Sony Vaio SE (15.5 inch) Review

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.
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.
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.

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

The market for 15.6-inch laptops is dominated by big, inexpensive machines. They’re thick, they’re available for between $400 and $800, and most unattractive. Still, consumers buy them more frequently than any other type of laptop because they’re affordable and powerful. Even portability is no longer hopeless, as many inexpensive 15.6-inch laptops can offer four hours of life or more.

Not every consumer wants an inexpensive laptop, however. Apple offers the MacBook Pro 17-inch for a reason. Mobile power users are a niche, but they’re out there, and they’re more demanding than any other group besides gamers.

Sony’s entry into this group of elite laptops is the Sony VAIO SE, a slim-and-sexy 15.5-inch model equipped with a Core i5 processor, 6GB of RAM and a Radeon HD 6630M. These are a well-rounded set of specifications that suggest gaming and productivity will be possible in equal measure.

The base model of the Sony Vaio S 15.5-inch is priced at $999 on Sony’s website (and is only $929 at Newegg). Our review unit, which has a Blu-ray player in addition to the hardware listed above, is priced at $1329.99. That’s a heck of a lot money. Is the Sony worth it?

Design

We’ve reviewed the 13.3-inch Sony S series previously, and the 15.5-inch model is essentially a larger version with all of the same design traits. Just like its little brother, the larger model has an interior coated in colored metal (dark black on our review unit, but others are available) which feels pleasant to the touch. The finish is matte, providing a subdued and refined character. We think this larger model looks better, however, because there’s simply more material here. The feel is spacious and comfortable.

sony-vaio-se-review-black-lid-angle

The rest of the laptop is made of plastic which lacks the luxury feel of the interior, but feels durable. Most of the corners of the laptop are rounded and smooth, and gaps between materials are both few and tight. A slim chassis with a large display usually results in some flex when roughly handled, but no such weaknesses are on display here.

Unfortunately, one major weakness we found on the 13.3-inch model has made the transition, and that’s the display lid. It is about a sixth of an inch thick, and there simply isn’t enough material to give a sturdy feel. We don’t believe this to be a durability concern because we did press on the middle of the lid to see if that resulted in any disruption in the LCD. There was none. However, this is a high-end luxury laptop, and a flexible lid doesn’t fit the part.

User interface

The backlit keyboard on the Sony Vaio SE is integrated into the chassis, enhancing the laptop’s feel of refinement and luxury. Keys are large and flat, but significant separation between them makes keeping track of your fingertips easy while touch-typing. A numpad is included, and unlike those found on many other laptops of similar size, this one has full-size keys. That’s a common advantage of Sony laptop keyboards.

Backlight quality is good, with even lighting across all keys, but there is no function key that turns the backlight on or off. Instead, it appears to work via automatic light detection. The good news is that this feature works shockingly well, so you won’t mind having the laptop handle it.

sony-vaio-se-review-black-keyboard

There is, however, a physical switch for the discrete graphics solution located just above the keyboard. Sony has offered this before on several different Sony laptops, with mixed results. In this case it’s a good solution. ATI’s switchable graphics software doesn’t work as well as smoothly as Nvidia’s when left to its own devices.

Acres of touchpad space are available. We would like to see a different texture than the simple plastic used, but it works well enough. Two large, individual mouse buttons are below it and offer sufficient travel. Our only complaint is the poor default multi-touch support, which doesn’t work like other laptops (two-finger scroll moves in leaps, rather than a smooth motion) and has confusing custom settings.

Display and audio quality

Display resolution instantly separates this laptop from the crowd. It’s 1080p, which is unusual for any laptop with a display size under 17.3-inch inches. Better still, it’s an amazing 1080p display. Black levels are its greatest weakness, but even those are a little better than average. This is made up for by excellent white saturation, great contrast, good gradient banding performance, and high backlight brightness. Even most TN-panel desktop monitors are inferior.

While the display is gloss, it’s not what I would consider high-gloss. Reflections are apparent in bright sunlit rooms, but they’re blunted and blurred, which makes them less distracting than the mirror-like reflections found on most gloss displays.

sony-vaio-se-review-black-screen-desktop

Let’s be clear: This is one of the best displays we’ve ever experienced, and it’s the laptop’s greatest strength. Should media quality be important to you, and you’re looking for a high-end desktop replacement, you should immediately place this laptop on your short list regardless of what we say in the rest of this review. It’s that good.

Audio quality can’t live up to the promise of the display. Maximum volume is decent, but there’s no bass available, which causes almost all audio to fall flat. You’ll need to buy a pair of external speakers for real audio enjoyment. Then again, that’s true for almost any laptop.

