3.5 star rating

Sony VAIO Y Series Review

Pros: Sturdy magnesium casing ; Comfortable keyboard and touchpad ; Bright glare-free display ; Dedicated button for system maintenance and support;
Cons: Shorter battery life than ULV competition ; Relatively slow boot time ; No configure-to-order option;
The Verdict: Sony’s first 13-inch ULV ultraportable offers a durable magnesium design, sound ergonomics, and good performance for an affordable price.

REVIEW

SPECIFICATIONS

Over the years, Sony has established a reputation for creating laptops with style, but they haven’t exactly been known for great value. The $799 VAIO Y Series, Sony’s first 13-inch ULV notebook, delivers a sleek and sturdy magnesium design for an aggressive price. It also offers a convenient dedicated button to help users troubleshoot and tune up their systems. While this ultraportable doesn’t last as long on a charge as some competitors, the VAIO Y is a good value.

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Design

Measuring 1.3 inches thick and weighing 3.8 pounds, the black VAIO Y is made for travel. It’s also made to last. Sony decked out the top and bottom of the chassis in magnesium, giving the notebook a nice rigidity; twisting the machine in our hands with the lid closed resulted in zero flex. The competing ASUS UL30A has a light silver brushed aluminum lid, but the deck is plastic. The HP Pavilion dm3 has aluminum on both the lid and deck, which gives it more of a consumer feel. Some may feel the VAIO Y looks too much the part of a business machine, but we like its fit and finish.

Other elegant details on the VAIO Y include a textured grid pattern on the deck, which has a nice feel. Like other Sony notebooks, this one sports circular hinges; the right side houses the power button, and the left has the power jack. Above the keyboard is a speaker strip and two buttons: VAIO and Assist. The VAIO button launches VAIO Media Gallery software, while the Assist button pulls up VAIO Care for quick access to support and troubleshooting options.

Keyboard and Touchpad

Sony was one of the first to introduce chiclet-style keyboards on notebooks, and the VAIO Y continues that heritage. The company says it engineered the layout so that the spacing between the keys would minimize errors while maximizing comfort. In our tests, we could touch type at a brisk base, even if the keys felt a tad mushy.

We’re big fans of the large touchpad on the VAIO Y, which has a dotted pattern but a smooth surface. We prefer this touchpad to the dimpled one on the ASUS UL30A, and it beats the pants off of the friction-heavy HP Pavilion dm3. And unlike the UL30A, this notebook has two dedicated touchpad buttons; they offered good feedback but are too loud for our tastes.

Sony VAIO Y Series

Heat

Compared to other ULV notebooks we’ve tested recently, the VAIO Y keeps its cool. After playing a Hulu video for 15 minutes, we measured temperatures of 88 degrees Fahrenheit on the touchpad, 94 degrees between the G and H keys, and 98 degrees on the bottom side of the laptop. (Anything under 100 degrees is acceptable.) The HP Pavilion dm3, on the other hand, registered as high as 102 degrees on the underside.

Display and Audio

The VAIO Y boasts a gorgeous 13.3-inch LED-backlit display that offers vivid colors and excellent contrast levels. When we streamed an episode of 24 on Hulu at full screen, horizontal viewing angles were generous, and we noticed a high level of detail even in standard definition mode.

Dialog in that episode of 24 was loud and clear, but music was a less fulfilling experience. The speaker bar above the keyboard produced good volume when we streamed tunes from Pandora (enough to double as a mini stereo in a hotel room), but Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under the Bridge” sounded tinny. Foo Fighters’ “Learn to Fly” sounded a bit less harsh. We suggest keeping the volume one or two notches below the max.

Ports and Webcam

There are few surprises when it comes to the port selection on the VAIO Y. Like most ULV notebooks, this one lacks a DVD drive, so looks elsewhere if that’s and important feature to you. The left side houses the power jack, VGA port, HDMI, one USB 2.0, a FireWire port, and headphone and microphone jacks. The Ethernet ports, two more USB 2.0 ports, and an ExpressCard/34 slot line the right side. Up front you’ll find separate Memory Stick and SD Card slots.

The Motion Eye webcam on the VAIO Y captured high quality images during a Skype chat. The other caller could easily make out the funny faces we made. ArcSoft’s bundled Magic-i Visual Effects 2 and WebCam Companion 3 software lets you tweak settings like brightness and contrast, as well as add fun special effects like frames and masks.

Performance

Sony VAIO Y SeriesLike many other ultraportables in this price range, the VAIO Y features Intel’s 1.3-GHz Core 2 Duo SU7300 processor. This dual-core CPU, along with 4GB of RAM combined to offer snappy performance. The system scored 2,906 in PCMark Vantage; that showing is above the ultraportable category average (2,739), much better than the ASUS UL30A (2,442), and slightly higher than the HP Pavilion dm3 (2,874). The VAIO Y also beats the Intel version of the Toshiba Satellite T135 (2,701). Anecdotally, the VAIO Y proved to be a good performer; we noticed only a bit of lag when we tried to zoom in on our Manhattan office while we had Pandora streaming in the background, and most applications opened quickly.

The 5,400-rpm, 320GB hard drive booted to Windows 7 Home Premium in a relatively sluggish 1 minute and 8 seconds. This is 7 seconds slower than the category average of 61 seconds. The VAIO Y completed the LAPTOP Transfer Test—in which we copy a 4.97GB folder of mixed media files—in 3 minutes and 53 seconds, for a transfer rate of 22.3 MBps. That’s a tad faster than the 21.0 MBps category average, but slower than the ASUS UL30A (23.2 MBps) and on a par with the HP Pavilion dm3 (22.4 MBps).

