Sony VAIO Pro review: first look

5 Jun 2013

It's been a long time coming, but today saw the launch of Sony's VAIO Pro range - a svelte, ultra-light pair of 11in and 13in Ultrabooks, and the spiritual successors to Sony's legendary ultraportable, the Sony VAIO Z Series.

The lightest Ultrabook yet?

The VAIO Pro comes in both 11in and 13in form factors, and both are astonishingly light. The 11in model weighs only 870 grams, and, at 1.06kg,  the 13in model is only 190 grams heavier. This really is the lightest Ultrabook we've ever seen.

Despite weighing less than any of its rivals, and measuring a relatively slender 18mm thick (including the rubber feet on the underside), Sony has packed the VAIO Pro 13 chock-full with exciting features. As per Intel's stringent Ultrabook requirements, Sony's crammed in a Full HD touchscreen alongside the latest Intel Haswell processors. While our review unit came with a 1.8GHz Core i7-4500U, a cheaper model is also available with a Core i5-4200U processor, and both are equipped with 4GB of RAM and a Samsung 128GB SSD.

Haswell promises  improved application and 3D performance, as well as better battery life: Sony claims that the VAIO Pro 13's battery is good for eight hours of usage. Clip the optional 4,650mAh battery slice to the underside, and that figure climbs to an impressive 18 hours.

Design

Physically, the VAIO Pro is very similar to its predecessor, the VAIO Z Series. The chassis is still hewn from interlocking slats of carbon fibre, but Sony has softened the stark, angular shape of the VAIO Z, adding a few curves along the way. There's the same unusual hinge, too - push the Sony's lid back, and the hinge folds back to prop the VAIO Pro 13 up at the rear, tilting the keyboard forwards slightly.

Compared to the rock-solid likes of Dell's XPS 13 or Apple's Macbook Air, however, the Sony's construction does feel unnervingly flexible. Twist the VAIO Pro to and fro, and the chassis yields willingly, flexing with an audible creak - Sony's engineers have clearly had to sacrifice rigidity to trim the weight down.

In many ways, however, the VAIO Pro is clearly superior to its predecessor. While the VAIO Z's keys had a mere 1mm of travel, the VAIO Pro's backlit keyboard is much better. The combination of wide, square keycaps and increased key travel make for far comfier typing.

Connectivity and screen quality

Connectivity is also right on the mark. There are two USB 3 ports, HDMI, and an SD card reader, and Sony has included dual-band 802.11n, Bluetooth 4 and NFC. Unusually, Sony has included a miniature USB router which clips to the USB port on the VAIO Pro's power supply. This hooks up to a wired network, and then allows the VAIO Pro (as well as four other devices) to connect to it via a wireless link. When you're not using the USB router, you can always use the extra USB port to charge a phone or tablet, and without taking up one of the precious USB 3 ports.

The VAIO Pro 13's Full-HD touchscreen is something special - the image quality is superb. The glossy screen finish won't be to everyone's tastes, but the high brightness, superb contrast and vivid, accurate colour reproduction are as good as it gets. We ran our suite of display tests, and the VAIO Pro 13's panel reached a maximum brightness of 345cd/m2 and delivered an exemplary contrast ratio of 933:1. Colour accuracy is excellent, too, with the Sony's panel delivering an impressively low average Delta E of 3.1.

One Ultrabook to rule them all?

It's too early to decide quite yet, but we'll be hard at work putting the VAIO Pro 13 through its paces over the next few days. If this looks like the Ultrabook you've been waiting for, keep an eye on PC Pro's website for the definitive, in-depth review of Sony's featherweight Ultrabook - from this brief encounter, it looks to be pretty special.

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