Update: December 14, 2013
I’ve exchanged my defective unit for a new one from Sony. You can read about my experience with the new one on this new post: Sony VAIO Ultrabook Pro Problems Revisited.
Update: October 12, 2013
I’ve been calling Sony tech support every few days for the past week and a half. I have now spent three hours online with four different tech support representatives. My third call with a tier 2 person did help with some of my problems but did nothing to help with the screen brightness control problem (inability to adjust screen brightness after waking from sleep). So, I called back for a fourth time. At first, the tech started to have me look at the settings in the VAIO Control Center but I reminded her that I had already spoken with three other people who tried all that stuff to no avail. After a time on hold she returned with two suggestions. First, she recommends a factory restore of the SSD to (hopefully) help with the screen brightness problem. Second, she is sending an external wifi adapter.
Both of these solutions are less than satisfactory even if they work. For the first problem, I have to back up all my files before the factory reset. Then after the reset, I have to restore all my files and customizations and I have to reinstall all my software including the Adobe Creative Cloud. A quick reminder in case you ever have to do this: be sure to sign out of the Creative Cloud before reinstalling your OS. This will ensure that you don’t have any licensing problems after you reinstall.
Second, I don’t really want to have to carry around an external wifi adapter with my laptop all the time and have an extra device hanging off the USB port. The laptop only has two USB ports and one is used by my mouse or Wacom Intuos tablet. I often need the other for a USB drive or an external hard drive.
At this point, I’m fairly disappointed with my Sony VAIO laptop. Most of its essential features and functionality are very nice and work reliably. But there are several defects which seriously impair its usability. To recap, these problems include the inability to adjust screen brightness after sleeping, trouble connecting to wifi, and random failures to stay in sleep mode which end up draining the battery. These are pretty serious failures and I’ve spent a lot of time trying to solve them. Now, I’m told I need to wipe my hard drive and spend more time reinstalling software and driver updates. And I may end up back at the beginning without the tweaks the tech support reps have made. I may be worse off than I am now.
In fairness, I will say that all of the tech support reps I have spoken with have been courteous, reasonably knowledgeable and have made sincere efforts to help. It’s just that these efforts have resulted in very limited success. Oh, one problem here: the email with factory reset instructions that the last tech support person promised to send never arrived.
Update: Sept. 29, 2013
I’ve been living and working with my VAIO laptop for a couple of months now and would like to add some information on some glitches I’ve been experiencing. Although I’m not really unhappy with the unit overall I have been disappointed with a variety of glitches that occur regularly. These things aren’t always reliably reproducible but they do occur with regularity.
One of these glitches occurred during a talk I recently gave to a group of 100 people and was very embarrassing. I arrived early at the venue and had the laptop set up with PowerPoint in presentation mode. I had my slide notes on the laptop screen and just the pictures in my slideshow visible on the projector. Before my presentation other people were speaking for about 20 minutes. During that time the laptop went to sleep. That would have been fine but when I woke it up I encountered two problems. First, the laptop had switched from the monitor-extend mode to the duplicate-monitor mode. After fiddling with the unit for a couple of minutes in front of the crowd I was able to get that problem fixed. The other problem was that the screen had dimmed so much that it was barely readable. Using the Fn-F6 key as I usually do failed to increase the screen brightness. This meant that I could barely read my presentation notes. Fumbling in front of an audience is the mark of an amateur and not something I want to be known for.
Here’s a list of the flaws and failures I’ve been experiencing regularly:
- After resuming from sleeping wifi often fails to connect; often, the laptop doesn’t even see any networks and a reboot is required
- After sleeping, the screen brightness cannot be adjusted (as described above).
- Sometimes the laptop consumes power while sleeping. There have been numerous occasions where I’ve closed the lid with the battery fully charged. My close-lid setting is the default: enter sleep mode. The next day, when I open it I discover there is only 20% (specific amount varies) of the battery remaining.
- Sometimes it doesn’t turn on when the lid is opened. Even pressing the power button sometimes fails to resume power. I have to hold the power button for about 15 sec. before it finally starts up. When this happens all my apps have been closed and it does a reboot.