Graphics and Video Transcoding

For a notebook with integrated graphics, the VAIO Y holds its own. Its score of 906 in 3DMark06 is slightly above the ultraportable average (852). Gameplay in World of Warcraft was a decent 26 frames per second at 1024 x 768 resolution, but that plummeted to a snail-like 7 fps at native resolution. We wish Sony offered a discrete graphics option, like HP does with the dm3t. If you want this feature from a 13-inch VAIO, you’ll have to step up to the $1,199 SR Series.

When we transcoded a 114MB video from MPEG-4 to AVI using Oxelon Media Converter (which uses multithreading), the task took 2 minutes and 1 second. The pricier Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 13 beat this time by 44 seconds, but the AMD-powered Toshiba Satellite T135D was 10 seconds slower.

Battery Life and Wireless

This is the one area where the VAIO Y falls behind the pack. In the LAPTOP Battery Test, which simulates continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi, the notebook lasted 6 hours and 22 minutes. That’s nearly an hour longer than the category average, but less than Sony’s “up to 8 hours” claim and well behind the ASUS UL30A’s epic runtime of 9:55. The HP Pavilion dm3 also beat the VAIO Y by a wide margin, lasting 9:07. If you want more endurance, Sony makes a large capacity battery available with the $999 configuration of this notebook, which it claims will last for up to 12 hours.

Equipped with a 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi card, the VAIO Y delivered data rates of 20.4 Mbps at 15 feet from our access point and 19.4 Mbps from 50 feet (both scores are above average). Sony also includes a stereo Bluetooth radio.

Configuration Options

Sony VAIO Y SeriesSony offers two versions of the VAIO Y Series. The $799 model we tested features a 320GB hard drive and a standard capacity battery, while the $999 configuration (the VPCY118GX/Bl) comes with a larger 500GB hard drive and both the standard and large capacity batteries. Unfortunately, you can’t build your VAIO Y to order as you can with many other Sony notebooks.

Software, Support, and Greenness

Sony bundles the VAIO Y with two utilities that are given high priority with dedicated launch buttons. The VAIO button launches VAIO Media Gallery, which neatly organizes and displays your music, photos, and videos. You can also use this software to create slideshows with nifty transitions and music soundtracks.

The Assist button launches VAIO Care, a portal for assessing your system, troubleshooting, and performing quick tune-ups (such as defragmenting your hard drive and cleaning the registry). You’ll also find easy access to creating restore points. Our favorite feature within this utility is VAIO Support, which clearly displays Sony’s toll-free number and provides a link to chat with support specialists.

Sony also includes Microsoft Works SE 9.0, a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007, and a 30-day trial of Norton Internet Security 2010,

Sony backs the VAIO Y with a one-year limited warranty, complete with 24/7 toll-free phone support. To see how Sony fared in our annual Tech Support Showdown, click here.

The VAIO Y has an EPEAT Gold rating of 21 (out of 27).

Verdict

Sony took its sweet time bringing its first 13-inch ULV ultraportable to market, but it was worth the wait. It offers a more durable design than the ASUS UL30A ($799) and a better touchpad than the HP Pavilion dm3 ($814 when similarly configured). But while the VAIO Y’s nearly 6.5 hours of battery life is good, both the ASUS and HP machines last over 9 hours on a charge. Still, if you can live with the Sony VAIO Y’s endurance—and we think many buyers can—you’ll enjoy taking this $799 system on the road.

Tags: Sony VAIO Y Series, Sony VAIO Y Series (VPCY115FX/Bl), sony VAIO, Ultraportable Notebooks, notebooks, reviews, laptops

Technical Specifications
Sony VAIO Y Series
http://www.sonystyle.com


The central processor unit, or CPU, is the brain of your notebook.
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CPU
1.3-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300
Operating SystemMS Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
The amount of memory our reviewed configuration comes with.
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RAM
4GB
The maximum amount of memory this notebook supports.
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RAM Upgradable to
8GB
Amount of data your storage drive can hold.
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Hard Drive Size
320GB
The rotation speed of a mechanical hard drive.
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Hard Drive Speed
5,400rpm
Your notebook’s storage drive (hard drive or solid state drive) holds your operating system, your programs, and your data.
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Hard Drive Type
SATA Hard Drive
Your notebook display is the primary viewing device for your laptop computer.
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Display Size
13.3
The number of pxiels (wxh) displayed on your screen at once.
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Native Resolution
1366x768
An optical drive allows you to play or record to DVDs, CDs, or Blu-ray discs.
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Optical Drive
The speed of the optical drive.
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Optical Drive Speed
Graphics chips are responsible for processing all images sent to your computer’s display.
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Graphics Card
Intel GMA HD/Shared
The amount of memory available for graphics processing.
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Video Memory
Wi-Fi connects you to a router or hotspot for wireless Internet access.
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Wi-Fi
802.11b/g/n
Bluetooth allows you to connect to wireless devices such as headsets, smart phones, and speakers.
Bluetooth
Bluetooth 2.1 EDR
Mobile broadband connects you to the Net from anywhere, even places with no hotspot.
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Mobile Broadband
Ports allow you to connect to external devices such as monitors, printers, MP3 players, and hard drivse.
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Ports (excluding USB)
Ethernet; Firewire; HDMI; Headphone; Kensington Lock; Microphone; VGA
USB ports allow you to connect many external devices, from MP3 players to external hard drives.
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USB Ports
3
Card readers allow you to plug memory and expansion cards directly into a notebook.
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Card Slots
2-1 card reader; ExpressCard/34; SD memory reader
Warranty/SupportOne-year limited/24/7 toll-free phone
Size12.8 x 8.9 x 1.3 inches
Weight3.8 pounds
AUTHOR BIO
Mark Spoonauer, Editor-in-Chief
Mark Spoonauer, Editor-in-Chief
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptopmag.com, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
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