Mid-2013 MacBook Air 13 vs. Sony Vaio Pro 13 Comparison Smackdown
Today we compare the first two fourth generation Intel Haswell Ultrabooks, both from respected makers who offer brand cachet, quality, style and a thin and light experience. On the one hand we have the machine that started it all: the MacBook Air. Before there were "Ultrabooks" (a name invented by Intel's marketing department to help Windows machines cash in on the trend the Air started), there was the MacBook Air. At a hair under 3 pounds and thin enough to slip into a manila envelope, the MacBook Air captured imaginations and pocketbooks. In the other corner, we have Sony, who even before the MacBook Air, specialized in insanely thin and light machines that used exotic materials like carbon fiber and lightweight metals, and combined it with keen styling and understated elegance (Sony Vaio X, Sony Vaio Z and others). The newest result of Sony's more than decade love affair with super thin and light laptops? The Sony Vaio Pro 13. For those of you who like to travel really small, both machines are also available in 11 inch versions.
This is an interesting comparison because on the one hand, all Mac computers are premium products. Apple doesn't make a budget machine and the MacBook Air is actually their most affordable portable. It starts at $1,099 for the base Intel Core i5 1.3GHz model with 4 gigs of RAM and a 128 gig SSD the 11" Air starts at $999). To keep the MacBook Air relatively affordable and light, and to avoid stepping on the 13" MacBook Pro Retina's turf, the Air doesn't get all the high end bells and whistles. The Sony Vaio Pro 13 is a premium machine so it adds some higher end features and a price tag that starts at $1,249 for the 1.6GHz Intel Core i5 with 4 gigs of RAM and a 128 gig SSD (the 11.6" starts at $1,149). For example, the Sony has a premium touch screen full HD for the price, while the Mac sticks with the same display as the outgoing Air's.
Design and Build Quality
Both the Sony Vaio Pro 13 and the MacBook Air 13 are extremely good looking machines that are put together perfectly. While some Ultrabook manufacturers' designs are heavily influenced by the Air, Sony continues to do their own thing, and that's fine by us because they have a keen sense of style and originality. Though the MacBook Air hasn't changed design for a few years, it's still a classic curvy aluminum lozenge that's incredibly stiff and imparts a sense of quality and durability. It's comfortable to use and at 2.96 lbs. and 0.68" thin at its thickest point, it's easy to carry.
The Sony Vaio Pro 13 makes the MacBook Air seem overweight. It's currently the world's lightest 13" Ultrabook at an absurdly light 2.34 pounds. That's about the same weight as the iPad with Retina Display plus a case. It's 25% lighter than the MacBook Air 13", and for those who travel all the time or have bad backs, that's an attractive feature. The laptop is available in carbon black and silver, and both colors have carbon fiber bodies with aluminum wrist rest areas. The carbon fiber is what allows the Vaio Pro to be so incredibly light, yet it's durable because it's flexible (it bends rather than breaks or dents). That bendable nature is an acquired taste for some--if you're not accustomed to its flex (say from using any of three generations of Vaio Z, or the Vaio X or the Sony Vaio S 13.3) it can feel disconcerting. Certainly it's the polar opposite of highly rigid machines like the MacBook Air, Dell XPS 13 and Asus Zenbook Prime. Does it bother me? No: I've reviewed and owned several Sony carbon fiber laptops and I get what they're trying to do here. I've never had a problem with a carbon fiber Sony, but I do admit I feel a need to pamper it (unnecessary as that might be) while the Air exudes confidence.
The Sony Vaio Pro 13's inherent flex means that the keyboard deck will deflect if you have a strong set of typing hands. I have no problem with it and type at max rate comfortably. The MacBook Air 13 has a superb keyboard that's one of the best on the market. Both are backlit with ambient light sensors that work well. The keys on both are firm without unwanted bounce.
Winner: Tie. Sony for incredible lightness and a classy and original design. The MacBook Air mid-2013 gets points for very good looks that have aged well and a very rigid casing.