- Sometimes the fan runs at top speed when apparently idle. I understand that, in Windows, various background processes come and go without user interaction and sometimes these can require significant system resources. However, I’ve seen instances where the fan runs at top speed for hours when I can’t find any logical explanation in Task Manager
- Two-finger scrolling using the trackpad is difficult to use; seems to be very sensitive, thinks that sometimes you’re clicking instead of scrolling?
- The VAIO Care app takes well over a minute to launch. Always.
It’s very frustrating to have this many problems with a brand new top-of-the line laptop. And when the device makes me look like a fool in front of audience it’s doubly frustrating.
The only good news in all of this is that I found a solution for the last bullet point. I posted about this problem on the Sony Community Forum and one of the other community members pointed me to a driver download. But note that I had checked the Sony VAIO Care app and it had told me that no updates were available.
Original Sony VAIO Pro Review July 28, 2013
I finally decided to retire my five-year-old laptop and replace it with a shiny new Sony VAIO Pro Ultrabook. This is my third VAIO and I almost decided against buying it. I had been contemplating replacing the hard drives in my old laptop with an SSD. That’s what I’ve done with two desktop PCs and the performance boost has been huge. But technical complications together with all the other enhancements that come along with five years of new technology made me decide to get a new laptop.
One of the great things about the new laptop with Windows 8 and an SSD is the startup time which is down to about ten seconds (cold boot)! When coming out of sleep mode it wakes up instantly. Its high-density screen packs the same number of pixels into a 13-inch display as my old 17-inch VAIO screen. And, at 2.3 lbs., it’s a real lightweight.
One of the things I didn’t expect to like as much as I do is the touchscreen. There are times when it’s a lot quicker to simply tap the screen than to maneuver a mouse or use the touchpad. One of those times is when scrolling a long web page, for example. I find that scrolling with the touchpad is awkward. The new VAIO touchpad has left- and right-click buttons built into the pad itself instead of being implemented as separate buttons. So, to left-click you press firmly on the lower left corner of the pad or to right-click you do the same on the lower right corner. Scrolling or resizing a window would be particularly awkward when bumping around in a moving vehicle. This design presents a sleeker appearance but it’s more difficult than dealing with separate physical buttons. Fortunately, there is the touchscreen option and, of course, if you’re using a mouse this isn’t a problem.
So far, I’ve had one serious problem with the new laptop and it concerns wifi connectivity. With my home router I’ve had no real problems with wifi. The only problem I’ve experienced at home is that the wifi sometimes fails to connect after coming out of sleep mode. In one case, I wasn’t even able to fix it by disconnecting and reconnecting. I had to reboot. However, I’ve had serious problems with the wifi at my office. On my first day with the laptop at my office I was able to connect to wifi just fine but couldn’t stay connected for more than a few minutes. Each time the wifi froze up I would manually disconnect and reconnect but it failed to stay connected.
I went online to Sony’s support forum and found that lots of other people were experiencing similar wifi problems. I upgraded all of my drivers including the wifi driver but it didn’t help. About a week later another driver was released, V 126.96.36.199, and that one fixed most of the problems. I still have occasional network glitches but I can work around them.
I also had problems accessing the user manual. In the Windows 8 Metro interface there’s a Sony Support tile which includes a link to a user guide but it didn’t work, saying I wasn’t connected to the internet. That was wrong. I was definitely connected so I went online with Sony tech support who eventually connected remotely to diagnose the problem. In the end, I was told not to use the link in that tile on the Win8 screen. There is another way to get to the user guide that does work so I simply use that now when needed. Downloadable PDFs are available, too.
It’s disappointing that such basic items as wifi and the user guide should have such problems. At $1700 this is by no means an inexpensive laptop. This is my third VAIO and I bought this one because I’ve been very happy with my two previous VAIO laptops. But this experience is a bit of a letdown.
I’m pleased to report that Photoshop editing performance is quite good. Typical operations like making adjustments in Camera Raw, zooming/panning, and editing adjustment layers have no noticeable delay with normal size images (for my cameras, that’s about 17 MB). The screen size is quite a bit smaller than what I’m used to even for a laptop. My old VAIO has a beautiful 17-inch (43 cm) screen which shows off photos nicely. The new VAIO’s screen is also great but, at 13 inches (33 cm) I need to make sure I’m close enough to see all the details. The resolution is the same between the two laptops. The pixels are just packed much closer together on the new one.
