The Vaio Y series sports a 13.3-inch glossy LCD with 1366 x 768 resolution, offering a wide plot of virtual acreage packed into a relatively small physical space. True to form, it looks razor sharp and never exhibits any ghosting or blurring during fast-motion video. It also offers a respectably vibrant color palette and enough brightness to make an impression indoors and be legible outdoors, even if the gloss finish does work against it in that regard. Unfortunately, like a lot of consumer notebooks, it also only cranes back to 45 degrees from flat, which can be troublesome in tight quarters.
A thin speaker grille above the keyboard hides the Vaio’s built-in, up-firing speakers, which seem like they should come with a “Librarian Approved” label to indicate the kind of performance you can expect out of them. Even at full volume, they barely manage to cough out enough sound for listening in complete silence, and the slightest din of background noise will have you reaching for a pair of headphones. We’re talking barely-outperform-an-iPhone volume here, and although we can mercifully say they sound a much clearer and listenable at that volume, you’ll get the same lack of bass.
Why, Sony, why? Although the Vaio Y Series desktop sports only a handful of irritating icons like “Vaio Rewards,” the majority of the bloatware has been shuffled haphazardly onto the Start menu like clutter under a kid’s bed after a hasty room cleaning. Norton Internet Security, Vaio Care, Evernote for Vaio, Free QuickBooks Simple Start Online, the sheer volume of garbage was enough to make us gag a little. A few highlights like ArcSoft Webcam companion actually serve a real purpose – like letting you capture snapshots and video from the included webcam – but for the most part it’s just dozens of inconsistently labelled and often puzzling utilities, trial offers, and other assorted digital debris.
The 1.3GHz Intel CULV processor in the Vaio Y gets the same Intel Core 2 Duo badging as its beefier brethren up top, even though it runs at about half the clock speed. The numbers point to a significant speed difference, but around the desktop and in common, low-overheads apps like Google Chrome and Microsoft Word, most users won’t take all that much notice.
Start pushing the limits with video, and the limitations of the 1.3GHz CULV and integrated Intel GMA 4500MHD graphics pronounce themselves. Video from Hulu and YouTube both played fine up to 480p quality, but YouTube began to exhibit some minor but annoying stutter at 720p, and became unwatchable at 1080p. Updating to Flash 10.1 RC4 occasionally fixes stuttering issues, but left our Vaio Y in the same boat. Downloaded Quicktime trailers in 720p fared slightly better, but still showed just a glimmer of stuttering on slow pans and gradual transitions that made the slightest hiccup noticeable.
Our Sony Vaio Y Series scored 2,691 PCMarks in PCMark Vantage, putting it well ahead of the 2,195 posted by the competing Asus UL30A, but below the 2,823 from Lenovo’s Edge 13. Though it has only a small advantage on paper, the Edge was also able to hand 720p YouTube content more fluidly, translating to a noticeable real-life gain as well.
Boot times rank in a bit higher than average for a Windows 7 machine – one minute, two seconds to reach the desktop, and opening a browser window took another 26 seconds, which is unusually long. In a head-to-head race, the Lenovo Edge would be up and running 23 seconds earlier than the Vaio Y.
Sony claims it can wring seven hours with the screen on full brightness, but we saw more like five with the battery-saving power plan enabled and Wi-Fi on. Why the discrepancy? We suspect Asus’ robust power management suite has something to do with it, but Asus was also able to shoehorn a 5600mAh battery into the UL30A, while the Sony Vaio Y fits only a 4400mAh model. That 27 percent difference almost exactly accounts for the difference between seven and nine hours in observed runtime.
Sony has put an admirably classy finish on the standard thin-and-light formula with the Vaio Y, but if its complexion doesn’t make you swoon, it doesn’t offer too many other incentives to reach for the Vaio brand name. Asus’ UL30a offers a lower price, thinner form factor and better battery life, while Lenovo’s (Intel-powered) ThinkPad Edge is lighter, offers superior performance, and also runs longer. The comfortable keyboard, trackpad and screen do make the Vaio Y a joy to use, but you’ll need to look past a pretty long list of shortcomings to justify paying a premium for them.
- Fashionable, high-end look
- Reasonable desktop performance
- Sharp, vibrant LCD screen
- Comfortable keyboard
- Large, multi-touch trackpad
- FireWire and ExpressCard/34 ports
- Shorter battery life than competitors
- Feels cheap around display bezel, lid
- Pitifully weak speakers
- Loaded with bloatware
- No optical drive
- No discrete graphics option available
- HD video drags, little gaming prowess
- Sluggish boot times