We're usually pleased to see an S-series Vaio as it's Sony's top laptop range, bar Ultrabooks. However, on this occasion, once we'd looked at the SVS1311N9E's specifications, we were immediately underwhelmed and wondered why Sony had decided to send this entry-level model out for review.
Sony SVS1311N9E: specifications
For your £900, you get a low-end Core i5-3210M, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB hard disk, a DVD writer, a bog-standard 1366 x 768 13in screen, and no dedicated graphics card. We've seen better specs in mid-range laptops costing £600.
So, where does your money go? Well, for a start, you get Windows 7 Professional 64-bit which costs more than Home Premium, and there's also a fingerprint reader nestled in above the keyboard. There's also a backlit keyboard, and a magnesium / aluminium chassis and an optional sheet battery for all-day working away from the mains.
On top of that, there's Bluetooth 4, 802.11n Wi-Fi, an HD webcam, dual memory card slots (one supports SDXC for up to 64GB cards), and the DVD writer is a neat, slot-loading model. Along the right-hand side are HDMI and VGA outputs, a pair of USB 3 ports, and a third USB port which remains on when the laptop is shut down so you can charge USB gadgets.
The SVS1311N9E is relatively light, too, at 1.7kg, so you shouldn't notice it weighing you down in your bag.
Sony SVS1311N9E: screen, keyboard and touchpad
Possibly by now you might think the SVS1311N9E has justified its price, but there are a few other problems that you won't notice simply by dwelling on the specs. One is the screen.
Although the S series can be specified with a 1600 x 900 screen, this has a resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels. Viewing angles aren't great, either, especially vertically, which means that contrast varies massively depending how far back you tilt the screen. It's hugely bright, though, and we like the semi-gloss finish which isn't too reflective.
Another gripe is the backlit keyboard. Light bleeds through around the keys – more so than the labels themselves, which makes it hard to read. At least the keyboard itself is pleasant to type on and has a sensible layout.
The huge touchpad may support gestures, such as scrolling and pinch-to-zoom, but it dispenses with separate buttons. This means you have to avoid resting your thumb where the mouse button would be otherwise the cursor won't move in certain applications. Instead, you'll find yourself zooming in on a web page or document. Since the buttons are hidden beneath the pad, you have to get used to clicking in the middle for a left click, and the bottom-right corner for a right-click.
Finally, there's the annoying hard disk. In a quiet room, it's unusually loud. When you're doing anything demanding the rear-mounted fan spins up, and the SVS1311N9E makes a lot of noise.
Sony SVS1311N9E: performance
In our benchmarks, the SVS1311N9E managed 124 in WorldBench 6. That's on the slow side of what we'd expect, but the Vaio feels fairly swift in general use. The integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics aren't impressive, though, so expect to be able to play only casual games on this ultraportable.
Battery life is one highlight. The non-removable unit lasted a shade over seven hours in MobileMark 2007 (just as Sony claims) and you can more than double this by docking the SVS1311N9E on the sheet battery which costs £150.
You can configure your own S series on Sony's website, but adding a 1600 x 900 screen, a silent SSD, more RAM, a GeForce GT 640M LE and a Core i7 pushes the price into top-end Ultrabook territory.
Not everyone wants an Ultrabook of course, and the SVS1311N9E has the benefit of its built-in DVD drive (which you can upgrade to Blu-ray for £40).