Vaio SX14 Review

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Editors' rating:
The Pros

Extremely lightweight; Stylish design; Fast performance; Bright 4K display; Tons of ports

The Cons

Short battery life; Small touchpad; Poor speakers

Verdict

The Vaio SX14 has an elegant, lightweight design, a bright display and tons of ports, but short battery life ruins the fun.

I never thought I'd review a Vaio laptop. Yet here I am with the SX14 ($999 starting, reviewed at $1,999), an ultrasleek notebook that has exceeded my expectations. The SX14 is just a few missteps away from bringing the Vaio name to the heights it never reached with Sony. This 14-inch ultrabook has an incredibly lightweight yet durable chassis, a bright 4K display and fast performance. But the main highlight is the business laptop's comprehensive assortment of ports.

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If the SX14's battery life and touchpad weren't so bad, it would be a genuine alternative to top laptops like the ThinkPad X1 Carbon. Until then, the SX14 is a good laptop, but one most people should skip.

Price and Configuration Options

The base model Vaio SX14 (available only in silver) with an FHD display, a Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD typically costs $1,299 but is currently on sale for $999. An upgrade to 16GB of RAM boosts the price to $1,299.

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Content creators who need the best display will need to spend $1,699 for the 4K model with a Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. Our topped-out review unit with 1TB of storage capacity costs $1,999.

Design

The SX14 is one of the lightest 14-inch laptops around. At 2.3 pounds, it's lighter than even the featherweight LG Gram 14 2-in-1 and some 13-inch ultrabooks, including the HP Spectre x360 13 and Dell XPS 13, two top notebooks that received praise for their portable chassis.

The SX14 feels like a hollow prop when you pick it up, much like the shockingly lightweight Acer Swift 5 (2.2 pounds). However, unlike that system, the Vaio looks and feels like a premium machine. That's because the SX14 has a sturdy magnesium-alloy base and carbon-fiber lid with a black-on-black color scheme fit for business executives.

With a slim design and stealthy paint job, the SX14 is undeniably attractive. The brand may not be owned by Sony anymore, but there's still something nostalgic about the wavy logo adorning the SX14's lid. The glossy branding is concealed against a rough matte-black surface that's outlined by a smooth black border.

You'll notice something strange happening to the Vaio when you open the laptop's lid. Instead of resting on a flat bottom panel, the Vaio sits raised on two nubs located on the laptop's back edge. This raises the back of the deck and angles the keyboard downward for a more comfortable typing experience. We've seen this mechanism on a few other laptops, but the effect has never been this pronounced.

With a slim design and stealthy paint job, the SX14 is undeniably attractive.

On the right side of that glossy black deck are a small fingerprint sensor and a green LED-lit power button, while the left side has more subtle Vaio branding. The SX14's display bezels are narrow on all four sides, and there's just enough room on the top shelf for a webcam and microphones.

Ports

The SX14 is the only laptop I've reviewed whose standout feature is its ports. Seriously, short of a CD/DVD slot, there is every connection you could ask for and some you'll probably never use.

I'll start with the former: a VGA port on the right side of the laptop. If the "Vaio" brand wasn't nostalgic enough, this outdated video input is taking me back to my childhood. Who buys a $1,000+ laptop and still uses a VGA port? Don't ask me.

Also on the right side of the laptop is an Ethernet port, an HDMI input, a USB 3.1 Type-C port, a USB 3.1 Type-A port and an SD card slot. On the left side, you'll find a lock slot, two USB 3.0 ports and a headphone/mic jack next to a DC-in jack.

Display

The SX14 has one of the best displays of any ultrabook. Bright, vivid and extremely sharp, the 14-inch, 4K matte panel is perfect for editing photos or binge-watching your favorite shows.

The SX14's panel is so sharp that a small drop of blood dripping down two interlocked hands was visible in the trailer for the horror film It: Chapter 2. In an amusement park scene, lights awoke the night sky with neon shades of indigo blue and lime green, while the maroon splashes of blood across the bathroom walls looked all too real when trailer turns from delight to terror. There were virtually no reflections against the matte display, which didn't lack any of the punchy colors you typically find on glossy screens.

Covering 113% of the sRGB color gamut, the SX14's display is plenty vivid; however, the XPS 13 (119%), the MateBook X Pro (124%) and the ThinkPad X1 Yoga (201%) all have more saturated panels. The average premium laptop reproduces 132%.

