Display and Sound
The good news is that the Sony Vaio T's display is better than many other Ultrabooks on the market. The bad news is that it doesn't take much to improve on the poor viewing angles of most Ultrabooks. Even the higher than average resolution Asus Zenbook UX31E uses a TN panel with very narrow viewing angles. The Vaio T's viewing angles are noticeably wider than the Zenbook, Dell XPS 13 and HP Folio 13, though they're still not nearly as good as the MacBook Air's. Resolution is the usual 1366 x 768 and brightness is quite good. Colors are pleasing with good saturation but the gloss display's reflections aren't a high point. Glare is noticeably less than with the Dell XPS 13 (a Gorilla Glass glare-monster) and the Zenbook, but it can't compete with the anti-glare display on the Sony Vaio Z3 and latest generation Vaio S 13" premium model.
Like the Toshiba Portege Z835, the Vaio Z has both VGA and full size HDMI ports. There's no WiDi Intel wireless display because the laptop uses Atheros AR9485wb-EG WiFi and it has Atheros AR3012 Bluetooth.
Surprisingly, the stereo speakers are louder and fuller than Sony's Vaio S 13.3 and Vaio Z speakers. They don't beat the Dell XPS 13 for really loud and rich sound or the Asus Zenbook's bold speakers, but they're decent enough.
Keyboard and Trackpad
The Synaptics buttonless trackpad is large but we didn't find it as responsive as the Sony Vaio Z's excellent but tiny Trackpad or the Vaio S 13's large trackpad. As Windows trackpads go it's above average and there's ample room for multi-finger gestures, but we sometimes had to tap twice to register a click and two-finger scrolling requires keeping your fingers quite parallel (not uncommon on Windows notebooks). The metal wrist rest area is deep enough for middle-sized hands and we found it comfortable. Sony's usual dedicated buttons to launch the web browser, Vaio Care and the app of your choice live above the Fn keyboard row.
The chiclet keyboard is roomy with large keys but key travel is on the short side and there's no backlight. Despite the short travel, the roomy and tactile keyboard gave me no trouble typing this review and I found it worlds better than the Asus Zenbook UX31, but not as good as the excellent Dell XPS 13 keyboard.
Performance and Horsepower
Intel third generation Ivy Bridge Core i5 and i7 CPUs are here with the significantly faster Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics. You can order the machine with a 1.7GHz Core i5 or a 1.9GHz Core i7. These are ULV (ultra low voltage) CPUs that use less power, generate less heat and aren't as fast as their full mobile counterparts in larger notebooks (with the exception of the much more expensive Vaio Z that's both supremely small and wildly fast).
The Vaio T SVT1311 is available with hybrid hard drives that have 32 gigs of MLC flash memory to speed up Windows, and that makes for quick boot and resume times. If you spend more bucks you can get a 128 gig SSD, with 256 and 512 gig SSDs available as build to order options (we're not sure how many of you would put a $1,000 512 gig SSD in a sub-$1,000 Ultrabook).
The Vaio T has 4 gigs of DDR3, 1333MHz RAM soldered to the motherboard and a single RAM slot so you can upgrade to 8 gigs (likely you could go up to 12 gigs with an 8 gig SODIMM in the slot). RAM slots are unheard of in Ultrabook-land where everything is sealed inside and soldered on. In fact, the battery can be removed via 3 screws that have very wide slot heads (use a penny or a nickel rather than a screwdriver to remove them).
This is a fast and responsive Ultrabook thanks to the third generation Intel CPU, faster HD 4000 graphics and SSD drive. It boots Windows in 19 seconds and resumes in two seconds. Apps launch instantly thanks to the SSD and it's very snappy for MS Office, light to moderate Photoshop work and all things social networking. Web browsers are responsive and HD video playback is smooth. For everyday business and home tasks, this machine is more than up to the task. For those of you who do more challenging things like editing 1080p video or working with Maya, an Ultrabook isn't the ideal choice. The CPU is more than capable enough for average tasks (and is many times faster than the previous fad, netbooks), but it lacks the computational power for very demanding tasks like video production and it has no dedicated graphics card for CAD and 3D rendering applications. Look to the Lenovo ThinkPad X230 full mobile CPUs or Sony Vaio S 13.3 with Nvidia GT640M LE dedicated graphics for a super-portable with more oomph.
