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Vaio FE 14.1 review: not the Vaio you remember

VAIO FE 14.1 front view showing display and keyboard deck.
Vaio FE 14.1
MSRP $949.00
“The Vaio FE 14.1 is old school, and not in a good way.”
Pros
  • Excellent keyboard
  • Decent battery life
  • Display had good contrast
  • Entry-level model attractively priced
Cons
  • Relatively slow performance
  • Flexible build quality
  • Old-school 16:9 display
  • Display colors were below average
  • Tiny touchpad

The Sony Vaio was once an innovative and competitive laptop brand that offered a compelling lineup. In 2014, Sony spun off the Vaio division, and the brand has become a stand-alone laptop maker. Its selection is more limited, with the Vaio Z and SX lines firmly in the market’s premium segment and the Vaio FE representing the budget and mid-range lineup. Vaio recently introduced an update to the Vaio FE 14.1 with 12th-gen Intel CPUs, and I was able to give it a workout.

In many ways, the Vaio FE 14.2 is a throwback to laptop designs made several years ago — and not in a good way. On top of that, its performance and build quality aren’t anything to write home about, making it a problematic laptop to recommend.

Price and configuration

I reviewed the top-end model priced at $949 with a 12th-gen Intel Core i7-1255U and a 14.1-inch 16:9 Full HD (1920 x 1080) IPS display, making it more of a mid-range than a budget laptop.

There are three configurations of the Vaio FE 14.1. The entry-level model is $699 for a Core i5-1235U, 8GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD, and a 14.1-inch 16:9 Full HD IPS display. All models share the same display option. The mid-level machine is $799 for a Core i5-1235U, 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD. Finally, my review configuration is $949 for Core i7-1255U, 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD. The $699 configuration is probably the best value.

Several other laptops are available in the same price range, including the HP Pavilion Plus 14 and the Dell Inspiron 14 2-in-1. The Pavilion Plus 14 is particularly attractive at $1,000 for a faster 45-watt Core i7 CPU and a spectacular 14-inch 16:10 OLED display running at 90Hz.

Design

VAIO FE 14.1 front angle view showing display and keyboard deck.
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

The Vaio FE 14.1’s most striking aesthetic attribute, at least on my review unit, was the bright blue color scheme on the lid and keyboard deck. Most colored laptops have more subdued hues, but Vaio went for a color that’s sure to stand out. There’s also a pink available that seems as shocking, as well as more subtle silver and dark grey colors. If you want your laptop to shout, then the Vaio FE 14.1 is for you.

Other competitive laptops, like the HP Pavilion Plus 14 and the MSI Prestige 14, are much quieter in their designs. Outside of the color, the Vaio FE 14.1 is much less elaborate, with simple lines and angles and only some venting along the left-hand side that seems out of place.

One oddity with the design is the dedicated hard drive activity light at the top of the keyboard. I don’t remember seeing one of those in quite some time, and it’s another of those old-school qualities that makes the laptop feel dated.

The Vaio FE 14.1 has some bending in the lid and flex in the keyboard deck.

The plastic display bezels are reasonably thin on the sides but quite thick on the top and bottom. That matches the old-school 16:9 aspect ratio and makes a laptop that’s wider than some other 14-inch machines and as deep as those with 16:10 aspect ratios. The Vaio FE 14.1 is also thick at 0.78 inches and heavy at 3.5 pounds. The HP Pavilion Plus 14 is 0.72 inches thick and weighs 3.09 pounds, and the Asus Vivobook S 14X is 0.70 inches and 3.23 pounds. The Vaio FE 14.1 isn’t the thinnest or lightest 14-inch laptop around.

Regarding its build quality, the Vaio FE 14.1 displays some bending in the lid and flex in the keyboard deck due to a combination of aluminum and plastic in its construction. It’s not egregious for a laptop under $1,000, but it’s not the best I’ve seen.

The Pavilion Plus 14 is much more rigid, while the Vivobook S 14X is similar to the Vaio. It’s not bad enough to make you lack confidence in the laptop’s durability, but it doesn’t scream quality, either.