There's a clear winner here and it's the Sony Vaio Pro 13. It's meant to be premium machine that costs a bit more than the MacBook Air 13 inch, and you get a top notch display for your money. You also get a touch screen with the Sony, an important feature for Windows 8. The Sony Vaio Pro has a full HD 1920 x 1080 IPS display while the 13" MacBook Air has a non-IPS 1440 x 900 display. Both offer wide viewing angles and are pleasing when viewing documents, web pages and videos. The Sony Vaio Pro 13 is downright gorgeous with a very wide color gamut, higher resolution and better contrast (though the Air is no slouch for contrast).
Color gamut relative to sRGB: Sony Vaio Pro 13: 95% of sRGB MacBook Air 13": 67% of sRGB
For everyday use, both will do the job and then some. For photographers, graphic artists and those who spend lots of time in Adobe Photoshop or video editors, the Sony Vaio Pro's higher resolution and wider color gamut is a great choice among ultraportables. Both have glossy displays, though in some countries (not US) Sony offers a non-touchscreen version of the Vaio Pro 13 that's not glossy.
Winner: Sony Vaio Pro 13
Intel Haswell CPUs bring better battery life more than anything else. Performance isn't hugely better when it comes to the CPU and even graphics, but power consumption is way down while slightly exceeding third generation Intel Ivy Bridge computational performance. The two products' philosophies affect battery life. Sony wanted to make the thinnest and lightest Ultrabook on the market, and that means there's no room or weight to spare for a giant battery. Apple wanted to offer one of the longest running thin and light laptops on the market, so they beefed up the Air's battery to a whopping 7150 mAh. Thus the 13" mid-2013 MacBook Air wins handily on battery tests, be it with the Intel Core i5 or Core i7 CPU. It will likely beat out all other Ultrabooks for battery life for many months to come. The 13" MacBook Air with Haswell runs for 12 hours on a charge (even our 1.7GHz Intel Core i7 model) with brightness set to 50% and WiFi on in a mix of light productivity tasks. That's simply amazing.
The Sony Vaio Pro 13 with the latest driver updates (there are quite a few on Sony's website) managed 6.5 hours under the same set of settings and tasks. Sony sells a $149 sheet battery that doubles (or more) runtimes to 13 to 14 hours for those who need more stamina. That brings the Vaio Pro 13's weight up to 3 lbs., which is the same as the MacBook Air 13 inch. One could argue that Sony gives you the choice between extreme portability and extreme battery life while the MacBook Air 13 chooses battery life for you. I'd bet that most people would choose the heavier machine with double the battery life, making the MacBook Air the winner here.
Winner: 13" MacBook Air
Performance and Horsepower
We can't do an equal comparison here because the two laptops runs different operating systems (Bootcamp drivers aren't available yet for the Haswell MacBook Air) and they come with different CPU and GPUs. With Haswell in Ultrabooks, you can choose between a stronger CPU with faster clock speeds or lower clocked CPUs paired with the slightly faster Intel HD 5000 graphics used in the MacBook Air. Intel HD 5000 graphics ship with slower clocked CPUs to keep power consumption and heat down. The Sony Vaio Pro 13 ships with faster CPUs but the less quick Intel HD 4400 graphics. Both Intel HD 4400 and HD 5000 integrated graphics show modest gains over the outgoing Ivy Bridge Intel HD 4000 graphics, but it won't make your 2012 3D games play smoothly at high frame rates and settings. Still, the Intel HD 5000 in the MacBook Air gives you a 3-5 fps edge over the HD 4400 in some games, but we're still talking low resolution and low settings for recent 3D games like Diablo III (demo-d in our video).
GeekBench 2 (cross platform benchmark): MacBook Air 13” with 1.7GHz Intel Core i7, 4 gigs RAM, 128 gig SSD: 8297 Sony Vaio Pro 13 base model with 1.6GHz Core i5, 4 gigs RAM, 128 gig SSD: 7666
Winner: This one is very hard to call because it depends on whether you want higher CPU clock speeds (Sony) or a small tweak for graphics (MacBook Air).
Here's our mid-2013 MacBook Air 13 inch vs. Sony Vaio Pro 13 Comparison Smackdown video: