Vaio SX14 (2021) review: Swing and a miss

The Vaio SX14 packs power in an subpar chassis

Vaio SX14 (2021)
(Image: © Future)

Laptop Mag Verdict

The Vaio SX14 (2021) returns with a fresh look and eye-popping specs under the hood, but the rest of the laptop offers an underwhelming experience for an expensive price.

Pros

  • +

    Faintly sophisticated design

  • +

    Great performanceVariety of ports

  • +

    Solid battery life

  • +

    Lightweight

Cons

  • -

    Overpriced

  • -

    Dull display with lackluster touchscreen response

  • -

    Subpar keyboard

  • -

    Tinny, distorted audio

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Vaio SX14 (2021) Specs

Price: From $1,249 (reviewed at $2,499)
CPU: Intel Core i7-1165G7
GPU: Intel Iris Xe Graphics
RAM: 32GB
Storage: 2TB SSD
Display: 14-inch FHD IPS
Battery: 10:49
Size: 14.04 x 9.02 x 0.61 inches
Weight: 2.4 pounds

In the world of 14-inch laptops, power and premium materials come at a price. The Vaio SX14, now divorced from Sony, defies that trend by being powerful and pricey, yet lacking the flair and polish found on other premium ultraportables at the same cost.

Where the MacBook Pro 14 thrives with an aluminum construction and beasty components to boot, this packs a killer 11th Gen Intel Core i7 processor to blaze through all manner of workloads, but it drops the ball with a subpar keyboard and a dull 16:9 display that is uninspiring to use.

It’s a crying shame because on paper, the SX14 has all the bells and whistles that would put the best 14-inch laptops on edge. But in reality, it can’t match the finesse found in the leaders of the packs. Still, the SX14 holds its ground — if you’re willing to part with $2,499, that is. 

Vaio SX14 (2021) price and configurations

The Vaio SX14 (2021) comes in several configurations and appealing color options such as Fine Silver, Urban Bronze, All Black, Fine White and a navy Kachi-Iro. With a starting price of $1,249, buyers can get an 11th Gen Intel Core i5-1155G7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB PCIe SSD, which is a fair price with specs like these. 

(Image credit: Future)

As for our review unit, costing $2,499, it comes with an 11th Gen Intel Core i7-1165G7 CPU, Intel Iris Xe graphics, 32GB of RAM, and 2TB PCIe SSD. Sure, these are impressive specs, but an outrageous $2,499 price tag for the product you get is way overpriced, and it doesn’t even come with a stylus for the Full HD 16:9 touchscreen display. Compare this to the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (Gen 9) ($1,965), HP Spectre x360 14 ($1,619), and even the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga ($2,339), and you’ll find this is one pricey laptop. Still, it isn’t as expensive as the Dell Latitude 9420 2-in-1 ($2,900).

There aren't any display upgrade options either, so SX14 buyers are stuck with the standard 1920 x 1080 IPS display no matter what configuration they choose.

Vaio SX14 (2021) design

There is something alluring about the Vaio SX14 at first glance, and while the rich bronze finish and subtle gold lining adds to the laptop’s appeal, the design of the chassis has to take some credit, too. 

(Image credit: Future)

The lid outsizes the base of the laptop without looking overbearing, allowing users to lift it seamlessly and, more impressively, lift the back of the laptop off a surface thanks to a simple hinge mechanic. This tilts the keyboard up when opened, and allows for better airflow and heat distribution (or so I thought). No need to worry about scratches on the lid either, as there are two bumps that act as the laptop’s stand. 

(Image credit: Future)

Open it up, however, and we run into the same problems found on the Vaio Z (2021). Despite the price tag and the exterior’s sophisticated finish, the interior is reminiscent of a budget laptop. Ugly larger top bezel? Check. Simple keyboard with age-old Windows keyboard font? You bet. A deck that looks and feels flimsy? Nailed it. I am a fan of the size of the 4.3 x 2.5-inch touchpad, though. The chassis also sports a small power button with fingerprint authentication, but I found it too small for it to recognize my fingerprint on a one-touch basis.

