Sony Vaio T ultrabook offers Windows 8, touchscreen at a nice price — TECH TIME REVIEW
Windows 8 is the new system from Microsoft that is starting to make its way to all sorts of new devices.
And touchscreen computing is becoming more and more popular these days.
Combine all that, and you’ve got the machine that I recently tested from Sony, the Sony VAIO T Series 13 Ultrabook.
I got the chance to try out a brand new model of the T13 with the new Windows 8 OS and touchscreen capability, and it’s no exaggeration to say that this is a whole new era of computing that looks and feels a whole lot different that what you’re used to..
I’ll fill you in on all the details of the Vaio T13, and give you a quick rundown of the Windows 8 experience in the process.
A glance at the Vaio T13 reveals a classy, silver look (“silver mist” to be exact), which is offset by a black keyboard and a black border around the screen. This is the only color combo offered on this model.
The shell is made out of brushed aluminum, and the materials are very sturdy and built to last.
In terms of size, overall dimensions are: 12.72 inches wide, 0.71 inches thick () and 8.90 deep.
Weight on the nontouch version is 3.54 lbs, but the touchscreen model is heavier at 3.7 pounds due to the extra display that allows for touch. This is a decent weight, but not as light as some other ultrabooks.
Sony also offers another model in the Vaio T line -- the T14 -- but that’s only available in a nontouch version. It does have an optical disc drive, which the T13 does not.
The touchscreen is available on the T13 for a $100 premium, and is optional.
It was very responsive on the model I tested and is a very good fit with the new Windows 8 operating system, which is designed with touchscreens in mind.
David McFarland, product manager for VAIO, said he believes this is a cost many folks will be willing to pay, especially since touch is the way of the future and this is one part of the machine that can’t be upgraded after purchase..
“If they are intrigued about Windows 8 and touch, $100 is a good price because it’s a good way to future-proof that product,” McFarland said. “Windows 8 really gravitates to the touch element. We hope consumers lean toward touch embracement of windows 8. Display is not upgradable like RAM or storage.”
One thing about the touchscreen that’s interesting is that it’s a “10-point capacitive touchscreen”. This means that it can recognize up to 10 fingers or touch points at the same time, which can come in handy when you’re doing things like manipulating the globe in Google Earth.
In short, with the touchscreen feature on the T13, all the stuff you’re used to doing on your smartphone with your fingers can now be done on your laptop via touch, including pinch-to-zoom.
Some programs on the touch models are aimed at touch use. Something called ArtRage Studio, for example, allows users of the Vaio T13 touch model to produce artwork on the computer.
The computer’s trackpad is just the right size and quite responsive. Unlike some other trackpads, there are no buttons to tap when you want to click on something, it’s just flat and smooth.
When you want to click on something, just tap the lower portion of the trackpad. It takes some getting used to if you’re familiar with the button option, but it’s equally easy to use and looks better design-wise.
Through the trackpad, you can pinch-to-zoom, and a neat feature is VAIO Gesture Controls..
This allows the user to make hand gestures in front of the Webcam to complete various actions -- such as skipping songs, turn pages, or control the volume on programs like PowerPoint and Windows Media Player.
Before I get into this, let me say that you really have to experience Windows 8 to fully understand it, but I’ll give you a quick tutorial.
This is by far the most radical update Microsoft has made to the Windows OS in a long long time. The difference begins right off the bat at your “Start screen”, which features tiles showing off all the various programs and areas of your computer you might access (photos, calendar, mail, weather, Skype, etc.).
If you’re ever seen a Windows Phone and how the tiles are organized there, this is very similar.
In the touch version of a Windows 8 machine, you can scroll around with your finger and tap the tile you want to access. In the nontouch version, you’ll have to use your trackpad to get where you want to go. The tiles are all very easy to move around if you want to give your home page a new look, and if you want a more traditional approach to using your computer, just click the tile called “Desktop” and a more familiar looking setup will appear.
You’ll have to learn all new locations of buttons, new ways to shut down the machine, etc., but once you learn it the hard part is over and you can enjoy all the new OS has to offer.
Side note: If you are upgrading your current computer to Windows 8, i would recommend being safe and backing up all the data you have, just in case something goes wrong, so you don’t lose any of your music, documents, etc.
So will people like Windows 8? Well, at first, everything that’s new is going to be a struggle for people to adapt to. There are bugs to be worked out on every new system that is released. But after some time using Windows 8 I found it to be a helpful upgrade that people should embrace after an initial period of dislike (we’re creatures of habit, and change isn’t something we really don’t like most of the time.)
The VAIO T13 is offered with either Genuine Windows 8 or Windows 8 Professional, depending whether your focus is business or personal use.
McFarland said that one helpful feature on the Windows 8 system is the portability and synchronicity of it -- meaning you can access all your information on various computers just by logging in, kind of how Android smartphones work universally.
“You have a master account,” he explained. “Windows 8 does that now. If I went to my friend’s house, I can log in with my user ID and it will sync to my master account. They’ll use the same mirroring technology based on the login profile you set up. Even if you’re just using the game features with Xbox, your profile becomes that single profile for wherever you have to access it.
