The $1,399 Sony VAIO F is all lights, camera, and action. Boasting a large 16.4-inch 1080p display, a Blu-ray player, and a healthy stable of multimedia software, Sony's latest entertainment media machine is sure to impress. A blazing quad-core Core i7 processor with Nvidia graphics ensures the show goes on, but is the VAIO F worth the cost of admission?
The VAIO F is a collection of understated design and interesting angles. The black matte plastic lid is rather austere; a large chrome VAIO insignia is its only decoration. What the notebook lacks in panache, it makes up for with its ability to resist fingerprints and smudges. The lid is a half-inch shorter than the bottom deck, giving the notebook a prominent bottom lip that houses indicator lights for battery, wireless, and the SD card reader.
The notebook's interior is similarly spartan, constructed of black matte plastic with few flourishes. The standout features include a large backlit keyboard and a raised plastic strip that serves as the palm rest and the touchpad. The keyboard deck slopes downward, revealing a long, thin speaker grille. Touch-sensitive media controls as well as buttons for VAIO Assist, the web browser, VAIO Media Gallery, and power are located directly above the keyboard.
Measuring 15.7 x 10.7 x 1.3-1.7 inches and weighing 6.6 pounds, the VAIO F easily outweighs both the Gigabyte P2532 (15.4 x 10.4 x 1.1-1.4 inches) and the HP Pavilion dv6t (14.8 x 9.7 x 1.2-1.3 inches), both of which weigh 5.8 pounds. While the Dell XP 15 L502X is slightly smaller at 15 x 10.4 x 1.5 inches, it managed to match the VAIO F's chunky 6.6-pound frame.
Keyboard and Touchpad
There are many things to like about the VAIO F's island-style keyboard, including a full number pad and bright backlighting which makes it easier to work in a dim setting. The large flat keys had a nice spring, and we were hit our usual 50-word-per-minute average on the Ten Thumbs Typing Test. However, we did notice a slight flexing of the keyboard as we typed, and we took issue with the undersized left Tab, Caps Lock, and Left Shift keys.
Although the raised palm rest looks off-putting, we found it to be quite comfortable, though a little warm. Integrated into the palm rest is a 3.9 x 1.9 Synaptics touchpad comprised of a series of small raised dots. The added texture felt good against our fingers, and it responded quickly to various mulititouch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom, two-finger flick, and rotation. We were able to scroll through web pages at an easy pace with two-finger scroll and accurately highlight text. The touchpad buttons were fairly stiff, which was a small distraction.
Display and Audio
Surrounded in a glossy black bezel, the VAIO F's 16.4-inch matte 1920 x 1080p LED backlit display gave us crisp detail with vibrant color. We saw clear, distinct text on CNN.com and Joystiq, while Michelle Billingley's webcomic series Joe gave us bright reds, greens, and yellows. But the real test came when we popped in the Blu-Ray edition of The Other Boleyn Girl. While there was a small amount of visual noise, we couldn't help but be impressed by the deep jewel tones of many of the costumes, including Natalie Portman's forest-green frock. Eric Bana's ruby-red robe shimmered and caught every glint of light, almost as if it had a life of its own.
From movie dialogue and sound effects to streaming music on Pandora or Slacker, the notebook consistently gave us loud, clear audio. We were able to further enhance the sound with the Dolby Home Theater control panel that allowed us to switch between movie, music, and gaming presets, ensuring we got the optimal listening experience. Despite the Dolby assist, we did notice that Drake's "Headlines" was light on the bass, as was Big Sean's "Marvin and Chardonnay."
After 15 minutes of streaming a full-screen Hulu video, the VAIO F was positively chilly registering 87, 92, and 78 degrees Fahrenheit at the touchpad, space between the G and H keys, and underside. That's well below what we consider to be uncomfortable--95 degrees.
Ports and Webcam
The right side of the Sony VAIO F houses a tray-loading Blu-ray player, a USB 2.0 port, a headphone jack, and a microphone jack. A Firewire 400 port can be found in the front of the notebook alongside a 4-in-1 card reader, while two USB 3.0 ports, Ethernet, VGA, HDMI, and the power jack reside on the left.
The 1.3-megapixel webcam captured video and stills in 1280 x 1024p using ArcSoft's Webcam Companion software. Despite our numerous attempts to adjust the camera settings, colors in images appeared dull and listless. However, details were passably sharp, allowing us to read from a poster in the background.
Thanks to a quad-core 2.2-GHz Intel Core i7-2670QM processor with 6GB of RAM, the VAIO F has some serious power under the hood. The notebook posted 9,608 on the PCMark Vantage. That's 1,326 points above the desktop replacement average, and it also beats out the P2532 (8,780) and the XPS 15 L502X (8,548), both of which have a 2-GHz Intel Core i7-2630QM CPU and 8GB of RAM. The HP dv6t's 2.3-GHz Intel Core i5-2410M processor with 6GB brought up the rear with a score of 6,673.
It took the Sony VAIO F's 640GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive 59 seconds to boot up the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium, 2 seconds faster than the average. The Gigabyte P2532 and Dell XPS 15 L502X posted 1:00 and 0:53 thanks to their 750GB, 7,200-rpm hard drives. Although it's also equipped with a 640GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive, the Pavilion dv6t came in dead last at 72 seconds.
During the LAPTOP File Transfer Test, the VAIO F duplicated 4.97GB of mixed-media files in 2 minutes and 38 seconds for a transfer rate of 32.2 MBps, slightly slower than the 36.2 MBps desktop replacement average. The P2532 and XPS 15 L502X tied with 33.3 MBps while the dv6t posted 30.1 MBps.
