Sony reckons the Vaio VPC-S13V9E/B is equally suited to work and play, thanks to its powerful processor, integrated mobile-broadband modem and dedicated Nvidia graphics chip. This 13.3-inch ultra-portable laptop is available for around £1,000, but is it worth the high asking price?
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For an ultra-portable laptop, the VPC-S13V9E/B is quite thick and wide, measuring 330 by 28 by 229mm. It's not exactly a featherweight either, tipping the scales at 2kg. Many other ultra-portables come in under the 1.5kg mark.
Nevertheless, the laptop feels remarkably sturdy and the masculine design looks quite the business. Like the F-series machine that we looked at recently, this model has rounded screen hinges that house a power socket on the left-hand side and a glowing power button on the right.
Like other Sony laptops, the VPC-S13V9E/B uses a keyboard with isolated keys. The keyboard is firmly anchored into the chassis, with the result that there's almost no flex at all in the centre. This, combined with the wide spacing between the keys, makes it feel very responsive. In fact, we'd rate it as one of the best keyboards we've come across on a 13-inch laptop. The keyboard is also backlit, with the lighting controlled via an ambient light sensor, so it only turns itself on when needed.
The trackpad is excellent too. Not only is it quite roomy, but the twin buttons are solid and responsive. Nestled between the two buttons, you'll find a fingerprint reader.
The VPC-S13V9E/B's display has a glossy, rather than matte, coating. We found it was quite reflective, especially when used indoors with bright lights overhead. But the glossy coating does help the screen to produce very rich and vivid colours, so it's something of a trade-off.
The screen's native resolution of 1,366x768 pixels is pretty average, however, with some netbooks now offering the same. Viewing angles are generally good, though, so, if you want to share a movie with a friend on a train or a plane, there shouldn't be any problems.
Sony has kitted the laptop out with a fairly generous 500GB hard drive and there's a DVD writer tucked into the right-hand side of the chassis. You also get both Memory Stick and SD card slots at the front, which will come in handy when transferring photos from a digital camera.
The line-up of ports is reasonably good too, including three USB sockets, complemented by a mini-FireWire jack and both HDMI and VGA outputs. The laptop lacks an eSATA port, although there is a 34mm ExpressCard slot.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the laptop is that, along with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity, it also has an integrated mobile-broadband modem. This Qualcomm Gobi 2000 module supports a maximum download speed of 7.2Mbps. To make use of it, you'll need a SIM card, which will slide neatly into a slot under the battery.
The laptop runs the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Professional, and Sony has equipped it with a fairly generous 6GB of RAM. Processing muscle comes courtesy of a dual-core Intel Core i5-460M processor clocked at a speedy 2.53GHz. In the PCMark05 benchmark test, the VPC-S13V9E/B posted a score of 6,386. That indicates fairly potent performance and means the laptop will have little trouble handling demanding tasks like high-definition video editing.
On the graphics front, Intel has called in a little help from its friends at Nvidia, in the form of a dedicated GeForce 310M graphics card. This resulted in a score of 4,274 in the 3DMark06 benchmark test, which isn't exactly earth-shattering. As a result, you'll have to turn down the detail in newer games to get them to play at a half-decent frame rate.
Battery life is also pretty average. The laptop managed to keep puffing away for 1 hour and 32 minutes in the intensive Battery Eater Classic test. Under real-world conditions, you should get closer to the 5 hours that Sony quotes for this model.
The Sony Vaio VPC-S13V9E/B is far from the slimmest and lightest 13-inch laptop we've seen, and there's no doubt that this negatively affects its desirability. Nevertheless, Sony has built a solid machine that's comfortable to use and offers generally good performance, and well as a few neat extras. But we're not completely convinced it justifies its high asking price.
Edited by Charles Kloet