Cooling

Thinness can sometimes be an issue where cooling is concerned, particularly with a laptop that has a powerful processor and discrete graphics solution. The Sony Vaio is of two natures in this regard. At idle, it is rather easy to use, showing only some noticeable heating along the underside and very little along the interior. Long-term typing is comfortable thanks not only to the great keyboard but also to the large, cool palmrests. No sweaty palms here!

At load, however, the chassis can become a bit hot. Hot air exhausts out of the rear of the laptop, which is an excellent choice — it keeps that air away from the user. Yet it sometimes has trouble keeping up with the laptop when gaming, which results in noticeable and uncomfortable heat generation along both the bottom and the interior, particularly the lower right-side palmrest. Such a situation is hard to avoid in discrete gaming laptops, but always notable, as some users mind it more than others.

Fan speed at idle is extremely quiet, but load is a different story. The noise is not only loud, but also inconsistent, as the fan has an annoying tendency to pulse between two different fan speeds. Even gaming laptops are often quieter.

Computing

Laptop displays are notorious for draining batteries. Intel may have a solution

Intel has leveraged smartphone display technology and a handful of other innovations to create Low Power Display Technology (LPDT) panels that cut display power use in half.
Computing

HP spring sale: Save up to 58 percent on laptops, desktops, printers, and more

From now until March 23, the HP spring sale lets you take as much as 58 percent off of a huge range of laptops, desktop PCs, printers, and more, potentially saving you more than $1,000. We’ve rounded up a dozen of the best deals right…
Computing

Is 14 inches the perfect size for a laptop? These 4 laptops might convince you

If you're looking for the best 14-inch laptops, there are a number of factors to consider. You want good battery life, an attractive screen, solid performance, and a good build. Our favorites that do all that and more.
Deals

From Chromebooks to MacBooks, here are the best laptop deals for March 2019

Whether you need a new laptop for school or work or you're just doing some post-holiday shopping, we've got you covered: These are the best laptop deals going right now, from discounted MacBooks to on-the-go gaming PCs.
Photography

Paper designs digitize in real time using an Illustrator-connected paper tablet

Love graphic design, but prefer the feel of real paper? The new Moleskine Paper Tablet - Creative Cloud Connected syncs with Adobe Illustrator in real time, turning paper sketches into digital drawings.
Computing

Make the most of your toner with our five favorite color laser printers

Color laser printers have improved dramatically over the years, and today's models offer both blazing print speeds and great image quality. Here are our favorite color laser printers, from massive all-in-ones to smaller budget options.
Product Review

4K and 144Hz? Yup, the Acer Predator XB3 will max out your gaming PC

The Predator XB3 isn’t for the faint of heart. But if you have a system that can push over 100 frames per second in 4K screen resolution, this monster of a monitor might be the perfect match for your overpowered gaming rig.
Computing

Firefox 66 is here and it will soon block irritating autoplay videos

Do web advertisements have you frustrated? Mozilla is here to help. The latest version of the browser will soon block autoplaying videos by default and will also help make web page scrolling smoother.
Computing

USB4 will be the fastest and most uniform USB standard yet

USB4 is on the horizon and alongside a massive boost in speed it's also unifying with the Thunderbolt 3 standard to help finally create a singular wired connection protocol that all devices can enjoy.
Computing

The U.S. government plans to drop $500M on a ridiculously powerful supercomputer

The U.S. Department of Energy has announced plans to build a $500 million exascale supercomputer by 2021. The project, known as the Aurora supercomputer, is expected to boost research efforts in fields such as public health.
Buying Guides

Apple has powered up its iMac lineup, but which one should you opt for?

With new processors and graphics cards for both the 4K and 5K models, the iMac feels like a good option for creatives again. But which should you buy? Here's our guide to choosing the right Apple all-in-one for your needs.
Computing

Yes, Apple’s new iMacs look great, but they do have one glaring problem

With processors ranging up to the eight-core Core i9, the 2019 iMac update looks like a pretty solid upgrade to Apple's classic all-in-one. But hidden in the details of the product page, there's one outdated component Apple is holding onto.
Computing

Grab 1 terabyte of SSD storage for just $100 with this sale on Amazon

If you're looking for an excellent opportunity to pick up a 1TB SSD at a low price, Amazon has you covered with Samsung's 860 QVO 1TB 2.5-inch SATA III Internal SSD. It is an excellent offering for both multimedia enthusiasts and gamers.
Computing

The iMac finally got updated, but how does it compare to the Mac mini?

Apple announced a long-awaited update to the Mac mini. Thanks to the updated specs and increase in price, it's begun to creep up to the base model iMac. In this guide, we now put up the specs on the newest refreshed Mac mini against the…