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Sony Vaio SE (15.5 inch) Review

Highs

  • Elegant design
  • Thin and light
  • Luxurious interior with great keyboard
  • Class-leading 1080p display

Rating

Our Score 8
User Score 3

Lows

  • Flimsy display lid
  • Loud fan under load
  • Annoying bloatware
  • Unimpressive bang-for-the-buck
The Sony Vaio is one of the most attractive PC laptops available today, it offers a display that is among the best we’ve ever used, and a user interface that’s much better than average.

Portability

One of the first things you’ll notice upon handling this laptop is its weight, or lack thereof. It’s only 4.2 pounds with the standard battery. Shuffling from the couch to your desk to your porch with this laptop in-hand is a breeze compared to your standard 15.6-inch laptop, which is usually between 5.5 and 6.5 pounds. Most 15.6-inch laptops are thicker, too: This one is only 1 inch thick throughout the entire chassis.

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Because of its thin profile, this is one of the easiest mid-sized laptops to travel with. You still won’t be able to use it easily on an airplane tray (due to its display size) but stuffing it in a bag that can fit under an airline seat is as easy, as taking it to your local coffee shop.

The standard laptop offers just average battery life, reporting one hour and six minutes of use under Battery Eater Standard and five hours and five minutes under the Battery Eater Reader’s Test. These results are average for the class. Note that we tested using the “Stamina” setting – switching to “Speed” engages the discrete GPU and reduces runtime.

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Sony offers an optional slice battery, also a 4400mAh unit, which essentially double battery life. It is thin, but wide, taking up as much space as the laptop itself in every dimension except height (it’s about half as thick). A slice was provided with our review unit, and it worked as advertised, doubling endurance. That means just over 10 hours of light use. Just two problems — it’s an additional $150 option, and the extra bulk spoils the size and weight advantages.

Software

At first glance, the Sony Vaio SE appears to have very little software. Then you move your cursor to the top of the display for the first time and…oh, boy.

Like many laptops from Sony, this one comes with a dock that hangs out at the top of the display. It is normally hidden, but appears when you place your cursor over it. And when do you place your cursor over the top of your display? Every single time you want to close, move or minimize an open full-screen window or tab (unless you’re a keyboard shortcut fan, we suppose).

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Needless to say, it’s annoying. It’s probably the worst piece of bloatware on any laptop shipping today besides anti-virus trials that use pop-up ads to encourage people to buy the full version (and Norton is installed on this laptop, as well.) The dock doesn’t even serve a purpose – the Windows taskbar can do everything the custom dock does, but better.

If anyone at Sony is reading this, please. Get rid of it.

Otherwise, the pre-installed software was typical and included things like Evernote, CyberLinkPowerDVD, and Microsoft Office Starter 2010. All of that is somewhat useful and will stay out of your way if you don’t want to use it.

Performance

Our review unit came equipped with an Intel Core i5-2430M processor, which has a base clock of 2.4 GHz. It’s one of the quickest Core i5 mobile processors available, and in our testing it proved itself by slightly beating most other laptops we’ve reviewed. In SiSoft Sandra’s processor arithmetic benchmark a combined score of 38.27 was achieved. 7-Zip also revealed strong performance, reporting a combined score of 7,699 MIPS. Both of these scores are the second highest we’ve recorded from a laptop powered by a dual-core processor.

General testing with PCMark 7, on the other hand, revealed some weak points. The total score of 1,920 is actually lower than normal, and appears to have been mostly the result of low System Storage scores, although even the Productivity and Creativity suites were lower than normal.

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Instead of relying on integrated graphics to power its beautiful 1080p display, this Sony makes use of a Radeon HD 6630 discrete GPU, an upgrade from the Radeon HD 6470 that comes standard. 3DMark 06 showed a score of 6,806, while 3DMark 11 returned a score of 997.

These results are better than most laptops we review. However, gaming at the display’s high native resolution proved difficult, as neither Dawn of War: Retribution nor Star Wars: The Old Republic played at comfortable framerates, even with detail set to low. You’ll have to play at 1366×768 in many titles.

Conclusion

When we reviewed the Sony Vaio S 13.3 inch, we said it was classic Sony. The same goes for its big brother. This is one of the most attractive PC laptops available today, it offers a display is among the best we’ve ever used, and a user interface that’s much better than average.

However, the Vaio isn’t a great value. Make no mistake — this is a quick laptop. But if you want excellent all-around performance, you’ll find more for the same money in laptops like the ASUS N55, Dell XPS 15, and others.

Your enjoyment of this laptop will come down to priorities. Sony is, and almost always has, targeted buyers who have plenty of cash for a laptop and want something that will stand out from the crowd, both in design and overall quality. The 1080p display is the star of the show here, but the rest of the laptop is also more attractive than average. If aesthetics or display quality is important to you, do yourself a favor and take a look at this Sony. And remember – the 1080p display is standard, so even the $929 base model sold on Newegg offers it.

Highs:

  • Elegant design
  • Thin and light
  • Luxurious interior with great keyboard
  • Class-leading 1080p display

Lows:

  • Flimsy display lid
  • Loud fan under load
  • Annoying bloatware
  • Unimpressive bang-for-the-buck

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