Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Sony Vaio VPCS12V9E/B review

The Sony Vaio VPCS12V9E/B

Sony's latest ultra-portable laptop is packed full of features, but are these enough to justify its high cost?

Sony is well known for it stylish laptops aimed at home users and other consumers. The Japanese giant has long had a range of laptops aimed at business users though and the company's latest S-series Vaio, the VPCS12V9E/B, is its latest model. The simple, black appearance is plain yet stylish in an understated way and looks like a less colourful version of the Vaio Y series. The VPCS12V9E/B has a built-in DVD writer yet still manages to weigh just 2kg which is light enough to carry around all day.

Despite being quite light, the VPCS12V9E/B feels very rigid and sturdy. The only exception is the lid which flexes under pressure, but it doesn't feel nearly as cheap as other laptop lids we've seen. The underside didn't become uncomfortably warm either. The battery lasted six hours and 11 minutes in our light usage test, where it scrolls through a series of web pages continuously, which is long enough to last a transatlantic flight. This is impressive, but we've seen cheaper ultra-laptops aimed at consumers with even longer battery life. However, those models can't match the VPCS12V9E/B's processing performance.

The VPCS12V9E/B comes equipped with a powerful Core i5 processor and a whopping 6GB of RAM. It therefore excelled in all our applications benchmarks, scoring 94 overall, so it should be able to handle tough tasks for some time to come. The Nvidia GeForce 310M graphics chip has its own memory rather than sharing main RAM. It can be used to speed up applications designed to take advantage of it, such as Photoshop, but such programs are thin on the ground.

Fast performance in a laptop is of little use if the keyboard and touchpad aren't very comfortable to use. Luckily, we were impressed with the VPCS12V9E/B's large and responsive keyboard. It's very comfortable to type on. The backlit keys illuminate automatically in dark conditions, which typists of all skill levels will appreciate, although you can't manually adjust the brightness as you can on the Apple MacBook Pro laptops. The touchpad is large and accurate, with buttons that give just the right amount of feedback when pressed.

If you're concerned about security, then you'll appreciate the fingerprint reader. This can be used to lock your computer instead of a login password. Sony's included software can create encrypt files and these too can be locked and unlocked with a fingerprint instead of yet another password. There's an option in the BIOS to clear stored fingerprints. While this is a useful option if you injure your finger, it's also a potential security loophole. Fortunately, it can be closed easily enough by password protecting the BIOS.

A 3G modem is built-in, so you won't need to occupy one of the three USB2 ports or the ExpressCard/34 expansion slot with one. The ExpressCard slot is a potentially useful extra, but it's located very closely next to the DVD writer and two of the USB ports so a large ExpressCard could foul the USB ports and the DVD writer, or a chunky USB flash drive could foul the path of the DVD writer or ExpressCard slot. Oddly the DVD writer's eject button is located on the front edge of the laptop rather than on the drive tray as you'd normally expect. There's a connector on the underside for a port replicator, but this costs a rather steep £180.

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