At 2.4 pounds and with dimensions of 12.6 x 8.8 x 0.6-0.7 inches, the SX14 fits the description of an ultraportable to a tee. It’s feather-like weight is akin to the brilliant Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, which comes in at 2.5 pounds and measures 12.4 x 8.7 x 0.6 inches, along with the slightly beefier HP Spectre x360 (3 pounds, 11.8 x 8.7 x 0.7 inches), Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga (3 pounds, 12.3 x 8.8 x 0.6 inches) and Dell Latitude 9420 2-in-1 (3.2 pounds, 12.2 x 8.5 x 0.5 inches).  

Vaio SX14 (2021)

(Image credit: Future)

The ability to pick up the SX14 with minimal effort, place it anywhere without it taking up much desk real estate and carry it around in a laptop bag with ease is a huge perk. But the hinge mechanic can get in the way when using it in tight spaces, such as on the train or the tube in London.  

Vaio SX14 (2021) ports

Gone is the VGA output found on 2019’s Vaio SX14, as it’s now replaced with updated connectivity for modern peripherals. In fact, it shows other 14-inch laptops (all eyes on Apple’s MacBook Pro 14) how many ports can fit on an ultraportable laptop.  

(Image credit: Future)

On the left, the SX14 sports a USB-A 3.1 port and a 3.5mm audio jack. Minimal, so far, but the right side is where it gets busy. 

(Image credit: Future)

There are two Thunderbolt 4 ports, which means DisplayPort connectivity and Power Delivery, another USB-A 3.1 port, an HDMI output and an Ethernet port. Unfortunately, you won’t find an SD card reader like the previous model, which is a shame. Still, this can easily be fixed with a handy USB-C hub, and the two Thunderbolt 4 ports more than make up for it. 

Vaio SX14 (2021) display

Fitted with an FHD (1920 x 1080) 16:9 14-inch IPS touchscreen display, the Vaio SX14 falls behind other premium ultraportables on the market in both color and brightness, along with the way it looks thanks to the prominent top bezel. I was disappointed with the touchscreen aspect as well, as sometimes it takes a few seconds to recognize it’s being touched, and the lid wobbles when applying a fraction of force. 

(Image credit: Future)

I watched the first episode of James Gunn’s Peacemaker on HBO Max. Like his previous work on The Suicide Squad, Gunn uses striking visuals and colors in a majority of sequences, with Peacemaker’s enticingly brazen red, white and blue outfit and toilet bowl-shaped helmet being a fair example (you gotta love it). The SX14’s display doesn’t do this justice, as colors feel muted and scenes look a touch too dark.

Covering 72.7% of the DCI-P3 color gamut, the SX14 is below the premium laptop average (83%), but still outdoes other high-rated laptops such as the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (69%) and ThinkPad X1 Yoga (71%). It still falls behind the Spectre x360 (75%) and Latitude 9420 2-in-1 (89%).

As for brightness, the SX14 hit 373 nits of average brightness, but in practice the display doesn’t appear to match other ultraportable laptops we reviewed. This is just under the category average (387 nits), but still beats the X1 Carbon and Spectre x360’s 365 nits of brightness. It also beats the X1 Yoga (351 nits) but pales in comparison to the Latitude 9420 2-in-1 (477 nits).

Vaio SX14 (2021) audio

“Can you lower the volume on that, please?” is what I heard in the background of my home office over the miserable audio of the Vaio SX14. Without any bass or any kind of distinct channel for different sounds, audio sounds like the gargled mess you’d find tuning between radio stations. Speakers are positioned at the front of the chassis, and to their credit, they can fire loud volumes for a laptop. Should you crank up the volume to max, though? Definitely not with the SX14.

While I rarely use a laptop’s speakers to listen to music or watch shows, as I find headphones deliver the best experience, I appreciate great laptop speakers when watching YouTube videos or other multimedia for my job. Ergo, I do not recommend using these speakers for any means unless completely necessary. I listened to the strangely bombastic opening credits sequence of HBO Max’s Peacemaker (a running theme, I know), and all I could hear from Wig Wam’s “Do Ya Wanna Taste it” was a mess of noise, with sharp guitar riffs popping up every now and then, a bashing of cymbals and words being sung without any distinct notes. I kept the volume at 30, as this was more than loud enough before the otherwise brilliant song was ruined. Good thing there’s an audio jack. 

