Review of Sony T Series 13.3″ Ultrabook

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Officially launched in June 2012 in India, Sony’s ultrabook offerings can be easily mistaken to be their regular products. Traditionally, Sony’s offerings have been light & slim notebooks either covered in aluminum or textured plastic. Sony had taken the initiative of launching thin/lightweight products decades before Intel woke-up and coined the term ‘Ultrabook’.

I landed at Reliance Digital (Road No. 12, Banjara Hills) to purchase a ‘Windows’ Ultrabook for a friend. Tasty offerings were available from HP, Lenovo, Acer, Samsung & Sony.

HP’s Envy Ultrabooks maybe smaller compared to their other laptops, but when placed side by side with other ultrabooks, they look positively bulky. Price-wise too, the HP machines were expensive by 20%. Hence ruled out.

If I am asked to describe the Lenovo Ultrabooks, I would only say – Champagne Gold colored Macbook Pro. From the contours, to the size and weight, the Lenovo machines were very similar to Macbook Pro (aka MBP, also on display). Since my friend was already in a state of handing down his MBP to his daughter, a MBP wannabe certainly was not gonna make the cut. Hence ruled out.

The Acer Ultrabook was unique for being very slim (almost as thin as two tablets) and had a limited number of ports placed at the rear of the machine. Inconvenient positioning of the ports, probably made compulsory to keep the thin profile. The slightly higher pricing and rather plasticky feel of the machine worked against it. Hence ruled out.

The Samsung Ultrabooks are most advertised in India and were definitely very visible in the store too. The Samsung Ultrabook had everything going for it: Non-glossy screen, ample ports (2xUSB 3.0, 1xUSB 2.0, HDMI, LAN), small profile charger. What was slightly off was the size of the arrow keys. My friend whose computing chiefly comprises of Tally and Excel, definitely needs regular sized keys – in particular, arrow keys. Hence ruled out.

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The Sony T Series Ultrabook (SVT-13113ENS) on display immediately caught my friend’s eye with it’s shiny brushed Aluminum top cover, shiny Nickel logo and bezels, Black keys on a silver frame. The machine featured a Core I3 Second-gen CPU, 4 GB RAM, 500 GB Hybrid HDD, 13.3″ Glossy screen, Regular sized keys on the keyboard. What was really amazing was that the machine also featured a VGA port! The only Ultrabook to do so. The laptop was priced at Rs. 45,490/-. Bundled accessories are limited to a Sony branded nylon carry bag and a small profile AC Power Adapter with long cables. Reliance Digital also included a SanDisk 16 GB USB pendrive on our request.

The Good

  • The laptop is light. In fact, of all the Ultrabooks on display, it was the lightest. Sony claims a weight of 1.6 KG with battery installed and I think it is an accurate figure.
  • The display was beautiful. Though glossy, it definitely reflected the store lights much less than the Lenovo machines. Color reproduction was vibrant. Though vertical viewing angles were mediocre, the display did not fade to oblivion even on extreme vertical viewing angles.
  • The screen maybe glossy but the laptop body is not. Even the plastic parts of the body have a nice matt texture. Goodbye finger prints. Goodbye butter fingers.
  • The keyboard features near normal sized keys. Typing is a pleasure and almost silent. As such, I am not much of a fan of mechanical keys and their click-clack, and this machine’s keys are very quite when compared to the Acer 5745 laptop on which I am typing the review. I only wish that the keys were backlit for that additional flair.
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    Loads of LED lights indicate operational status. There are LEDs for Power, Charging, HDD, WiFi, Caps, Nums & Scroll. Thankfully, even the power adapter includes a LED indicator.

  • Multi-touch trackpad from Synaptics is very configurable and quite smooth in operation. The left and right click are slightly stiff but you can achieve the same functions either using multi-touch options or trackpad zones.
  • The Ultrabook also features 3 additional buttons. One triggers the Vaio System Management software, another triggers the default browser and the third can be configured to trigger a software/action of your choice. Though it is easy to launch applications in Windows 7, the addition of 1-click launch for common app like ‘Calculator’ is definitely welcome.
  • The Ultrabook also features 4 GB DDR3 RAM manufactured by ELPIDA (using 1 slot of 2) and the laptop is upgradeable to a total of 8 GB RAM. After a day of use and installation of software, Windows reported 46% RAM usage and 2300 MB available for applications.
  • The Ultrabook features 500 GB Hitachi SATA-II HDD and 32 GB Samsung SSD. I have had bad experiences with Hitachi HDDs and hence I am not too thrilled with this inclusion, but the 32 GB SSD (not manageable by user) acts as a Cache drive and remarkably speeds up booting and resume from suspend. The Ultrabook has a cold boot time of 16 seconds (from initial appearance of Windows Logo to Login screen). Full login and system idle was achieved 10 seconds later.
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    The VGA port on the Ultrabook may appear to be legacy, but in an office filled with legacy LCD monitors, it is a god-send. Don’t forget, most projectors installed in conference rooms and hotels still depend on VGA functionality.