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An impressive peak brightness of 428 nits help punch up those colors. Only the brightest laptop displays, like those on the MateBook X Pro (458 nits) and the ThinkPad X1 Yoga (477 nits), outshine the SX14. The XPS 13 (375 nits) and the category average (347 nits) are more than 50 nits dimmer.

There is no touch-screen model of the SX14, which is a bummer when you consider its price.

Keyboard and Touchpad

I have a new favorite ultrabook keyboard.

Despite having just 1.1 millimeters of travel, the SX14's keys are very comfortable to type on. Part of the reason is that the island-style backlit keyboard is angled downward, which puts less stress on my wrists.

Another reason is that, with an ideal 61 grams of actuation force, the keys feel soft yet they have a pleasant clickiness. Everything else is about average: the keys aren't too big or too small, and they're spaced so that even those with big hands won't feel cramped.

I have a new favorite ultrabook keyboard.

I hit 122 words per minute with a 94% accurate rate on the 10fastfingers.com typing test. Those results are faster but slightly more error-prone than my typical 119 wpm, 95% accuracy scores.

But my delight with the keyboard is more than offset by the awful touchpad below it. At just 3.1 x 1.9 inches, this is one of the smallest touchpads we've seen on any laptop. Adding insult to injury are the tiny and stiff discrete clickers underneath the touchpad. Precision Drivers help with responsiveness, but the touchpad is so small that I had trouble pulling up the Action Center using Windows 10 gestures.

Performance

I can't remember the last time I tested a laptop shrugged off my real-world performance tests as the SX14 did. Sixteen RAM-hungry Google Chrome tabs were loaded in a snap, and there wasn't even a hint of lag when I played two YouTube videos, a Twitch stream and, in honor of Ninja's wavering allegiance, a Mixer stream, each at 1080p resolution.

Feeling defeated, I then opened a separate Chrome browser and pulled up 12 more tabs, only for the SX14 to instantly load them as if it were just getting warmed up.

If I'd taken a harder look at the SX14's benchmark scores then I wouldn't have been so surprised by its fast performance. The SX14 crushed our tests, scoring a 14,887 on the Geekbench 4.3 benchmark, which tops the 14,692 category average. The MateBook X Pro (13,769, Core i7-8550U) and the ThinkPad X1 Yoga (14,517, Core i7-8650U) fell short of that mark, while the XPS 13 (14,936, Core i7-8565U) just edged out the Vaio.

The SX14 extended its lead over the competition in our video-transcoding test by converting a 4K video into 1080p resolution in just 16 minutes and 46 seconds. Not only does that crush the category average (22:38) but it also outpaces the MateBook X Pro (27:18), the XPS 13 (19:20) and the ThinkPad X1 Yoga (18:38) by a good margin.

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It gets even better from there. The 1TB PCIe SSD inside the SX14 transferred 4.97GB of mixed-media files in a gold-metal time of 7 seconds for a rate of 727 megabytes per second. None of its competitors -- the MateBook X Pro (282.7 MBps, 512GB NVMe PCIe SSD), the XPS 13 (565 MBps, PCIe SSD) and the ThinkPad X1 Yoga (508.9 MBps, NVMe SSD) -- or the category average (559.6 MBps) got close to that sort of pace.

Graphics

As one would expect of a laptop with integrated UHD 620 graphics, the SX14 isn't meant for gamers. That said, older games and graphic design software shouldn't cause the SX14 any problems.

On the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited test, the SX14 landed a score of 82,254, which is just shy of the results from the XPS 13 (88,472, UHD 620), the ThinkPad X1 Yoga (85,477, UHD 620) and the category average (85,746). Equipped with a GeForce MX150 GPU, the MateBook X Pro (116,359) predictably triumphed on this graphics test.

Our Dirt 3 rally car drifted around corners at 33 frames per second on the SX14. While that's safely above our 30-fps playability threshold, the game played much smoother on the MateBook X Pro (117 fps), XPS 13 (88 fps), the ThinkPad X1 Yoga (64 fps) and the average premium laptop.

Audio

The bottom-firing speakers on the front of the SX14 are weak and sound hollow. The midrange and vocals in From Indian Lakes' "No One Else" were thin and shrill while the low-end drum kicks lacked any sort of oomph. Chance the Rapper's "Hot Summer" sounded clear enough but the speakers failed to give the up-tempo song any energy and they couldn't fill a medium-size room, even at full volume.