Casual gaming is no problem, and older 3D games like Rise of Nations run beautifully. Today's cutting edge 3D titles like Skyrim, Battlefield 3 and Mass Effect 3 aren't a great match unless you don't mind playing at native resolution or lower with anti-aliasing turned off and most effects turned to low. Then you can get a solid 30+ fps experience. More forgiving games like Left4Dead 2 run fine at native resolution at 40+ fps.
The fan comes on often and it's not super-quiet. It doesn't roar when doing business tasks like email, web and MS Office, but it's louder than we'd expect from an Ultrabook with a ULV CPU and reasonable thickness for cooling. The CPUs are in the mid 30's Centigrade according to CoreTemp, which is fairly cool, so we're not sure why the fan comes on so often. Adobe Flash playback and other streaming video like Netflix don't increase fan speed or noise appreciably, but if you play 3D games or edit video for 30 minutes or more, it runs at a hearty clip.
3D Mark Vantage: 3078 (2522 GPU, 9078 CPU) on Performance test preset
PCMark Vantage: 12,120
TV and Movies: 5064
PCMark Vantage comparisons:
Ultrabooks have good battery life, and the Sony Vaio T with its 4,050 mAh Lithium Ion battery is no exception. We managed 5.75 hours on a charge with brightness set to 70% and WiFi on. It's not the longest running Ultrabook, but that's respectable. As mentioned, you can replace the battery in a few years if it gets old and tired; it's easy enough to do it yourself. The notebook ships with a very compact world charger.
Oddly enough, Sony's other laptops are the Vaio T's worst enemy. The extremely capable and portable Sony Vaio S 13.3" model starts at $799 and it's not much heavier at 3.8 lbs., nor is it wildly thicker at 0.95". The premium Vaio S 13 is 3.69lbs. and 0.90" thick, yet it offers a DVD burner, fingerprint scanner, a higher resolution display and dedicated graphics for $1,119. All Vaio S 2012 models have full mobile CPUs that are quicker than their ULV Ultrabook counterparts, and battery life is slightly better than the Vaio T when running on integrated graphics.
When pitted against other brands, the Sony Vaio T does well, in part because it's one of the first Ultrabooks to market with third generation Ivy Bridge CPUs and Intel's much faster HD 4000 integrated graphics. It's quick, it's attractive and the metal casing is unique looking (it's not a MacBook Air clone). It has a better than average selection of ports, and a somewhat better display thanks to less severely limited viewing angles and good color saturation (but just average brightness). Among competing Ultrabooks, the Sony Vaio T is one of the better picks (for now). The low starting price makes it that much more attractive, though you lose the full SSD drive on the least expensive models.
Sony's first Ultrabook is a compelling choice, but it looks less compelling when you compare it to Sony's own Vaio S 13.3 and Vaio Z. Granted, the Vaio Z is much more expensive, but the Vaio S is similarly priced and offers a lot more bang for the buck. If you have you heart set on an Ultrabook, the Sony Vaio T is one of the better models currently on the market. The Ultrabook space is progressing quickly, and we have a feeling that the Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A might just trounce the Vaio T, and the HP Envy Spectre XT is also looking like a worthy competitor.
Price: starting at $769 for Core i5 ULV with 320 gig HDD and 32 gig MLC flash drive. $1,199 as tested with Core i7 ULV, 6 gigs RAM and 128 gig SSD.
Sony Vaio Z Review (2012)
Sony Vaio S 13.3 Video Review (2012, premium model)