  • The Ultrabook came with Microsoft Office 2010 Starter Edition featuring Word & Excel. These applications are advertising supported and display a tiny square ad in the lower-right corner. Customers have an option of purchasing Microsoft Office 2010 over the Internet and activating PowerPoint and Outlook. Since my friend only requires Word & Excel components of Office, the freeware Starter Edition was perfect!
  • The Ultrabook is quiet and cool. The heat-vent is placed on the left and positioned under the keyboard area. The palm-rest area remains cool-to-touch even after 4 hours of power-on and the keys get slightly warm. The Acer 5745 that I am using now is on the verge of giving me 2nd degree burns.

The Bad

  • The Ultrabook came with Intel Core I3 (I3-2367M 1400 MHz) processor which belongs to Intel’s 2nd Generation Core Processor (Sandybridge) series. Intel is strongly pushing for adoption of 3rd Generation processors (Ivy Bridge) in Ultrabooks and though Sony has updated it’s lineup, most Ultrabooks being sold today, still feature the 2nd gen processors. At similar price-point, Samsung and Acer were offering Ultrabooks with Core I5 processors and Sony was the only one offering a Core I3 machine.
  • The Ultrabook came with Windows 7 Basic SP1 64-bit edition. Though this is sufficient for our requirement, Aero-glass transparency was missed. Even running tools such as ‘Aero Enabler’ did not help. Perhaps due to the lower graphics processor. At this price-point, all other Ultrabook manufacturers offered Windows 7 Home Premium.
  • The Ultrabook featured Intel HD3000 graphics chipset. Though this chipset is perfectly capable of running business graphics smoothly and was able to handle playback of 1080p compressed movies, Windows still counted this as a negative and dragged down the scores. There is a possibility that the Core I3 processor will not be able to handle high-quality Blue-ray movies.
  • The Ultrabook features stereo speakers that are all but invisible. Two slits on the front of the laptop let the sound out of the chassis. That said, the audio-output is clear and free of distortion at moderate levels. Albeit a bit tinny. A headphone socket placed on the right side of the chassis should come handy for those who want to turn up the volume using external amplifiers.
  • The Ultrabook features a monaural Microphone that is placed adjacent to the webcam. The sensitivity of the microphone is good and features basic background noise removal. Lack of an external jack to connect a headset can be a downer for those who depend on text-to-speech applications.
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    The webcam on the Ultrabook claims a resolution of 1280 x 1024 pixels but my tests for resolution were horribly disappointing. It appeared that even the 640×480 images were up-scaled from native image of 320 x 240. The webcam quickly adjusts to changing lighting conditions and was able to capture vibrant images inside a room lit dimly by morning light. Low light capture at evening is best left unmentioned.

  • The SD card port available on the right side accepts SDXC card but did not come either with a dummy or a spring loaded shutter. This is a glaring omission in country like India where dust frequently competes with industrial particulates in polluting the air.
  • The Ultrabook came loaded with quite a few crapware. Among them were Intel Anti-theft 60 day trial (free alternative: PreyProject), Trend Micro Antivirus (free alternative: Avast Antivirus), Norton Online Backup (free alternative: Dropbox). As usual, Sony bundles tons of media playback and management software which next to useless when compared to freeware alternatives such as VLC Media Player or KM Player.

The Ugly

  • The piece that was billed and opened for our testing at the store, revealed 2 stuck pixels. Both near the top-right corner. The staff at Reliance Digital replaced the piece and regenerated the bill. Caveat Emptor.
  • Like most Ultrabooks, the machine did not come with a DVD/Blueray writer; Internal or external. Customers must buy external disc writers and connect them to the laptop over the USB port (2 ports available).
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    The Ultrabook is listed as using VGP-BPS30 battery. The battery is built into a lid on the back. The battery is designed to last approx 5.5 hours of normal use and this it does. I left the laptop powered up all-night on Windows Update process and after approx. 6 hours, the laptop entered into Hibernate (due to Critical Battery). The bad part is that Sony does not list the battery as a currently available accessory. Specifications regarding pricing, dimensions, weight are not available. Reliance Digital store executives happily mouthed off a figure of Rs. 3500/- for a replacement battery while I know for a fact that hardly any Sony batteries sell for less than $100. Some Sony Laptop batteries cost as much $300 (in India).

  • Sony may have renamed the standard Firewire interface to i.Link and maybe the most popular manufacturer of Handycams, it conveniently put it on the back-burner. The laptop omits a Firewire port.
  • Not only the laptop does not have a DVD Writer, Sony does not supply OS & Software on DVD Media or any other format either. It expects us to make backup over external DVD Writers. Oh heck! Here’s another Rs. 2500/- down the drain.

To finish installing software on the laptop, I visited NiNite and installed popular utilities such as Picasa, VLC, Avast, TeamViewer etc. I also removed the bundled crapware pronto.

The laptop performs very well for our purpose. The design may feel like Deja-vu, but it is beautiful and thoughtful nevertheless. The first impressions of visitors who saw the laptop at my house? This is terrific. Can you sell our existing ones and get us this?

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Sony Ultrabooks on Amazon:
Sony SVT13112FXS: [amazonproduct=B0080C225Q]
Sony SVT13114GXS: [amazonproduct=B0080C23OQ]
Sony SVT13116FXS: [amazonproduct=B0080C23NC]

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