Port and connectivity

Connectivity is decent, with one omission. There’s a single USB-C 3.2 port, a USB-A 3.1 port, and a USB-A 2.0 port to go with a full-size HDMI port, a 3.5mm audio jack, and an Ethernet connection. The latter is unusual on modern 14-inch machines, and the lack of Thunderbolt 4 is disappointing but forgivable at the price. There’s also a full-size SD card reader, which is welcome.

Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.1 provide wireless connectivity, which is just a step behind other laptops shipping with Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.2.

Performance

VAIO Fe 14.1 rear view showing lid and logo.
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

The Intel Core i7-1255U is a 15-watt, 10-core (two Performance and eight Efficient), 12-thread CPU aimed at thin and light laptops and intended to provide better efficiency than Intel’s 28-watt P-series CPUs. We’ve reviewed a few laptops with the CPU, and its performance has varied depending on the benchmark and the machine. In general, though, the chip has been fast enough for demanding productivity tasks but not as fast for creative workflows. Of the laptops we’ve tested with the CPU, the Vaio FE 14.1 has been the slowest, and it’s only marginally quicker than Intel’s 11th-gen processors.

In the Geekbench 5 benchmark, the Vaio FE 14.1 was just barely faster than the MSI Summit E13 Flip Evo with its 11th-gen Core i7-1185G7. That’s a 28-watt CPU, but the other laptops we’ve tested with the Core i7-1255U were considerably faster. Unlike most other laptops I’ve reviewed, the Vaio doesn’t have a thermal management utility, so there’s no performance mode to ramp up performance.

In our Handbrake test that encodes a 420MB video as H.265, the Vaio FE 14.2 was the slowest among our comparison group, and in the Cinebench R23 rendering benchmark, it was the second slowest. Finally, in the PCMark 10 Complete benchmark that measures a mix of productivity, multimedia, and creative tasks, the Vaio again came in next-to-last place.

I noticed no throttling with the laptop, with it hitting a maximum of 91 degrees C in the most CPU-intensive benchmarks. It simply didn’t run very fast and, most of the time, kept temperatures in the 70s. The Vaio FE 14.2 will meet your productivity performance needs, but faster laptops are available for around the same price.

Geekbench
(single / multi)
Handbrake
(seconds)
Cinebench R23
(single / multi)
PCMark 10
Complete
Vaio FE 14.1
(Core i7-1255U)
Bal:1,682 / 5,167
Perf: N/A
Bal: 208
Perf: N/A
Bal: 1,562 / 5,045
Perf: N/A
4,895
Lenovo Yoga 7i Gen 7
(Core i7-1255U)
Bal: 1,652 / 8,194
Perf: 1,692 / 8,443
Bal: 200
Perf: 141
Bal: 1,679 / 7,176
Perf: 1,748 / 7,701
5,211
Dell Inspiron 14 2-in-1
(Core i7-1255U)
Bal: 1,703 / 6,520
Perf: 1,685 / 6,791
Bal: 153
Perf: 141
Bal: 1,729 / 6,847
Perf: 1,773 / 7,009
5,138
Acer Swift 3 2022
(Core i7-1260P)
Bal: 1,708 / 10,442
Perf: 1,694 / 10,382
Bal: 100
Perf: 98
Bal: 1,735 / 9,756
Perf: 1,779 / 10,165
5,545
Lenovo Yoga 9i 14 Gen 7
(Core i7-1260P)
Bal: 1,717 / 9,231
Perf: 1,712 / 10,241
Bal: 130
Perf: 101
Bal: 1,626 / 7,210
Perf: 1,723 / 8,979
5,760
Asus ZenBook S 13 OLED
(Ryzen 7 6800U)
Bal: 1,417 / 6,854
Perf: 1,404 / 7,223
Bal: 112
Perf: 111
Bal: 1,402 / 8,682
Perf: 1,409 / 8,860
5,647
MSI Summit E13 Flip Evo
(Core i7-1185G7)
Bal: 1,352 / 4,891
Perf: 1,518 / 5,310
Bal: 207
Perf: 188
Bal: 1,360 / 4,391
Perf: 1,385 / 4,909
4,872

Gaming on the Vaio FE 14.1 won’t be much fun, given its below-average performance in our lightweight gaming benchmarks. It scored poorly in the 3DMark Time Spy test and only managed nine frames per second (fps) in Fortnite and 1080p and epic graphics. Intel’s Iris Xe isn’t good for more than casual gaming on the fastest laptops, and on the Vaio, it’s not going to keep up at all.