Vaio SX14 keyboard and touchpad 

The keyboard and touchpad is a laptop’s bread and butter, as it’s obviously how we use it on a daily basis. On the Vaio SX14, the keyboard is a drag to use, which surprised me seeing as the slight tilt when the laptop is open makes typing more comfortable. The 4.3 x 2.5 touchpad, however, is sizable, precise and sports two buttons with sharp clicks and an impressive responsiveness to Windows 10 gestures. That said, the clickers are too thin compared to the trackpad itself, much like the Vaio Z. 

(Image credit: Future)

The keyboard feels fragile, as it doesn’t take much force for the chassis to bend while I type. The keys themselves are too spaced apart, and feel too hard and sticky for a comfortable typing experience. As evidence, on the 10FastFingers.com typing test, I scored 68 words per minute. This is below my 72 wpm average, and I kept making mistakes and having to backspace every other mistyped word. 

(Image credit: Future)

Vaio SX14 (2021) performance

This is where the Vaio SX14 gets to shine, and it’s all thanks to the Intel Core i7-1165G7 processor and 32GB of RAM it’s rocking. It’s more than enough power for multi-taskers constantly switching between tabs, documents and applications. 

(Image credit: Future)

 My typical day at the office can include a flurry of Google Chrome tabs, YouTube videos running in the background and Netflix on standby when I need a quick burst of Seinfeld — you bet the SX14 could handle it all  (though the fans do kick up loud). I put the SX14 to the test by throwing 30 Microsoft Edge tabs at it, which included two Google Docs, a couple of YouTube videos playing in the background, along with a scroll through Instagram and a tab for Netflix. There wasn’t a stutter in sight, and our rigorous laptop tests offer deeper insight into why.

Starting with Geekbench 5.4 in our benchmark tests, the SX14 reached an impressive 5,845 overall performance score. This outperforms a lot of its competition, including the best 14-inch laptops on the market. Equipped with the same Intel Core i7-1165G7 CPU, the  X1 Yoga, X1 Carbon (5,365) and Spectre x360 scored 5,447, 5,365 and5,004, respectively. It also surpassed the 4,838 category average. The Dell Latitude 9420 2-in-1 (6,037), however, is still the top dog. When compared with the M1 Pro MacBook Pro 14 (M1 Pro, 7,575), it doesn’t come close. 

(Image credit: Future)

During our video editing test, the SX14 converted a 4K clip to 1080p resolution in a speedy 11 minutes and 56 seconds. Compared to the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (13:23), Spectre x360 14 (17:02), ThinkPad X1 Yoga (13:50), and Latitude 9420 (13:35), the SX14 wipes the floor with the lot of them. Including, of course, the 15:53 category average.

When testing the SX14’s file transfer abilities, the laptop’s 2TB SSD did a commendable job duplicating 25GB of multimedia files in 54 seconds with a transfer rate of 494.9 megabytes per second. However, that’s slower than the X1 Carbon (523.9MBps, 512GB SSD), Spectre x360 14 (764MBps, 512GB SSD) and X1 Yoga (531.3 MBps, 512GB SSD). It does, however, beat the Latitude 9420 2-in-1 (401.9 MBps, 512GB SSD), but all fall behind in the category average (617.5 MBps).

Putting optimal processing power into an exceptionally light ultraportable laptop is outstanding, which only makes the rest of the SX14’s components all the more disappointing.  

Vaio SX14 (2021) graphics

The Vaio SX14 isn’t made to be your next gaming rig, but can do some light gaming thanks to the Intel Iris Xe Graphics chip as its integrated GPU. In fact, it did slightly better than its more expensive Vaio Z sibling when testing the laptop out on Sid Meier’s Civilization VI: Gathering Storm (Medium, 1080p) benchmark. The SX14 hit 38 frames per second, while the Vaio Z churned out 37 fps. This is ahead of the 30 fps playable threshold, so if you’re a fan of games like Sid Meier’s Civilization, the SX14 can handle it.

On the 3DMark Fire Strike benchmark, the SX14 hit an impressive 5053, dominating the X1 Carbon (4,734), Spectre x360 (4,229) and ThinkPad X1 Yoga (4,789); all of which also sport an Iris Xe. The Latitude 9420 (Iris Xe) powered ahead with a 5,258. 

