Vaio SX14 full review

The Vaio brand used to be one of the biggest laptop names around before Sony unexpectedly exited the market in 2014. That wasn't the end for Vaio, though. The business was sold to a Japanese company, and Vaio machines have been sold in Japan ever since – alongside occasional forays into Brazil and America.

It's taken until now for Vaio to make a European comeback. The firm is diving back into public consciousness with a new laptop, the SX14, which has plenty of expectation on its shoulders – despite a weight of just a kilogram.

Price & Availability

The are numerous Vaio SX14 models available, and at the moment there's not much in the way of options other than purchasing directly from Vaio. In the US, you'll find the laptop on Amazon and in the UK it's available from Scan.

The cheapest version costs £1,699 and includes a Core i5 CPU with a 256GB SSD, 8GB of memory and a 1080p screen. It’s not possible to buy the Core i5 model with a 4K screen. Oddly, this same model in the US is just $1,299 which is much better value and is $999 via the above Amazon link at the time of writing.

If you want the model reviewed here, with a Core i7 CPU and the same 1080p screen, it’ll cost £2,149. And, if you want to upgrade that machine to 4K, it’ll be £2,249. In the US, the models are different with a total of four skus to choose from, not including colours, with the SSD going to 1TB at $2,199, although an extra $100 if you want the shiny red colour.

Both machines are available in brown, black and silver, and all models have a two-year collect-and-return warranty. The red model seems exclusive to the US market.

The Dell XPS 13 and Huawei MateBook X Pro (2018) are the Vaio’s key competitors – and they’re both cheaper. If you want to replicate the Vaio’s specification in a Dell XPS 13, it’ll cost £1,549 with a Full HD screen or £1,649 with a 4K panel. The Huawei comes in at £1,499. Then there's the Asus ZenBook 14 which is just £1,199.

Check out our chart of the best laptops you can buy.

Design & Build

Vaio laptops always looked good, and the SX14 is no exception. The model we've reviewed uses Vaio’s copper brown finish, and it's got subtle, minimal design throughout – so it'll fit into the most stylish of offices. The power button is a tiny slot of light, and the Vaio logo on the lid is smart.

Closer examination reveals interesting design touches. The lid of the laptop is larger than the base, for instance. That provides a lip at the front that makes it easier to open. And, when the device is open, the rear section of the screen extends downwards, which elevates the back half of the machine. This pitches the keyboard forward a little, improving the typing position.

Vaio SX14 design

It's smart, satisfying design, and the Vaio continues to impress. Most of the base and lid are made from carbon-fibre, with aluminium used for the wrist-rest. The reliance on carbon-fibre means that the Vaio only tips the scales at 1.01kg, and it’s 17.8mm thin at the thickest point.

That weight is impressive, even when compared to more established rivals. The Dell XPS 13 comes in at 1.23kg, and the Huawei Matebook X Pro sits at 1.33kg.

The lighter weight undoubtedly looks good on the spec sheet, but in reality it’s a few hundred grams of difference – not a life-changing amount. Similarly, the Vaio’s thickness of 17.8mm is a couple of millimetres more than both of those rivals, but there’s not much in it.

The Vaio's tiny weight means it feels disarmingly light – almost like it's hollow, and that it would be easy to break.

However, hands-on testing reveals robust build quality. There's hardly any give in the carbon-fibre and aluminium base. The screen flexes a little, but that's to be expected, and the material never feels flimsy.

Vaio SX14 build quality

We'd still store the Vaio in a sleeve when taking it out of the house, but we'd do that for any expensive, lightweight laptop – if only to preserve the finish. But we have no concerns about the SX14 being strong enough to survive life on the road.

Keyboard & Trackpad

The Vaio is a slim laptop, which means the inevitable chiclet keyboard. It has a reasonable amount of travel considering the dimensions, and the buttons are light, fast and consistent. The Vaio’s design also helps by pitching the keyboard towards the user as mentioned above.

Those attributes make for a satisfying typing experience, and we certainly had no problems getting up to speed. You can get used to most keyboards after a while.

