Sony's Vaio S-series laptops are slightly thicker, heavier and more capable versions of the Vaio Y-series laptop we reviewed earlier in March. Our review model, the VPCS11V9E/B, includes a significantly faster processor, as well as an optical drive, and a graphics card capable of running games and high-definition movies -- features sorely lacking in the case of its Y-series brother.
Three configurations are available, starting at around £870. Our test model is available for around £1,120.
Emperor's old clothes
The VPCS11V9E/B looks pretty similar to its Y-series sibling, but its lid is matte black, not silver. This gives it a more premium look, although the contrasting blue finish on the area surrounding the keyboard is so unfathomably dull that you may fall asleep just looking at it.
It's just as well, then, that the keyboard itself is pretty exciting. Not only does it feel good to type on, but each of its keys (except, bizarrely, the spacebar) is backlit, meaning it's perfect for using in the dark. In bed. On your own.
Quick on the draw
The Y-series laptop didn't exactly rock our world with its performance. In fact, there wasn't even so much as a slight wobble. The VPCS11V9E/B, however, is better equipped to make our foundations quiver.
At its heart are a new-fangled Intel HM55 chipset, a 2.4GHz Core i5-520M processor, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive, and a gaming-capable Nvidia GeForce 310M graphics adaptor. All of this sets the VPCS11V9E/B up as a wonderful all-rounder, capable of handling everything from boring Excel documents to the latest 3D games.
Let it entertain you
The VPCS11V9E/B uses the same 13.3-inch, 1,366x768-pixel display as the Y-series laptop. On the one hand, this is a good thing, as the image quality is generally very good. On the other hand, the screen has the same glossy finish, meaning it can be difficult to use outdoors or in any environment where the lighting isn't perfectly diffuse.
That said, the S-series machine comes with both D-Sub analogue and HDMI digital video output ports, so you can pump images to a big-screen TV or projector with ease. It also comes with three USB ports (one on the left and two on the right), a four-pin Sony S400 FireWire port and -- unlike the Y-series laptop -- a DVD player, nestling on the right. The front of the unit is home to headphone and mic jacks, plus a wireless switch that enables or disables the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth features -- perfect for when you're on a flight.
SIMply the best
The VPCS11V9E/B has strong wireless capabilities. Bluetooth comes as standard, as does a Wi-Fi adaptor that supports the 802.11b/g/n standards. Best of all, however, is the built-in Vaio 'everywair' 3G mobile-broadband system. It may have a ridiculous name, but it allows users to get online anywhere they can find a 3G or HSDPA mobile-data signal. Simply insert your SIM card into the slot beneath the battery and Bob is your MySpace uncle.
The VPCS11V9E/B more than made up for us having to experience the Y-series laptop's disappointing performance. It achieved a PCMark05 benchmark score of 6,535, which eclipses its sibling's score of 3,310 by a considerable margin.
Its graphics performance is admirable, too. It's no gaming rig, but a 3DMark06 score of 4,198 is indicative of its willingness to play 3D games at modest resolutions and low detail settings, as well as its ability to run 1080p video.
Sadly, the corollary of this impressive performance is poor battery life. The VPCS11V9E/B lasted a paltry 1 hour and 41 minutes in Battery Eater's intensive Classic test, which indicates a laptop's battery life when used intensively away from the mains. This isn't quite as bad as the 1 hour and 33 minutes achieved by the 13.3-inch Toshiba Satellite U500-1EX, but the VPCS11V9E/B isn't the sort of laptop you'll want by your side on long-haul flights with no power source.
The Sony Vaio S-series VPCS11V9E/B is significantly faster and better-equipped than its Y-series sibling. Its battery life isn't particularly inspiring, but its strong performance and generous array of features should help it appeal to everyone from gamers to suit-clad office drones.
Edited by Charles Kloet