The new laptop has an i7-4500 quad-core CPU running at 1.8 GHz. The Windows Experience Index overall rating is 5.9 which is determined by the graphics chip which is the weakest subsystem. The processor rating is 6.9 and the SSD gets an 8.6. The relatively low graphics performance sometimes has a noticeable effect when editing. In Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro the screen often updates in tiles; it can take a couple of seconds for the entire image to update. Fortunately, I haven’t yet seen this behavior in Photoshop.
Overall, photo editing performance in Photoshop feels about like it does on my desktop PC. One thing I do miss with the laptop is my Wacom Intuos tablet. I was thinking about getting a Wacom Bamboo tablet for the laptop but the Bamboo does not support Windows 8.
The VAIO has a tiny fan which kicks in when the CPU gets busy. Because the fan is so small it rotates at high speed and creates a fairly loud whirring sound. Also, the exhaust is annoyingly hot when holding the unit in your lap. It doesn’t take much to get the fan spinning. In fact, it often comes on when I’m not even doing anything. I.e., after I’ve finished using the laptop but before it automatically goes into sleep mode the CPU will be at about 20% capacity and the fan will be whirring away. Obviously, there’s some background process that runs regularly which uses sufficient processing power to require extra cooling. When working in Photoshop the fan runs constantly.
Battery and Power Adapter
Battery life seems to be good. I haven’t run it down in my testing yet but reports are that battery life is 5-6 hours. The battery is built into the laptop and is not removable/replaceable. That worries me a little because the battery is usually the first thing to go. And, since I tend to keep laptops a long time the battery is almost guaranteed to become useless before I’m done with the laptop. If you can replace the battery then you’re good to go but, if not, you could be stuck. There is one option with this laptop and that’s an external “sheet battery.” At $135 it’s not cheap but Sony claims it will increase total battery life to about 13 hours. The Sony website doesn’t show the weight for the battery but in a chat session with a Sony rep I was able to find out that the weight is 290 g (about 10 oz.). That’s a big increase in weight so I’m not sure I’ll want to pay the high price for that battery. I also wonder how well the external battery would work together with an old, depleted internal battery.
One really nice thing about today’s smaller laptops is the fact that the power adapters are also much smaller. The adapter for the new VAIO weighs in at less than 5 oz. compared with about 17 oz. for the old one. The new adapter also includes a USB charging port for your phone, tablet, etc.
Now that the wifi problem is sorted I’m very happy with this new VAIO laptop. I love the small size and light weight. I love the instant-on feature. I can open the unit and be back to my apps almost immediately.
The performance is impressive for a laptop. A good part of that is due to the SSD. I had decided that an SSD was a must-have for my new laptop. I chose the 256 GB SSD which is the sweet spot in terms of price/capacity. The upgrade from the base 128 GB SSD was only $120 but the upgrade from the 256 GB to the 512 GB model is an additional $570. I figure if I need more storage I can get a small terabyte external drive. Or, if I wait a while, a tiny external SSD will probably be available for a reasonable price before long. Right now, you can get an 256 GB external SSD for $250, less than half the price of the added storage from Sony.
As I mentioned earlier, I had considered keeping my old VAIO and installing an SSD. The cost would have been much less (assuming the technical problems could be solved) but I’m still glad I went with a new one. Technology changes so fast that there are multiple benefits to replacing a 5-year-old device with a new one.
I started experiencing problems when waking the laptop up from sleep mode this week. Both problems occurred after putting the laptop to sleep by simply closing the lid. The first sign of trouble was when I reached into my laptop bag the next day to take it out and I noticed that the unit was warm. Obviously, it had been using power—something it should not be doing while in sleep mode. When I opened the lid the screen was dark and it didn’t turn back on as usual even though the power button was illuminated (indicating that power was on). I had to hold the power button down continuously until it powered off and then power it back on from a cold boot.
Later, I experienced a second problem after putting it to sleep by closing the lid. When opening the laptop the next day the login screen appeared but while I was typing my password the screen went dark. Again, the power button was on but the screen was dead and I couldn’t bring it back to life. This time, too, I had to do a hard power-off by holding down the power button. Then, I was able to do a fresh boot.