by LAPTOP Staff on March 26, 2012
It offers top-notch support and some unique features, but overall Sony needs to do a better job justifying the premium that comes with its brand.
UPDATE: Check out Sony's 2013 Brand Report Card to see how the company fared this year.
Of the seven Sony notebooks we reviewed, six earned ratings of 3.5 stars, but that's as high as this brand would go. Notebooks such as the VAIO Z and VAIO S offered great performance in portable packages, but were a bit on the pricey side. While no laptops earned less than 3 stars, this down year for Sony wasn't stellar.
We're excited to see that Sony continues to offer multiple color options on its laptops. For example, the affordable E Series is available in Black, Midnight Blue, White and even Blush Pink. The retro-chic VAIO Z comes in multiple hues, including Carbon Gold. However, the S Series and F Series look rather plain compared with the competition. Overall, Sony fell slightly behind the pack in terms of industrial design this past year, and we'd like to see the brand step it up.
Though Sony's keyboards always look attractive, they sometimes suffer from small flaws such as too-little key travel, undersized keys or too much flex. That was our experience with the VAIO Z, where the shrunken right Shift key was problematic. Sony mostly sticks with a highly accurate two-button design for its touchpads, though the buttons are sometimes a bit stiff.
Since we last tested Sony's tech-support options, the company has added a drop-down menu for selecting notebook models and has placed an emphasis on remote-access online support. While we found these online sessions less than efficient at times, we consistently received helpful and accurate answers. Phone representatives went the extra mile.
The multimedia experience on Sony laptops was a mixed bag. On one hand, most of Sony's notebooks offered sharp and bright displays, though glossy finishes caused glare on some models, such as the VAIO EC. Higher-res options such as the VAIO S give users full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels). While the VAIO F provided loud and clear sound, other systems such as the VAIO S rendered tinny and flat audio.
Sony was light on new models this past year, with just seven making their way to our labs. While the company's laptops tend to be pricey (only two models we reviewed cost less than $1,000), they delivered good performance and occasionally some extra-impressive graphics oomph. Sony offers basic customization options (such as processor and hard-drive selection) through its website.
Sony boasts an impressive suite on its VAIO line. Remote Keyboard and Remote Play communicate with PlayStation 3 consoles or Bravia TV via Bluetooth. Media Gallery browses photos, video and music in an attractive interface and supports webcam gesture controls. Sony also bundles VAIO Care--utilities for troubleshooting and system recovery. You'll also find VAIO Gate on Sony laptops--a black bar at the top of the screen gives you access to the webcam, VAIO Care, PMB (a photo-and-video editor) and lets you add shortcuts.
Sony received an A+ ranking from the BBB, and Rescuecom ranked the company's products as the fifth most reliable, tied with ASUS. Laptopmag.com users didn't have much to say about Sony's brand, but one reader said his touchpad stopped working after a month, while another said Sony was the best, just behind Apple.
With its VAIO line, Sony integrated motion control for media playback with moderate success and introduced a first-of-its-kind Power Media Dock for the Sony VAIO Z. The dock provides users with a discrete graphics card, Blu-ray playback and USB 3.0 port.