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July 11, 2011

Hands-on with Sony’s VAIO SA premium ultrathin

A few days ago I got a brand new VAIO SA, Sony’s newest premium ultrathin. I’ve been using a loaded-up VAIO SB for a while (see my commentary on why I love it here, and video of it rocking Windows Live Mesh here), so was eager to try out the new version, which Sony boasts as thinner, lighter, and faster – all of which are very good things for a portable laptop!


My VAIO SA has a second-generation Intel Core i5 processor, switchable AMD graphics, 4GB of RAM and a 500GB 5400rpm hard drive. You can get one like mine for around $1350, and there are models available with up to a full terabyte (yes, you read that right) of SSD storage, 8GB of RAM, Blu-Ray burners and built-in mobile broadband that cost several thousand dollars.

Look and Feel

Both the VAIO SB and VAIO SA have the same basic design aesthetic – slim, modern, and refined. The SA is a few ounces lighter and about 1-2mm thinner, but that slimming makes a big difference when you pick it up; the SA just feels more portable in your hand. Compared to the mainstream Y and E series it’s noticeably more modern and sleek and sports a much more cohesive design than Sony’s last-generation premium laptop, the VAIO Z.


Balance is perfect and the lid easily opens with one hand, which if you’re a reader of the blog you know is a big deal to me. It just makes me happy to see the days of the poorly balanced, two-hands-to-open laptop come to an end! Inside Sony’s industrial design is as well-planned as the chassis. The keyboard has a soft feel that makes long-haul typing comfortable and its auto-backlit to ensure easy typing in dark conditions. The SA’s trackpad is multi-touch, and although it lacks two-finger scrolling, it does have a full complement of multi-touch gestures like pinch-to-zoom, and rotate. Like the keyboard it’s soft to the touch so there’s no finger fatigue, and it comes equipped with two click-friendly buttons. In the age of sometimes awkward clickpads, it’s nice to see Sony choosing to focus on function.


The display is one area where the SA separates itself from the SB. It’s a beautiful semi-matte (great for working in bright conditions) 1600 x 900 HD+ panel vs. the usual 1366 x 768 standard HD resolution, which means tighter graphics and more screen real-estate. That’s key if you’re using your PC for real work and have lots of windows open, but also a nice-to-have when watching movies, too.



Like the SB, the SA is extremely fast. This model has a Core i5 and 4GB of RAM, but as I noted earlier you’re able to push that to a high-end Core i7 with a terabyte of SSD storage and 8GB of RAM, which is an absolutely crazy amount of power for a 13” laptop. Let’s just say you won’t have any problems running Office with this thing!

Fundamentals were good, especially the sleep and resume time.

  • Startup (cold boot to desktop): 58 seconds
  • Shut down (No apps open, button press to power off): 13 seconds
  • Sleep (lid close to power off): 10 seconds
  • Wake (lid open to desktop): 1 second

And with a Sandybridge (i.e., second-gen) Intel Core i5 and AMD Radeon 6630 graphics, it has a really impressive WEI score…which unfortunately I can’t show you because the flash drive I had it saved on failed, and the PC is now off at an event.  (Sorry!)


While I didn’t get to fully test battery life Sony says that it’s in line with the SB – about 7 hours using the built-in battery, and up to 15 hours if you add the extra “sheet battery” that clips to the SA’s underside. I’ve used the SB under real world conditions for weeks and put it to the test when I recently flew from Seattle to Lisbon. I was able to use the PC most of the way across the Atlantic, catch up on mail on my 3 hour layover in Heathrow, fly to Portugal, and still have enough juice to check my mail without plugging in when I got to the hotel room. That’s really impressive stuff and to me it’s one of the SA (and SB’s) biggest advantages over other PCs – it really does give you all-day computing.


Final Thoughts

The VAIO SA is a very capable, very beautiful high-end ultrathin. It has all of the power you need for a day at the office, and all of the style you need to impress your clients and friends. Sure, it has a higher-than-average price point (the VAIO SA starts at $1349 and a fully-loaded version will run you over $5000), but like I always say…you get what you pay for.

Have a question about this or any other PCs? Post a comment, hit me on Twitter, or Ask Ben Anything via email!