Vaio SX14 (2021) battery life

Making the most of the Thunderbolt 4 port, the Vaio SX14 comes with a 100-240V AC adapter via USB-C input. 

(Image credit: Future)

On the Laptop Mag battery test, which consists of continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits, the SX14 scored a measly 10 hours and 49 minutes, which is slightly below the category average (10:59). It’s not bad per se, but when put up against marathon runners such as the X1 Carbon (15:39), Spectre x360 14 (12:11), X1 Yoga (14:45) and Latitude 9420 2-in-1 (15:02) it’s shortcomings are more apparent. For a laptop made to be moved around, we were hoping for at least a smidgen more juice, but at least it still churns out over ten hours. 

Vaio SX14 (2021) webcam

It’s raining grains! Or so I first thought when I switched on the Vaio SX14’s 1080p webcam. Despite the boost in quality from the 720p webcams that are still found on laptops today (the Samsung Galaxy Book (2021) comes to mind), this laptop’s webcam is filled with visual noise in both dark and light environments. At the very least, images are more pronounced in detail and are well-lit, allowing me to see the slight scruff of facial hair that needs some maintenance. 

(Image credit: Future)

The webcam does come with a loose-feeling privacy slider, along with facial recognition tech for the onboard Windows Hello. It’s best to check out our best external webcams page to get something that will make your video-conferencing calls look more professional. 

Vaio SX14 (2021) heat 

The Vaio SX14 isn’t the coolest laptop on the block, as its fan does all the talking. When running a 15-minute, 1080p video during our heat test, the underside of the laptop hit 100 degrees Fahrenheit, which is above our 95-degree comfort threshold. The touchpad remained the coolest, scoring 82 degrees, while the center of the keyboard reached 87.5 degrees. You’ll find the hottest location of the laptop can be found right at the underside’s center, hitting 100 degrees. 

Vaio SX14 (2021) software and warranty

Vaio SX14 comes installed with Windows 11, which can take a bit of time for Windows 10 users to get used to but is ultimately a simple transition. There’s also the standard Vaio Control Center, which gives you access to power and battery settings such as switching from Performance mode to Silence mode (which does make a difference), the ability to configure several Function keys and keyboard backlight, disable USB charging, network settings and settings for the Windows Hello-enabled webcam.

The IR sensor is handy for those who want to keep their laptop locked up, which can be configured in the control center. The SX14 can automatically lock when a user is away from the laptop, and automatically unlock when you approach to use it again.

The Vaio SX14 comes with a one-year limited warranty.

Bottom line 

If there’s anything the Vaio SX14 (2021) has taught me, it’s that power isn’t the deciding factor of a laptop. While the Intel Core i7-1165G7 CPU and 32GB of RAM wipe the floor with other highly rated laptops on our list of best 14-inch laptops, it comes at the detriment of the overall design and functionality.

If the SX14 came with a decent keyboard, better display, and audio I didn’t want to mute, Vaio would be more of a respected competitor in the laptop field — the price tag would also make a lot more sense. While our list of the best 14-inch laptops don’t have the same impressive specs, they still churn out the power and battery life needed for any professional to be happy with. Plus, much like the HP Spectre x360 14 and Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (Gen 9), their design has been fine-tuned to get you through the working day comfortably, and they come at a much more affordable price.

Vaio has made some admirable updates to its SX14, including its variety of ports, but there are still a few dents to hammer out before playing with the big leagues.

Darragh Murphy is fascinated by all things bizarre, which usually leads to assorted coverage varying from washing machines designed for AirPods to the mischievous world of cyberattacks. Whether it's connecting Scar from The Lion King to two-factor authentication or turning his love for gadgets into a fabricated rap battle from 8 Mile, he believes there’s always a quirky spin to be made. With a Master’s degree in Magazine Journalism from The University of Sheffield, along with short stints at Kerrang! and Exposed Magazine, Darragh started his career writing about the tech industry at Time Out Dubai and ShortList Dubai, covering everything from the latest iPhone models and Huawei laptops to massive Esports events in the Middle East. Now, he can be found proudly diving into gaming, gadgets, and letting readers know the joys of docking stations for Laptop Mag.