Vaio's divorce from Sony seems to have done the brand good: The newest entry, the SX12 ($1,199 starting; reviewed at $1,899), is an impressive business notebook that offers speedy performance in a surprisingly lightweight, stylish chassis. The laptop also has a comfortable keyboard that angles toward you from a lifted deck, and a crazy range of ports -- from VGA to USB-C -- so that you won't ever need a dongle.
As much as we like the SX12, there are some unfortunate missteps. For one, the ultraportable laptop's battery life is subpar and its tiny touchpad is hard to use. Still, if you want a portable laptop with loads of power and a good selection of ports, then the SX12 is a solid option.
Price and Configuration Options
The $1,199 base model SX12 is available in pink and comes with an Intel Core i5-8265U CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. If you need more storage, there is also a 512GB configuration in silver for $1,299. For more oomph, an all-black version packs a Core i7-8565 CPU, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD for $1,599.
Our $1,899 all-black review unit has the same specs, but with a 1TB SSD. And for $2,199, you can get the same components but in a uniquely dyed Kachi finish, which Vaio calls "dark indigo."
The design of laptops over the last few years has followed a pattern: thinner, thinner, thinner. Only until recently has that trend morphed to put more emphasis on lighter materials. With the SX12, Vaio has just about crafted the perfect lightweight chassis.
Made from a combination of carbon fiber, magnesium alloy and aluminum, the SX12 is one of the lightest clamshell laptops around. But don't mistake it for being cheap. A carbon-fiber lid solves the durability concerns we've had with other magnesium-alloy laptops, like the LG Gram 14 2-in-1 and Acer Swift 5.
Just how portable is this notebook? At 2 pounds and 0.6 inches thick, the SX12 is lighter than the HP EliteBook x360 1030 G3 (2.8 pounds, 0.6 inches) and the Microsoft Surface Pro 6 (2.6 pounds, 0.3 inches w/ keyboard), though the Surface slate is a bit thinner.
The SX12 also looks great, especially if you prefer gadgets to have a businesslike appearance. In fact, I found that the SX12 was the perfect complement to the black Bose 700 headphones -- both utilitarian yet sleek. A smooth, black border outlines the SX12's matte carbon-fiber lid, on which a glossy Vaio logo is centered.
That ink-black color scheme continues onto the deck, where matte-black keys contrast subtly against a brushed-aluminum wrist rest. The only pop of color on the SX12 comes from a green-lit power button in the top-right corner.
The Vaio name may remind you of the past, but the SX12 is on the cutting-edge of laptop design. Bordering all four sides of the notebook's 12.5-inch display are thin bezels, which draw your eyes toward the panel.
When opened, the SX12 sits on two nubs attached to the back edge of the lid, which extends beyond the deck, lifting it a few millimeters off the ground when the laptop is open. This angles the keyboard downward, which, as Vaio claims, improves both airflow and comfort while typing.
The other modern design feature on the SX12 is a small fingerprint reader embedded on the lower-right side of the deck.
Throw away your dongles; the SX12 makes sure you never need them again.
The museum of ports on the SX12 starts with a VGA input on the right side of the chassis. I suspect most people won't ever use a VGA cable, but hey, better safe than sorry, I suppose.
Also on the right side of the laptop is an Ethernet port, an HDMI input, a USB 3.1 Type-C jack and a USB 3.0 port. Flip the laptop around and you'll spot two USB 3.0 ports, a headphone/mic jack and a lock slot on the left side.
As comprehensive as this assortment of inputs might seem to be, the SX12 lacks a Thunderbolt 3 port for fast transfer speeds and connecting to multiple 4K monitors. Instead of an outdated input like the VGA port, Vaio would have been much better off future-proofing the pricey SX12 with Thunderbolt 3.
The SX12's 12.5-inch, 1080p non-touch matte display gets bright but colors look washed out.
When I watched a trailer for the war film 1917, the grass underneath George MacKay's boots was a dull, yellowish-green as he scurried across a battlefield while mortar rounds struck the ground around him. While there is no 4K option, the SX12's Full HD display is very detailed, and I could even see individual grains of sand erupt from the ground after each explosion detonated.
The SX12's display covers just 71% of the sRGB color gamut, making it much less vibrant than the panels on the Surface Pro 6 (126%), EliteBook x360 1030 G3 (115%) and the premium laptop average (130%).
And while 314 nits of brightness isn't dim, the SX12's display was outshined by the Surface Pro 6 (408 nits), EliteBook x3601030 G3 (415 nits) and premium laptop average (345 nits).
Keyboard and Touchpad
The SX12 has one of the best keyboards I've tested on an ultrabook. Yes, the angled island-style keyboard makes for a more natural wrist position, but it's the feeling of the backlit keys that makes the SX12 such a pleasure to type on.
With 63 grams of actuation force, the keys have a lightness to them, and you still get a satisfyingly clicky feedback when you punch in a letter. The success I had speed typing my way through this review made me forget about how shallow the keys are, at just 1.1 millimeters (short of our 1.5-mm preference). I also like how the keyboard is stretched from one edge of the deck to the other, so that people with big hands don't feel cramped.
