Sony VAIO Pro 13 Touch Ultrabook

David Salahi Gear 13 Comments

Sony VAIO Pro 13 Touch Ultrabook

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.

Problems

Wifi logo

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 16.1.0.14, 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.

Photoshop Editing

Sony VAIO Ultrabook running Photoshop
The VAIO with 8 GB memory and a 256 GB SSD runs Photoshop quite nicely.

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.

Noisy Fan

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.

Conclusion

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.

Update 8/3/13

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.

Comments 13

  1. Nice review! This is my third VAIO also – I have the same model as you. It is a beautiful machine, but I find the touchpad too sensitive. My control panel does not have a touchpad driver for doing settings – it seems only to have the “mouse” control panel which is very primitive. Have you been able to adjust the touchpad. Thanks again for the nice review

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Mark,
      Thanks for the feedback. I’m afraid I haven’t been able to find any type of touchpad sensitivity controls either. When I go to the Input Device tab of the VAIO Control Center there is a section for “Built-in pointing devices” but if I click Details the only options are the standard Windows options for mouse settings. Not helpful for the touchpad.

      So far, I’ve mostly been using a mouse with the VAIO Ultrabook. Unfortunately, when typing, my hand often rests on the touchpad which causes the cursor to jump around and make unintended clicks. The VAIO has an option to turn off the touchpad to prevent this kind of problem but I’ve found that the the keyboard shortcut (Fn-F1) doesn’t work. However, there are two other ways to turn off/on the touchpad which do work:

      1. In the VAIO Control Center under Input Device there is an On/Off button.
      2. In the Windows System Tray at the lower right corner of the Windows Desktop there is an icon with the tooltip “Built-in pointing device.” If you right-click on it you can turn the touchpad off and on.

      Dave

  2. I have a vaio pro 13 and have the same brightness failure too. I just want to remind you the recovery will change nothing in this problem.
    Recovery will kill this failure for only a few hours. Then, after at most one day using it, the problem will appear again.
    I have recovered three times. The longest time the brightness adjust is functional only last for one day.
    Here`s another thing, my vaio pro 13 was bought in HONG KONG. The model number is SVP13218CGB. And after a long time of seeking methods to solve this problem on the internet, I found that a lot of pro 11 and pro 13 from different region have the same problem.
    One thing additional, sony.jp has announced that the usb connector of pro 11 and pro 13 is very easy to break due to their design error. Here`s the website FYI. You can use google translate to check it. http://vcl.vaio.sony.co.jp/support/info/2013/039.html

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Vincent,
      I’m sorry to hear that you’ve been experiencing this problem with the screen brightness too. Thanks for letting me know about your experience with the recovery procedure. Based on my experience I had doubts about this approach. I’m discussing other solutions with Sony support and will post my findings here.

      David

      1. Hi David,
        Someone from mainland china just told me his problem automatically disappeared after updating to windows 8.1. But my problem still exists after update to windows 8.1. So I think maybe you can have a try on that.
        Vincent

        1. Post
          Author

          Vincent,
          My problem seems to be different from what those people are having. I’m not using the adaptive screen brightness. Actually, I couldn’t find a setting by that exact name but the VAIO Control Center does have a setting that corresponds to that in the Image Quality section. The Display Brightness feature automatically dims and brightens the display based on the ambient lighting. I normally keep that turned off although I did try it a couple of times in the past.

          Also, I couldn’t find anything called “Intel Graphics and Media Control Panel” but I do have an “Intel HD Graphics Control Panel.” I looked around in this control panel but couldn’t find anything relevant.

          So, just to clarify, here’s the problem I’ve been having: after waking from sleep mode I’m unable to manually adjust the screen brightness. I have to reboot and then adjusting the screen brightness works fine again.

          Now, I did notice a couple of days ago that another BIOS update is available. Maybe that will be helpful to some people.
          David

  3. Hi David,

    Sorry, I may lead you to misunderstanding. We used to have exact same problem with you. Here is the procedure to fix this problem. (Original provided by AndrewYuan and nieIran, I add some steps to make sure it works on my Pro 13.)

    (1) Make a restore point (just in case).
    (2) Download Revo Uninstaller. It’s free for 30 days as a trial. It’s designed just for this — to remove every and all parts of an application.
    (3) Use Revo Uninstaller to remove Vaio Control Center. In its various pages asking which parts of it in the registry, elsewhere to delete, heartlessly say “select all” then press delete. YOU MUST MAKE SURE EVERYTHIN IS DELETED OR THERE WILL BE NO EFFECT.
    (4) Restart the computer, close the lid for a few minutes, and check if the problem still exist. If everything became normal again, you seems to have the same problem with AndrewYuan and nieIran. You may directly jump to step (8). If the problem still existed, you need to continue to next step.
    (5) Use Revo Uninstaller to remove Vaio Care. In its various pages asking which parts of it in the registry, elsewhere to delete, heartlessly say “select all” then press delete. YOU MUST MAKE SURE EVERYTHIN IS DELETED OR THERE WILL BE NO EFFECT.
    (6) Restart the computer, close the lid for a few minutes, and check if the problem still exist. You may notice that when you close the lid, the power LED on the right side will turn to orange and keep blinking. If you can change the brightness after resume from sleep mode, you have the exact problem with me.
    (7) Now you can reinstall Vaio Care use what you can download from Sony website. However, I strongly recommend you to install the originally shipped version, you can find it on Sony@US website (http://esupport.sony.com/US/p/swu-download.pl?mdl=SVP13213CXB&upd_id=8598&os_group_id=24) I had also install this version and it can run on Windows 8.1, although the website said it can only run on Windows 8.
    (8) When you are done, restart the computer, and reinstall Vaio Control Center using Vaio Care and restart computer.
    (9) DO NOT UPDATE VAIO CONTROL CENTER TO ANY CURRENT VERSION VIA VAIO UPDATE OR ANY OTHER INSTALL. THE UPDATE WILL CAUSE THE PROBLEM HAPPEN AGAIN. I also don`t recommend you to update Vaio Care, but nieIran said it would be OK to update Vaio Care.

    You can still find our discussing in Microsoft Community. (http://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/forum/windows_8-hardware/cannot-change-laptop-screen-brightness-after/b8105208-9426-4664-bcbd-228a615cd341)

    If you could, please kindly provide these procedures to Sony Support Team to help more people.

    Hope you can fix the problem.

    Vincent

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Vicent,
      Thanks so much for posting this detailed procedure. I’m actually still working with Sony but if I can’t get the problem resolved with their help I will try this procedure.

      Dave

  4. Hi !

    I’m about to buy one of these in the morning, but I need to know if you can use an external stylus pen in Photoshop on this machine. If it’s possible I will definitely buy it.

    Thanks!

    d

    1. Post
      Author

      David E,
      Yes, I have an Intuos Creative Pen & Touch Tablet and it works nicely. Note that, until recently, Wacom did not offer Windows 8 support for its tablets so be sure to get one of the new models which does have that support.
      Dave

  5. Pingback: Sony VAIO Ultrabook Pro Problems Revisited | The Photo Performance

  6. Hey there,
    My Vaio webcam keep switched on and off as if it has gone crazy! Does anyone encounter the same problem as well?

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