uses the same CPU and has the same amount of RAM. However, it was much slower than the ASUS in 3DMark06, reaching a mark of only 4085, when it should have got over 5000 (the ASUS got 5150).
Where the T Series really performed well was in our storage tests. Its 128GB SSD recorded a CrystalDiskMark result of 466.7 megabytes per second (MBps) for reading and 238.1MBps for writing. The read rate surpasses what we've seen from other Ultrabooks with fast 128GB SSDs, such as the HP Envy Spectre XT, and the write rate is only around 20MB shy of what that Ultrabook recorded. In our own file duplication tests, the T Series' SSD put up a rate of 152.3MBps, which is excellent and only 10MBps slower than the HP Ultrabook. Boot up time was about 15sec.
While most Ultrabooks have a battery that's enclosed in the chassis and hard to replace, Sony has made the battery removable in the T Series. It's held by three screws and can be relatively easily removed if you ever need to replace it or potentially plug in a spare while you're travelling. It's a 45 Watt-hour battery and it can supply the laptop with a long life away from an outlet.
In our rundown test, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise screen brightness and loop an Xvid-encoded video, the battery lasted 4hr 30min. This result eclipses that of other recent Ultrabooks we've seen, by over one hour in most cases. That's not bad at all for a Core i7-based laptop. When we used the laptop with a low screen brightness for basic Web browsing, we got well over five hours of life out of it. With a sensible power management plan, you could get even more out of it (depending on what your workload is).
Design and user comfort
It's worth noting that once you remove the battery, you can also remove the access panel, which allows you to access the free memory slot and the SATA drive bay, which accepts 2.5in drives that are up to 7mm thick. A little right-angled adapter is used to plug in to the SATA port, which means that to remove the existing drive, you have to pull up rather than slide the drive. We definitely like the way that the VAIO T Series can be fairly easily upgraded.
The chassis and lid are constructed out of aluminium and the notebook weighs just under 1.5kg. It feels very sturdy, yet light and well balanced. The chassis doesn't bend noticeably when force is applied, the hinges are smooth and strong, but we did notice some 'clicking' when we applied pressure to the screen's lid. We like that the chassis is the same thickness all the way through, rather than tapering to try to trick you into thinking it's thinner than it is. There is a bit of a wedge shape the front of the unit, which adds to the overall styling, and as far as looks are concerned, this Ultrabook is definitely attractive. There aren't any tacky bits or unnecessary highlights except for the chrome on the notebook's spine, and in some respects, the overall styling is understated.
However, the layout of the ports and slots on this Ultrabook could leave some users annoyed. The USB ports are located on one side (the left) and support for USB 3.0 is offered by only one of the ports. The other one is limited to USB 2.0 speed. So not only are there too few ports, they are both located on the same side, which won't always be convenient. The right side of the chassis has good connectivity though: you get Gigabit Ethernet, VGA, HDMI, an SD card slot and a headphone port.
The front edge doesn't have any ports, but it does have two tiny slits which allow sound from the speakers to exit the chassis. You'll still want to plug in a pair of headphones though as the sound from this Ultrabook isn't of great quality. The sound from the HP Envy Spectre XT is better, for example.
Noise from this Ultrabook can be an issue not only when the CPU is under a heavy load, but even while it's just being used to browse the Web. The dynamically-controlled fan kicks in quite fiercely at times and it's very audible. If you're working away in a quiet room, the noise might become irritating. That said, it's just the noise of air rushing quickly through the ample vent on the left side of the chassis; there is no rattling or whining from the fan itself. During long periods of use, the let side of the base can get a little warm, but not warm enough so as to discourage lap usage.
If you're a writer, you might find the keyboard to be a letdown. While the keys are well spaced and large in a chiclet layout, they are very shallow and offer little to no travel when they are hit. Furthermore, they require a rather firm hit in order to leave their mark on the screen. We'd say it's better than the keyboard on the Fujitsu U772, but not as good as the keyboard on the Toshiba Satellite U840W. In what is another disappointment for us, the keyboard is also not backlit, which puts it well behind many competing Ultrabooks that already offer keys that can be seen in the dark.
The Synaptics touchpad is 99x56mm and capable of multi-finger gestures such as two-finger scrolling, three-finger flicking and four-finger swiping. It felt a little bit sticky in our tests, but we didn't have any problems while using it, except that we sometimes lost track of the areas where the left- and right-click buttons are located under the pad — we often left-clicked a little too far to the right and right-clicked a little too far left, which is a basic user error. Click-and-drag operations worked fine.
We have mixed feelings about the screen on the VAIO T Series. On the one hand, it displays very good colour and contrast, but on the other hand, it's a glossy screen and reflections can be downright irritating. Like many laptop screens, it also has narrow viewing angles and it's limited to a resolution of 1366x768. A matte screen would make this model so much better for the price, as would a higher resolution and wider vertical viewing angles, but now we're just getting greedy — even the $1899 model (the SVT13117FGS) is limited to the same 1366x768 screen as this model.
There are many things to like about the Sony VAIO T Series (SVT13116FGS), including its style and build quality, its performance and battery life, and the way that it can be upgraded in the future. However, it could use a better keyboard and a better screen, and we also wish that it had one more USB port and a better dispersion of ports — we're not fans of having only two USB ports on one side of the chassis. Dual-band Wi-Fi would also be welcomed.
Related notebook reviews:
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• Toshiba Satellite U840W Ultrabook
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• Apple MacBook Pro (15in with Retina display)
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