You log in to your account and it populates your Start page and lets you access your Skydrive account.”
So in a real life situation, you can be at a friend’s house, log in to your account on his computer, and the machine will look just like yours at home. Once you log out, your friend can log back in and his stuff will return. As you go from PC to PC with Windows 8, you have that same experience.
Sony embracing touch
McFarland said that touch will continue to be a large part of Sony’s VAIO laptop lineup into the future, and already is, with a handful of models offering it that are aimed at different segments of the market.
“If you want VAIO but don’ t want ultrabook (want full-powered GPU or clamshell, or optical drive instead ... or if you want a traditional all-in-one with touch, we have that,” he explained. “We’ve launched the TAP 20; a mobile all-in-one that can move from room to room, or can lay full flat on table, and also has touch integration. It’s designed for multiusers touching at one time.
Another new one is the Duo 11, a hybrid tablet/PC with touch.”
“Yeah, we’ll be pushing touch 100 percent as we move forward,” he emphasized.
Who’s buying ultrabooks?
Ultrabooks -- the code word for laptops that are slim, light and portable -- are a key segment these days because people are so much on the go, for work or play, these days. McFarland said a lot of the people in the ultrabook market are students, and others are “early adopters” of new technology.
The machine I tested featured a 13.3 inch screen with a display resolution of 1366 x 768. This is decent and good enough to play 720p HD content without delays, but not full 1080p HD, and you have no option to upgrade to full HD.
The screen is still pretty clear and bright, and an LED backlight helps it remain bright but still preserve battery life.
Most people should be satisfied with the specs on the T13, but for those who aren’t, Sony has other offerings that do fit the bill (The E Series 14P features a higher resolution screen and a backlit keyboard (another thing that I would have liked to see on the T13, but was not there).
The T13 features an HD Webcam that features 720P HD quality and a built-in microphone. I used this often to make calls overseas via Skype, and it looked great.
McFarland said that with the Vaio T13, Sony aimed for “full port connectivity” and it offers more options than some of the other ultrabooks on the market.
You get 2 USB ports (1 USB 2.0, and 1 USB 3.0 for faster data transfer), an HDMI port, a VGA port, a memory stick/SD card reader; and an Ethernet port.
“We didn’t want to achieve the world’s thinnest or lightest and leave things out,” McFarland said. “Overall design and user experience is more important.”
The HDMI port can be especially helpful, allowing you to use and HDMI cable to share your images from the machine on your HDTV.
This is a feature that helps maintain battery life. Every time you close the lid of the T13, it goes automatically into sleep mode, so battery isn’t being wasted. Then, as soon as you open the machine up, within a couple seconds it’s right where you left it.
There’s plenty of storage offered on the T13, and it’s in a curious package that’s aimed at keeping the cost down.
You get a hybrid hard drive featuring both a regular 500GB spindle hard drive and a 32GB MLC (multi-layer cache) drive. The MLC drive functions like a solid state drive (no spinning mechanisms) and works together with the spindle hard drive.
The alternative to this hybrid hard drive is to choose a solid-state drive, in either 128, 256 or 512GB sizes. Many folks go to SSD drives due to the better overall performance and speed of accessing your files and booting up, but they are more costly.
The numbers on processor and memory can all be configured.
Intel processors (i3-3217U, i5-3317U, i7-3517U) are offered, and my experience with the i5 version was that it performed very well. The machine was very fast (though not the fastest I’ve experienced), even if I had a lot going on in terms of multitasking.
RAM options are 4GB, 6GB, and 8GB. (4GB is enough to fit most people’s needs.)
If you push this thing too hard with activities like video editing or video game play, for example, it might start to slow down on you, but for most daily activities people do it shouldn’t pose any problems.
Usually, I find that battery life claims don’t end up being a reality. But in this case, it was pretty true to what was claimed. Sony claims 5.5 hours of battery life on the VAIO T13, and in my time with the machine, I got over the five hour mark most of the time, so I’ll say it’s accurate this time.
That’s a pretty impressive number, but not quite as impressive as some of its ultrabook rivals.
Every company brings their own technologies into their products, and Sony is no exception.
The T13’s speakers use Sony’s audio technology very well, providing some excellent sound compared to other laptops.
The base price for a Vaio T13 is $699 for a nontouch model, and $799 Touch. The touch version I used had some upgrades and was closer to $1,000.
The Sony Vaio T Series 13 Ultrabook is just one of many ultrabooks on the market right now..
But its classy looks, full bevy of ports and strong performance make it one of the best options out there if you’re considering an ultrabook purchase. If you’re considering an ultrabook, I’d definitely recommend giving this a test run if possible to see if it’s to your liking -- because it probably will be.
Some small things bothered me (no backlit keyboard, no full-HD resolution), but it’s still got an impressive package and I would recommend the touchscreen option too, especially since touch works so well with Windows 8.
The starting price of the T13 is lower than many of its competitors in the ultrabook market, giving it a bit of a leg up to start with, too.
Matt Myftiu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 248-745-4617. Follow him on Twitter @MattMyftiu or become a fan of the Facebook page “OPTechTime”