Over the years, Sony has established a reputation for creating laptops with style, but they haven’t exactly been known for great value. The $799 VAIO Y Series, Sony’s first 13-inch ULV notebook, delivers a sleek and sturdy magnesium design for an aggressive price. It also offers a convenient dedicated button to help users troubleshoot and tune up their systems. While this ultraportable doesn’t last as long on a charge as some competitors, the VAIO Y is a good value.
Measuring 1.3 inches thick and weighing 3.8 pounds, the black VAIO Y is made for travel. It’s also made to last. Sony decked out the top and bottom of the chassis in magnesium, giving the notebook a nice rigidity; twisting the machine in our hands with the lid closed resulted in zero flex. The competing ASUS UL30A has a light silver brushed aluminum lid, but the deck is plastic. The HP Pavilion dm3 has aluminum on both the lid and deck, which gives it more of a consumer feel. Some may feel the VAIO Y looks too much the part of a business machine, but we like its fit and finish.
Other elegant details on the VAIO Y include a textured grid pattern on the deck, which has a nice feel. Like other Sony notebooks, this one sports circular hinges; the right side houses the power button, and the left has the power jack. Above the keyboard is a speaker strip and two buttons: VAIO and Assist. The VAIO button launches VAIO Media Gallery software, while the Assist button pulls up VAIO Care for quick access to support and troubleshooting options.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Sony was one of the first to introduce chiclet-style keyboards on notebooks, and the VAIO Y continues that heritage. The company says it engineered the layout so that the spacing between the keys would minimize errors while maximizing comfort. In our tests, we could touch type at a brisk base, even if the keys felt a tad mushy.
We’re big fans of the large touchpad on the VAIO Y, which has a dotted pattern but a smooth surface. We prefer this touchpad to the dimpled one on the ASUS UL30A, and it beats the pants off of the friction-heavy HP Pavilion dm3. And unlike the UL30A, this notebook has two dedicated touchpad buttons; they offered good feedback but are too loud for our tastes.
Compared to other ULV notebooks we’ve tested recently, the VAIO Y keeps its cool. After playing a Hulu video for 15 minutes, we measured temperatures of 88 degrees Fahrenheit on the touchpad, 94 degrees between the G and H keys, and 98 degrees on the bottom side of the laptop. (Anything under 100 degrees is acceptable.) The HP Pavilion dm3, on the other hand, registered as high as 102 degrees on the underside.
Display and Audio
The VAIO Y boasts a gorgeous 13.3-inch LED-backlit display that offers vivid colors and excellent contrast levels. Plus, Sony included a special antireflective coating to cut down on glare. When we streamed an episode of 24 on Hulu at full screen, horizontal viewing angles were generous, and we noticed a high level of detail even in standard definition mode.
Dialog in that episode of 24 was loud and clear, but music was a less fulfilling experience. The speaker bar above the keyboard produced good volume when we streamed tunes from Pandora (enough to double as a mini stereo in a hotel room), but Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under the Bridge” sounded tinny. Foo Fighters’ “Learn to Fly” sounded a bit less harsh. We suggest keeping the volume one or two notches below the max.
Ports and Webcam
There are few surprises when it comes to the port selection on the VAIO Y. Like most ULV notebooks, this one lacks a DVD drive, so looks elsewhere if that’s and important feature to you. The left side houses the power jack, VGA port, HDMI, one USB 2.0, a FireWire port, and headphone and microphone jacks. The Ethernet ports, two more USB 2.0 ports, and an ExpressCard/34 slot line the right side. Up front you’ll find separate Memory Stick and SD Card slots.
The Motion Eye webcam on the VAIO Y captured high quality images during a Skype chat. The other caller could easily make out the funny faces we made. ArcSoft’s bundled Magic-i Visual Effects 2 and WebCam Companion 3 software lets you tweak settings like brightness and contrast, as well as add fun special effects like frames and masks.