My only issue with the keyboard is that the backlighting on our review unit was awful - some letters shone brightly, while others looked like they weren't illuminated at all.
I typed at 116 words per minute with an accurate rate of 94% on the 10fastfingers.com typing test, which is slightly slower and less accurate than my typical 119-wpm, 95% error rate average.
Unfortunately, the excellent keyboard didn't make me forget about the SX12's awful touchpad. Tiny, uncomfortable and paired with stiff discrete clickers, the 3.1 x 1.9-inch touchpad makes Windows 10 gestures, like pinch-to-zoom or three-finger swipes to switch between programs, a chore to pull off. Windows' Precision Drivers help with responsiveness, but you'll still want to use a wireless mouse with the SX12.
Ignore its size - the SX12 packs a serious performance punch. Outfitted with a Core i7-8565U CPU and 16GB of RAM, our review unit had no problem loading 21 Google Chrome webpages and firing up two YouTube videos, a pair of 1080p Twitch streams and a Mixer stream of Ninja playing Fornite. The last few tabs took longer to load, and a high-pitched whine started to emanate from the fans, so I didn't push it any further.
With an impressive score of 15,353 on the Geekbench 4.3 overall performance test, the SX12 proved that it can offer faster speeds than its competitors, including the Surface Pro 6 (13,761, Core i5-8250U), Elitebook x360 1030 G3 (13,496, Core i7-8650U) and the average premium laptop (14,614).
Those synthetic benchmark scores translated to real-world results in our Handbrake video transcoding test, in which the SX12 converted a 4K video into 1080p resolution in 16 minutes and 16 seconds. That blistering pace is quicker than that of the Surface Pro 6 (23:22), EliteBook x360 1030 G3 (25:38) and the category average (22:27).
Vaio put a fast SSD inside the SX12. The 1TB drive in our unit transferred 4.97GB of mixed-media files in just 7 seconds, for a rate of 727 megabytes per second. That puts the Surface Pro 6 (203 MBps, 256GB SSD) to shame but can't keep up with the EliteBook x360 1030 G3 (848 MBps, 512GB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD). The category average is 564 MBps.
The SX12 is limited to an integrated UHD 620 GPU, which is fine for casual gaming but not much beyond that. On the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark, the SX12 scored an 87,353, which is a good result compared to the Surface Pro 6 (73,697, UHD 620), EliteBook x360 1030 G3 (78,673, UHD 620) and the premium laptop average (14,614).
Unfortunately, our gaming test proved tricky for the SX12, which played the racing game Dirt 3 at 34 frames per second. That tops our 30-fps playability threshold, but is nowhere near as high as what the Surface Pro 6 (81 fps), EliteBook x360 1030 G3 (53 fps) or the premium laptop average (67 fps) achieved.
Bottom-firing speakers don't typically provide the best audio quality and those on the SX12 are no exception. Gotye's hushed voice in his hit song "Somebody That I Used to Know" was barely audible over the ambient hum of my tower fan, even with the volume maxed out. Once I turned off the fan, I could hear that the lead vocals were clear but thin and the drums didn't have any weight to them.
We'd take fewer ports and a heavier chassis if it meant improving the SX12's subpar battery life.
Lasting only 6 hours and 36 minutes on our battery test (continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits), the SX12 powered down hours before other ultraportable notebooks, including the Surface Pro 6 (9:20), the EliteBook x360 1030 G3 (9:39) and the average premium machine (8:15).
Forget about doing your hair in the morning - nothing will impress your colleagues when you're video conferencing with the SX12's grainy 720p webcam. A selfie I snapped in a well-lit room was obscured by layers of visual noise, and my black-and-white speckled T-shirt looked like TV static. Colors looked fine -- my face was a healthy shade of peach -- but the complete lack of detail in my hair and beard gave me a new appreciation for my Logitech C920.
The SX12's "tilt-up hinge" improved airflow and kept the notebook well below our 95-degree Fahrenheit comfort threshold after we played a 15-minute, 1080p video in fullscreen. The laptop's touchpad reached only 77 degrees, while the center of the keyboard (81 degrees) and the bottom panel (89 degrees) also remained below 90 degrees.
Software and Warranty
Vaio pre-installed only a handful of programs on the SX12. System tools are bundled in an app called Control Center, which lets you adjust power and battery settings, change your input device, and choose whether to keep the USB port-charging peripherals when the SX12 is idle. There's also a clipping tool that's mostly redundant to Microsoft's Snip & Sketch app.
Microsoft brings its typical suite of apps to Windows 10 Pro, including Candy Crush games, LinkedIn and Netflix.
Vaio ships the SX12 with a one-year warranty.
Business pros or anyone looking for an ultraportable laptop with strong performance should consider the SX12. But not before more capable premium notebooks - like the Microsoft Surface Pro 6, Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon or HP EliteBook x360 1030 G3. We like the SX12's sleek, sturdy chassis, comfortable keyboard and a ridiculous medley of ports, but those perks are offset by below-average battery life, a tiny touchpad and an underwhelming 12.5-inch display.
All things considered, the Vaio brand has made big strides with the SX12; however, it will need more fine-tuning to compete in the crowded and competitive field of business laptops.