(This is a hands-on preview of the Sony Vaio T13, when a full Sony Vaio T13 review is available this page will be updated)
Sony has arrived fashionably late to the ultrabook party. However, you could argue that the Z series, which went on sale in mid-2011, was an Ultrabook in all but name. The new T series is available with 11 and 13-inch screen sizes, both having the same 1366x768 resolution. We took a look at the Sony Vaio T13.
Sony Vaio T13: build and style
We were able to spend some time with the Sony Vaio T13 at Sony's launch event in London a few weeks before it goes on sale in early June. There's no mistaking the Vaio styling with clean lines and the now-ubiquitous Scrabble tile keyboard with separated keys. However, it isn't jaw-droppingly beautiful like the Samsung Series 9 and other Ultrabooks with tapered edges to make them appear thinner than they really are.
The Sony Vaio T13 isn't the thinest Ultrabook, then, but the benefit is that is has full-size ports so you won't have to fiddle around with adaptors when you arrive at a meeting to give a presentation as you would with the Samsung. VGA, HDMI and gigabit Ethernet ports reside on the right-hand flank along with a combined slot for SD and Memory Stick Duo cards. Opposite them on the left are two USB ports, one of which is USB 3. The same port is also powered even when the T13 is shut down, allowing you to charge your smartphone or other device.
What you don't get with the Sony Vaio T13 is a microphone input - you'll need to rely on the built-in microphone which is designed to work with the 1.3Mp webcam for video chats. Sony says this is 'powered by Exmor for PC' which should mean images aren't as noisy in dim conditions.
This model Sony Vaio T13 - the SVT1311M1E - has a second-generation Core i3-2367M processor which runs at a lowly 1.4GHz. However, Windows 7 Home Premium still felt responsive for everyday tasks such as composing an email. We'll run our usual benchmark suite as soon as our review model arrives, but we expect intensive tasks such as encoding video, will run more slowly than on more expensive versions of the T13 - we expect new versions with Ivy Bridge processors to become available within a matter of months.
There's 4GB of RAM and a hybrid hard disk: a traditional 320GB hard disk spinning at 5400rpm paired with a small 32GB SSD. This helps the SVT1311M1E feel quicker without resorting to an expensive high-capacity SSD. There's no built-in optical drive, so you'll have to install software from either an external DVD drive, USB disk or download it online.
Unlike the Z series, the T13 doesn't have a backlit keyboard. Sony tells us this is to make the SVT1311M1E thinner, and the keys are noticeably shallower than on a standard Vaio keyboard. Their tiny 1.2mm travel makes it more difficult to tell when you've pressed a key as there's not much feedback - a common issue with super-thin laptops. This would be more forgivable if the T13 were as thin as the Series 9, but it isn't.
The combined touchpad and mouse buttons will also put a few people off, especially those who like to rest their thumb on a button. If you do this on the T13 you won't be able to move the cursor as the left and right mouse buttons are below the bottom corners of the touch pad and resting on them will lock the cursor in position. Again, it's something you should get used to fairly quickly.
Sony Vaio T13: display
The 13.3in semi-gloss screen appeared bright in our brief test and had reasonably good vertical viewing angles and vibrant colour. The screen tilts back far enough so you can always get the optimum viewing angle. As with the Z series, small feet on the back edge of the screen give a little extra height as you tilt the screen back which provides a slightly better typing angle.
Sony claims that SSD models will last nine hours between charges, but Windows reported that the SVT1311M1E's battery was 76 percent full with 3 hr 47 min remaining. If that's to be believed, you should see around five hours between charges with this model. We'll bring you the full test results when we've run our battery tests.
The SVT1311M1E is available to pre-order on Sony's website but will go on sale in John Lewis, PC World and other high street shops in early June. If you'd prefer something smaller and lighter, the T11 starts at £629 for the SVT1111C5E model which weighs 1.4kg. In the UK, the T11 will only be available via Sony's configure-to-order website. It's also possible to configure the T13 to your own requirements - it costs £50 to upgrade to Windows 7 Professional, for example.