There’s a tad more travel here than on the Dell XPS 13, but there’s very little in it – both keyboards are fast, shallow and satisfying. We prefer them both to the Huawei Matebook, which feels a little clunkier.

Vaio SX14 trackpad

The Vaio's keys are certainly large enough, and their secondary functions are illustrated clearly. However, the keyboard does have inconsistencies. The return-key is an awkward single-height button, and there's no numberpad. The cursor keys are small, and the backlight can't be manually turned on or off, which is unusual.

The trackpad is inconsistent. Its surface is responsive and has full gesture support, but it's tiny – far smaller than the pads on rival machines. That makes it tricky to use, especially with gestures.

The two discreet buttons are light and easy to use, but they take further space away from the trackpad – and they're just not as slick as the built-in buttons included on other machines.

The trackpad is usable, but its tiny size means that it's not quite as intuitive as the hardware on other devices.

Screen

The SX14 is available with 1080p or 4K IPS screens, with prices varying accordingly (see above). Happily, both versions of the screen have a matte finish. They're 14in in size, as the model name suggests.

Our sample comes with the 1080p screen, which is ample for most work – you're only going to need the increased resolution if you want to play 4K media or need extra real estate for multiple windows.

The panel’s brightness measurement of 310cd/m2 is ample, and the black level of 0.29cd/m2 is decent. The former result means that the screen remains punchy and visible outdoors and under bright lights, and the latter figure ensures darker areas have good levels of depth.

Those initial results create a contrast ratio of 1,068:1. That’s good: high enough to deliver plenty of vibrancy. It’s easily enough to make films, photos and games look as their makers intended.

The SX14’s colours are more ordinary. The temperature of 6,890K and the Delta E of 2.96 are fine, but neither are excellent. They preclude the SX14 from being used for colour-sensitive work. The sRGB coverage of 84.9% is only mediocre, too.

Vaio SX14

Happily, the Vaio’s screen is easily good enough for less-intensive work and for day-to-day computing thanks to the solid colours and contrast. This screen might not be good enough for professional work, but it has no major flaws.

The Vaio’s screen is certainly as good as the Dell’s panel, and it matches the Huawei for quality too – even if the latter has crisper images thanks to its 3000 x 2000 resolution.

Specs & Performance

Two different SX14 specifications are available in the UK. The model we've reviewed is the beefier of the two. It deploys a Core i7-8565U processor, which is a low-power model that uses Intel's Whiskey Lake architecture.

It's got four cores with Hyper-Threading, which bodes well for day-to-day work and multi-tasking, but its low-power designation means that it doesn't have the grunt to do anything more demanding. It runs at 1.8GHz, with a Turbo peak of 4.6GHz.

The Core i7 CPU is paired with 16GB of memory, a 512GB SSD and Intel's integrated graphics chipset.

The cheaper Vaio models are available with the Core i5-8265U. It's got the same core count and architecture as the Core i7 chip, but lesser stock and Turbo speeds – it runs at 1.6GHz and 3.9GHz. The cheaper model also has 8GB of memory and a 256GB SSD alongside the same integrated graphics.

As mentioned in the price section, the skus on offer in the US are a little different. With the i7 model coming with 256GB of 1TB SSD options.

When plugged in, the SX14 uses its Performance mode as standard. In this mode the Vaio delivered a Geekbench score of 14,397 and a PC Mark 10 result of 3,984. That’s near-identical to the Dell, which had the same components.

However, the Huawei scored 17,160 in the Geekbench multi-core test – no surprise when that machine augments the same components with an Nvidia GeForce MX150 GPU.

The Vaio scored 4,651 in the 3D Mark Sky Diver test. That’s on the same level as the Dell, but about half the pace of the Huawei. Below you can see the scores, also with the Asus ZenBook 14 and MacBook Air where possible.

Dropping the Vaio down to its Standard mode didn’t make much difference to CPU speed – its Geekbench score dropped to 14,337. The GPU speed is clearly reigned in more here: in Standard mode the Sky Diver result declined to 4,230.

In Silence mode, the Vaio’s Geekbench result dropped to 13,225 but its Sky Diver result was revised to 3,464.