Battery Life

A slim, lightweight laptop with a vivid 4K display and a U-series processor? You can probably guess what this means for battery life. Unfortunately, the SX14 pulled off no miracles on our battery test (continuous Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness), lasting a pedestrian 4 hours and 27 minutes, which is almost half the premium laptop average (8:15).

We don't expect laptops with 4K displays to last nearly as long as 1080p models, but there's no other way to cut it: The SX14's runtime is unacceptable for an ultraportable laptop. Competing machines, like the XPS 13 with a 4K display (7:50), the MateBook X Pro (9:55) and the ThinkPad X1 Yoga (9:07), offer near or more than twice the battery life.

Webcam

It's better than any nosecam we've tested, but that's about all I can say about the SX14's 720p webcam. My beard was a neat, undetailed black blob, but an inaccurate depiction of my unkempt facial hair.

There was also a considerable amount of visual noise in the image, even as the midafternoon sunlight streaked into our dimly lit office, giving the lens plenty of light to work with. The lens did a decent job capturing the purple of my T-shirt but there was noticeable chronic aberrations, or a blue glow, around objects.

Heat

The SX14's lifted deck not only makes typing more comfortable, but it also helps cool this slim ultrabook. The keyboard heated to a comfortable 78 degrees Fahrenheit after we played a 15-minute full HD video in full screen. Other locations, like the center of the keyboard (85 degrees) and the bottom panel (96 degrees), were a bit warmer, but not hot to the touch.

Software and Warranty

There aren't all that many programs preinstalled on the SX14. Vaio packaged all of the system controls into a program called Control Center. Here, you can adjust power and battery settings, change your input device and choose whether to keep the USB port charging peripherals when the Vaio is off. There's also a glitchy clipping tool that's no better than Microsoft's Snip & Sketch app.

On the topic of Microsoft apps, the SX14 has a lite version of your typical Windows 10 Pro bloatware, although you'll still run into a pair of Candy Crush games, LinkedIn and Netflix.

Vaio ships the SX14 with a one-year warranty.

Bottom Line

I didn't know what to expect when this Vaio landed on my desk. The brand had changed hands since the last time I'd seen a laptop adorned with that iconic logo, and I didn't know much about the new owner. But with the SX14, the Vaio brand feels like it's rounding a corner.

The SX14 is as attractive as any ultrabook on the market, both aesthetically and for its portability. Combine that sleek design with a gorgeous 4K display, fast performance and a comfortable keyboard, and the Vaio name has our attention once again. But it's the crazy assortment of ports on the SX14's tiny chassis that leaves us bewildered yet impressed.

Unfortunately, the SX14's short endurance and tiny touchpad keep it from being a true competitor to leading notebooks, like the XPS 13 or the ThinkPad X1 Carbon. However, I'm shocked at how close it came and excited to see what comes next.

Credit: Laptop Mag

CPU Intel Core i7-8565U
Operating System Windows 10 Pro
RAM 16GB
RAM Upgradable to 16GB
Hard Drive Size 1 TB
Hard Drive Speed
Hard Drive Type PCIe SSD
Secondary Hard Drive Size
Secondary Hard Drive Speed
Secondary Hard Drive Type
Display Size 14
Highest Available Resolution 3840 x 2160
Native Resolution 3840 x 2160
Optical Drive
Optical Drive Speed
Graphics Card Intel UHD Graphics 620
Video Memory
Wi-Fi 802.11ac
Wi-Fi Model Qualcomm Atheros QCA61x4A
Bluetooth Bluetooth 4.2
Mobile Broadband
Touchpad Size 3.1 x 1.7 inches
Ports (excluding USB) Lock Slot
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone/Mic
Ports (excluding USB) VGA
Ports (excluding USB) HDMI
Ports (excluding USB) USB 3.1 with Type-C
Ports (excluding USB) Ethernet
Ports (excluding USB) USB 3.1 Always-On
Ports (excluding USB) USB 3.0 Always On
Ports (excluding USB) SD card slot
USB Ports 4
Card Slots SD memory reader
Warranty/Support one-year warranty
Size 12.6 x 0.7 x 8.8 inches
Weight 2.3 pounds
Company Website https://us.vaio.com/