If you want to know why there’s been so much fuss about Intel’s fourth-generation Core processors then you need look no further than Sony’s Vaio Pro. It’s the improved power-efficiency of the ‘Haswell’ processor that has allowed Sony to design what it calls ‘the world’s lightest touch-capable laptop’. See all: Ultraportable laptop reviews.
The slimline design of the Vaio Pro 13 catches the eye immediately, as this 13.3-inch model measures just 17.2mm at its thickest point, and weighs a mere 1060g. See also What is an Ultrabook?
That’s significantly less than the 1.35Kg of the 13-inch MacBook Air, and it’s a delight to pick up the Vaio Pro in one hand and see how light and well-balanced it feels. The Vaio Pro 13 outguns the MacBook Air in other areas too, most notably the 1920x1080 resolution of the 13.3-inch screen, which also provides a really bright, colourful image. Take a look at Group test: what's the best high-end laptop?
The cheapest version of the Vaio Pro 13 costs £859 and you get a Core i5 processor running at 1.6GHz. You don’t get a touchscreen, either.
The model tested here comes in ‘carbon black’ rather than plain ‘black’ and has a touchscreen and a faster Core i7 running at 1.8GHz, 4GB of memory and a 128GB SSD. That all takes the price to £1039.
There are a couple of other interesting features too. The Vaio Pro 13 includes NFC – near-field communication – that can be used to quickly pair with other devices such as Bluetooth speakers. There’s also a clever little Wi-Fi router dongle that plugs in to one end of the power supply. This allows you to create an impromptu Wi-Fi network for up to five devices: ideal when you’re travelling and your hotel room provides only a wired Ethernet connection.
Performance is good, with the Vaio Pro 13 scoring a healthy 4575 in PCMark 7. That’s more than adequate for web browsing and running Microsoft Office, as well as more demanding tasks such as photo editing. However, we’ve seen similar – and occasionally better – scores from laptops with fourth-gen Core i5 processors, so you could probably downgrade this model to an i5 when ordering online and save yourself £100 without a noticeable loss of performance.
We also take issue with Sony’s claim that the Vaio Pro 13’s carbon fibre chassis is stronger than aluminium. Carbon fibre may be lighter than aluminium but it flexes and bends where aluminium doesn’t. It takes only mild pressure on the keyboard for the entire lower panel to bend quite noticeably. The same goes for the screen, which is also worryingly flexible. Plus, the touchscreen moves when you prod it – an undesirable effect.
Battery life wasn’t quite what we were hoping for either. Sony claims battery life of up to seven hours – which can be increased to 18 hours with an optional £80 battery pack – and we did get a respectable six hours and 20 minutes out of it when streaming video from BBC iPlayer.
However, the Core i5-based MacBook Air lasted more than 12 hours in the same test, so it’s clear that the ultra-lightweight design of the Vaio Pro 13 does involve some compromises in terms of build quality and battery life.