3DMark
Time Spy
Fortnite
(1080p/1200p Epic)
Vaio FE 14.1
(Intel Iris Xe)
Bal: 1,368
Perf: N/A
Bal: 9
Perf: N/A
Lenovo Yoga 7i Gen 7
(Intel Iris Xe)
Bal: 1,790
Perf: 1,716
Bal: 18
Perf: 18
Dell Inspiron 14 2-in-1
(Intel Iris Xe)
Bal: 1,492
Perf: 1,502
Bal: 12 fps
Perf: 12 fps
Acer Swift 3 2022
(Intel Iris Xe)
Bal: 1,967
Perf: 1,967
Bal: 19
Perf: 19
Lenovo Yoga 9i 14 Gen 7
(Intel Iris Xe)
Bal: 1,658
Perf: 1,979
Bal: 12 fps
Perf: N/A
Asus ZenBook S 13 OLED
(Radeon graphics)
Bal: 2,110
Perf: 2,213
Bal: 19 fps
Perf: 19 fps

Display and audio

VAIO FE 14.1 front view showing display.
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

There’s only one display option with the Vaio FE 14.1, a 14.1-inch 16:9 Full HD (1920 x 1080) IPS panel. As I used the display during my testing, it wasn’t terribly bright, and its colors didn’t seem that dynamic, but its blacks seemed deep enough.

According to my colorimeter, my eyes weren’t deceiving me. Brightness was lower than we like to see at 280 nits, just below our 300-nit threshold. You’ll probably do fine in most indoor settings, but outside in the shade will be challenging. Colors were narrower than the mid-range to premium average, at 66% of sRGB and 49% of AdobeRGB, where the average is closer to 95% and 75%, respectively. And the color accuracy was poor at a DeltaE of 3.46, where 2.0 or less is the minimum for creative work. Only the Dell Inspiron 14 2-in-1’s colors were equally poor. However, the Vaio FE 14.1’s contrast was fine at 1,070:1, exceeding our 1,000:1 standard.

The display is good enough for productivity work, but media consumers and creators will be unhappy with the colors. It’s a budget-level display that would be fine in a laptop costing $600 or less, but it’s not acceptable at $949.

Brightness
(nits)
Contrast sRGB gamut AdobeRGB gamut Accuracy DeltaE
(lower is better)
Vaio FE 14.1
(IPS)
280 1,070:1 66% 49% 3.46
HP Pavilion Plus 14
(OLED)
398 27,830:1 100% 95% 0.78
Dell Inspiron 14 2-in-1
(IPS)
288 1,330:1 63% 48% 3.35
Acer Swift 3
(IPS)
368 1,330:1 98% 75% 1.51
MSI Summit E14 Flip
(IPS)
516 1,320:1 100% 89% 1.10
Lenovo IdeaPad Slim 7 Carbon
(OLED)
397 27,590:1 100% 96% 0.88

Two upward-firing speakers above the keyboard provide adequate audio, with just enough volume for watching the occasional YouTube video. Mids and highs were fine without distortion, but there wasn’t much bass. You’ll want a pair of headphones for music and Netflix binging. The speaker placement is also unfortunate since it steals away space from the keyboard deck and contributes to the touchpad’s small size.

Keyboard, touchpad, and webcam

VAIO FE 14.1 top down view showing keyboard and touchpad.
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

The Vaio FE 14.1’s keyboard has large keycaps and excellent key spacing to go with a convenient row of navigation buttons on the right-hand side. The switches have lots of travel with a snappy bottoming action that provides plenty of feedback. It’s a precise and comfortable keyboard that competes with the best Windows has to offer, including those on the Dell XPS and HP Spectre lines.

Another old-school attribute of the Vaio FE 14.1 is the presence of dedicated touchpad buttons (which were a bit harsh and loud). I don’t see them often, and it took me a little while to get used to pressing them rather than using more of the touchpad as a clickable surface. It’s the opposite of the modern haptic touchpad, where the entire surface responds to input. While some people might prefer separate buttons, the biggest problem is that they make a tiny touchpad even smaller.