Those declines drop the Vaio further behind the Huawei, but they don’t have a huge impact on day-to-day performance. Office applications and web browsers will run easily in any mode. And, no matter which mode you pick, games and media-editing tools will never run well on this machine.

The different modes have more impact on thermal performance. In Silence mode, no matter what we did, the Vaio lived up to that mantle. In the Standard mode, the laptop could only be heard with an ear against the chassis – a pleasing result given that this mode offers enough performance.

Fan noise was noticeable in Performance mode, but it was still reasonably quiet, and the modest speed changes between the different modes mean that this option won’t need to be used all that often.

The temperatures were fine in all of those modes, and the Vaio’s exterior never became too hot.

Connectivity & Audio

The Vaio is slim, light and looks good. On top of that, you get more port versatility than almost any rival.

On the right-hand side the Vaio serves up a full-size USB 3.1 Gen 2 port and a USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C connector. On this side you'll also find an HDMI output, a Gigabit Ethernet connector and even a VGA port. Those two latter connectors are rarer than ever, but important for business – where wired internet connections are still used, and projectors often require VGA. The right-hand side also has a full-size SD card slot.

On the left-hand side you'll find two full-size USB 3.0 ports alongside an audio jack so this laptop bucks the modern trend of needing a dongle.

Vaio SX14 ports

The Dell XPS 13 has Thunderbolt and USB 3.1 Type-C, but no full-size USB ports, no HDMI output and only a microSD card slot. If you want the Vaio’s versatility on that machine, you’re going to be surrounded by dongles.

The Huawei Matebook has Thunderbolt too, but it only has one full-size USB port and no card reader or HDMI.

The Vaio has more versatility here, but the port selection is not flawless. The Type-C port can be used for charging, but it's not quick. And, while the two USB ports on the right-hand side of the machine sit alongside the Thunderbolt symbol, neither of them actually support this standard.

On the inside dual-band wireless and Bluetooth 4.1 – and a rare microSIM slot should you want mobile data like your phone.

The speakers are bad. They’re not hugely loud, and they have no bass. The high-end is tinny, and the treble is flat. We’d always use headphones.

Battery life

This is a significant area where the Vaio falls behind the competition. The Vaio’s power pack is a 38Wh unit. The Dell has a 60Wh battery, and the Huawei’s power pack sits at 57.4Wh.

In our video playback test with the screen at 120cd/m2 the Vaio lasted for 9 hours and 36 minutes. That’s almost two hours behind the Dell, and miles behind the Huawei’s fourteen hours.

That's still a good result considering the weight of this laptop, though. You’ll certainly get a full day of use out of the Vaio if you’re careful with the screen brightness and don’t push the components hard, but it can’t match its competitors and will struggle to make it through a day if you want to ramp the screen right up if that's important to you.

Verdict

The Vaio SX14 shows promise, but inconsistencies throughout mean that this old brand doesn’t make an entirely successful return to the laptop market.

It looks good and has impressive build quality, and it weighs less than its rivals. The keyboard is solid, screen quality is decent, and there’s enough power to handle day-to-day computing and work. It’s cool and quiet, too, and has loads of ports.

However, the Vaio isn’t as quick as the Huawei and its discreet GPU, and its battery life is a little behind. The trackpad is tricky, and the speakers are poor. The SX14 is also more expensive than either rival.

If you need a lightweight machine with a good keyboard and loads of ports, then the VIAO may justify its cost – but for most people the Dell and Huawei machines will be better and more affordable all-rounders.

Specs

Vaio SX14: Specs

  • OS: Windows 10 Pro
  • Processor: Intel Core i5-8265U or i7-8565U
  • Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620
  • Memory: 8/16GB LPDDR3
  • Screen: 14in, 1,920 x 1,080 IPS or 4K
  • Storage: 256/512GB/1TB SSD
  • Ports: 1 x USB 3.1 Gen 2, 1 x USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C, 2 x USB 3.0, HDMI, VGA, 1 x audio, Gigabit Ethernet, SD card reader
  • Connectivity: Dual-band 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1
  • Dimensions: 320 x 223 x 15-17.8mm
  • Weight: 1.01kg