On the OpenOffice Spreadsheet test, the VAIO F took 5 minutes and 13 seconds to match 20,000 names to their corresponding addresses, 55 seconds behind the average. Still, it held on to beat out the XPS 15 L502X and the P2532, which clocked in at 5:14 and 5:27, respectively.
As a multimedia notebook, we expected the Sony VAIO F to have nice amount of get-up-and-go, and we weren't disappointed. The notebook's Nvidia GeForce GT 540M GPU with 1GB of VRAM scored 8,403 on 3DMark06, which failed to meet the 11,345 category average, but kept pace with the Gigabyte P2532 (8,816; Nvidia GeForce GT550M, 2GB of VRAM) and beat out the XPS 15 L502X (8,101), which has the same GPU. It also bested the Pavilion dv6t's switchable graphics (Intel DH Graphics 3000, AMD Radeon HD 6490M), which scored 5,826.
With the resolution at 1080p and effects set to Good in World of Warcraft, the VAIO F snagged a respectable frame rate of 74 fps. That's nearly half of the 147 fps desktop replacement average, but only slightly below the P2532 (75 fps) and the XPS 15 L502X (88 fps). The dv6t scored 54 fps. It should be noted however, that the P2523 and the XPS 15 have 1080p displays, and the Pavilion dv6t has a resolution of 1366 x 768.
With effects on maximum, the VAIO F's frame rate dropped to 38 fps, which failed to meet the 69 fps average. The Pavilion dv6t scored 54 fps while the P2532 and XPS 15 L502X scored 42 and 53 fps, respectively.
The VAIO F redeemed itself during Far Cry 2, scoring 93 fps on autodetect at 1024 x 768, just short of the 97 fps average. The VAIO S came in second with 88 fps followed by the Pavilion dv6t's 68 fps. The P2532 and XPS 15 L502X clocked in at 59 and 56 fps respectively. On maximum, the Sony VAIO F's frame rate plummeted to 29 fps, tying with the XPS 17 L502X, but failing to match the 47 fps desktop replacement average. The dv6t scored 23 fps while the P2532 notched an unplayable 14 fps.
During the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous web surfing via Wi-Fi), the Sony VAIO F lasted 3 hours and 48 minutes. That's 27 minutes longer than the 3:21 desktop replacement category average. The HP Pavilion dv6t lasted an impressive 5:02 while the P2532 and L502X clocked in a minute apart at 4:27 and 4:26 respectively.
Our $1,349 review unit of the Sony VAIO F VPCF234FX/B comes with a 2-GHz Intel Core i7-2670QM processor with 6GB of RAM, a 640GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive, and a Nvidia GeForce GT 540M GPU with 1GB of VRAM. The base model (VPCF2390X CTO) starts at $979 and features a 2.2-GHz Intel Core i7-2670QM CPU, 4GB of RAM with a 500GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive, and Nvidia GeForce GT 520M graphics with 512MB of VRAM.
Sony also offers a version of the VAIO F with a 3D display; the $1,799 configuration we reviewed had a 2-GHz Intel Core i7-2630QM processor, 8GB of RAM, a 640GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive, and Nvidia GeForce GT 540M graphics.
Software and Warranty
The Sony VAIO line is usually bundled with a moderate number of programs designed to take care of all your maintenance and multimedia needs, and the VAIO F is no different. VAIO Care, diagnostics software that allows users to access system information, run diagnostics, and troubleshoot hardware and software issues makes a return. Its revamped interface has large, eye-catching icons and easy to read instructions; we liked how easy it was to navigate and learn more about the system's inner workings.
Sony Picture Motion Browser (PMB) let us quickly and easily import and access all our video, images, and audio into one place. VAIO Gate, Sony's unobtrusive shortcut software, made accessing our favorite applications as simple as mousing over the top of the display and waiting for the familiar shadowy blob to expand into a bar. Remote Keyboard and Play are featured, and we enjoyed being able to play our PlayStation 3 games on the VAIO F's full HD display. Setup took approximately 5 to 7 seconds and streamed seamlessly. We were also able to sync our Qriocity account between our PS3 and notebook.
The VAIO F also comes bundled with a few multimedia-creation tools. With ACID Music Studio 8.0, we were able to create and import music tracks and mix to our heart's delight, changing time signatures and adding faders. From there, we could upload our tracks to the Sound Forge Audio Studio 10.0, where we were able to add other effects such as reverbs, flanges, and stutters. Vegas Movie Studio HD Platinum 10.0 gives video and filmmakers the tools to create professional-looking products. While the tools were fairly intuitive and simple to use, we wouldn't necessarily recommend the software to beginners. Even with the tutorials, the learning curve can be somewhat steep.
Third-party applications include Adobe Reader X, Evernote, Internet Explorer, Microsoft Office Starter, Skype, and a 30-day free trial of Norton Internet Security 2010.
There's a lot of win in the $1,399 Sony VAIO F. In addition to a vibrant 16.4-inch 1080p display, it packs a solid performance punch, has a compelling suite of multimedia software, and a Blu-ray DVD burner. Still, it can take a toll on your wallet. The Dell XPS 15 offers the same processor and GPU--but 8GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive and arguably better sound--for $1,099. Overall, though, the Sony VAIO F will be a hit for those who create or consume massive quantities of multimedia.