It’s one of the smallest touchpads I’ve tested and the smallest on a 14-inch laptop. Compounding the issue is the fingerprint reader embedded in the upper left-hand corner which takes away even more space. This is such a tiny touchpad that I’m tempted to call it cute. It works well enough, supporting Windows 11 multitouch gestures with no problem; it’s just way too small.

The aforementioned fingerprint reader supports Windows 11 Hello passwordless login. It worked quickly and reliably during my testing.

VAIO FE 14.1 front view showing webcam.
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

The webcam comes in at 2MP, which should be capable of 1080p video. I found the image quality sufficient for videoconferencing but not among the best I’ve used lately. The webcam has a physical slider for privacy.

Battery life

VAIO FE 14.1 side view showing lid and ports.
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

There are 55 watt-hours of battery capacity stuffed inside the Vaio FE 14.1, which is less than I like to see for 14-inch laptops. It’s not an unusual amount, though. The similarly priced Acer Swift 3 and HP Pavilion Pro 14 each had around the same battery size. With a Full HD display and 15-watt CPU, I expected at least decent battery life from the Vaio.

That’s essentially what I saw during my testing. In our web browsing test that cycles through some popular and complex websites, the Vaio FE 14.1 lasted for 7.25 hours, which is slightly less than the eight hours or so we like to see on this test. It managed 12 hours in our video test that loops a 1080p movie trailer, which is around average. And it managed 9.5 hours in the PCMark 10 Applications battery test, which is the best indication of light productivity battery life. That’s about half an hour less than average. The Acer Swift 3 lasted slightly longer in each test, while the HP Pavilion Plus 14 with its 45-watt CPU and OLED display did much worse.

Overall, I’d rate the Vaio FE 14.1’s battery life as close enough to average. It should last most of a full day of productivity work if it’s not too demanding. I’ll note that the laptop ships with a proprietary power connector, which is another throwback — every other 14-inch laptop I’ve reviewed lately has used a USB-C charger. The Vaio will charge via its single USB-C port, but of course, that limits its connectivity. I’d rather have a second USB-C port than a proprietary charger, though.

Web browsing Video PCMark 10
Applications
Vaio FE 14.1
(Core i7-1255U)
7 hours, 14 minutes 11 hours, 57 minutes 9 hours, 32 minutes
Lenovo Yoga 7i Gen 7
(Core i7-1255U)
7 hours, 7 minutes 13 hours, 53 minutes 10 hours, 41 minutes
Dell Inspiron 14 2-in-1
(Core i7-1255U)
6 hours, 42 minutes 10 hours, 6 minutes 8 hours, 43 minutes
Acer Swift 3 2022
(Core i7-1260P)
8 hours, 2 minutes 14 hours, 10 minutes 10 hours, 1 minute
HP Pavilion Plus 14
(Core i7-12700H)
4 hours, 29 minutes 7 hours, 29 minutes 5 hours, 48 minutes
 Asus Zenbook S 13 OLED
(Ryzen 7 6800U)
8 hours, 4 minutes 13 hours, 13 minutes N/A

Our take

The Vaio FE 14.1 is an old-school laptop in several ways and seems a couple of years behind the curve. The 14-inch laptop market has been particularly strong lately; unfortunately, the Vaio has little to recommend it among such a competitive group.

Performance was slower than it should be, the display was disappointing, and the tiny touchpad was a letdown. Vaio will need to bring more if it wants to compete.

Are there any alternatives?

The Acer Swift 3 is a strong competitor, coming in at just $80 more than the Vaio with faster performance, a much better display, and better battery life. The build quality is also sturdier, making the Swift 3 a more attractive machine.

The HP Pavilion Plus 14 is another solid option, costing $50 more for a machine with better performance, a spectacular 2.8K OLED display running at 90Hz, and a rock-solid build. Its one weakness is poor battery life.

Finally, you could choose the Apple MacBook Air M1. It’s a slightly more expensive laptop, but its performance, battery life, display, and build quality blow the Vaio FE 14.1 out of the water.

How long will it last?

The Vaio FE 14.1 suffers from some bending and flexing, but it’s still built well enough that it should last for several years with reasonable care. Its components are up to date except for no Thunderbolt 4 support, which limits its expandability. The industry-standard one-year warranty is fine at this price point.

Should you buy it?

No. The Vaio FE 14.1 is too slow and has too many old-school attributes to justify its price, especially against such intense competition.

Editors' Recommendations