Vaio SX14 review: Under new management, Vaio laptops live again

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  • Editors' rating
    7.5 Very good

Pros

  • Attractive, lightweight design
  • Strong performance
  • Good connectivity, including mobile broadband

Cons

  • Expensive, especially in the UK
  • Poor expansion and repair options
  • Moderate FHD screen resolution
  • Battery life could be better

Sony pulled out of the PC business and ended production of its Vaio range of laptops back in 2014. But rather than simply shutting down the PC division, Sony sold the Vaio business to a company called Japan Industrial Partners (JIP), and retained a 25 percent stake in the newly formed Vaio Corporation (as well as retaining the rights to the Vaio trademark, and that distinctive wavey logo).

Vaio has been active -- albeit with a fairly low profile -- in Asian and US markets for a couple of years, but it now seems to be making a more determined attempt at a comeback with a new range of Vaio laptops. There are two main models in the new range, both of which are clearly aimed at the premium end of the market. The Vaio A12 is Vaio's answer to the Microsoft Surface, with a detachable keyboard that allows it to be used as both laptop and tablet. First out of the gate, though, is the 14-inch Vaio SX14, which has a more conventional clamshell design and is described as 'the daily performer'.

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The 14-inch Vaio SX14 is powered by 8th-generation Core i5 or i7 processors with up to 16GB of RAM and 512GB of PCIe SSD storage. There's no discrete GPU option, but LTE mobile broadband is built in. The SX14 weighs just 999g.

Images: Vaio Corporation

Design & features

The SX14 makes a good first impression -- especially for those of us old enough to recognise the wave-like Vaio logo that adorns the top panel. Available in black, silver and a rather smart copper-brown, the SX14 measures 320mm wide by 223mm deep by 17.9mm thick, and weighs just 999g, which is impressively slim and light for a laptop with a 14-inch display.

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The sharp edges and rather angular design do look a little old-fashioned, but that seems to be intentional, as the SX14 goes out of its way to combine the old and the new. Modern technology, such as a fingerprint scanner and 4G SIM slot, sit alongside a trackpad with a pair of old-fashioned mouse buttons -- and even a VGA port as well. Along with the prominently displayed Vaio logo, the designers seem to be presenting the SX14 as a modern twist on an established and reliable brand.

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The SX14 has plenty of connections: USB-C, 3xUSB 3.1, HDMI, VGA and Ethernet, plus 3.5mm audio in/out.

Images: Vaio Corporation

Connectivity, in particular, is a real strength, as the SX14 combines the aforementioned VGA port with both HDMI and a USB-C port that supports DisplayPort video output. Unlike many lightweight laptops, the SX14 manages to retain an Ethernet port for wired office networks, along with an SD card slot, a security slot, and three USB 3.1 ports. The compact power supply unit also has an extra USB port that's specifically intended for charging tablets and other USB-powered devices.

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With so much attention to detail it's a little disappointing to discover that our review unit was only equipped with a standard FHD display with 1,920 by 1,080 resolution (157.3dpi). To be fair, the display is very attractive, with a bright, clear image, and a welcome anti-glare finish. But the SX14 is going up against rivals -- including the Retina displays now used across Apple's MacBook range -- that provide much higher resolution.

One other disappointment is the array of no less than 19 screws on the base of the laptop, along with the warning that the battery pack is non-removable, and that the memory can't be upgraded.

Pricing & options

Vaio clearly isn't interested in competing at the more affordable end of the laptop market, as the SX14 has a starting price of £1,415.83 (ex. VAT; £1,699 inc. VAT). That price includes a quad-core Core i5-8265U processor running Windows 10 Pro, along with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive.

Customers in the US get a better deal, though -- especially as Vaio's US website had a sale on at the time of this review. That entry-level Core i5 configuration is currently reduced from $1,299 to a very competitive $1,099, although Vaio hasn't said how long the sale prices will continue to be available.

There are a number of build-to-order options available as well, and our review unit stepped up to a Core i7-8565U with 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD, which comes to £1,790.83 (ex. VAT; £2,149 inc. VAT). In the US, that model also includes a 4K display (3,840 x 2,160 resolution, 314.7dpi), with the standard price of $1,899 currently reduced to $1,699. Customers in the UK have to order the 4K display as an additional upgrade option, bringing the total price to £1,874.17 (ex. VAT; or £2,249 inc. VAT).

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The SX14's keyboard is backlit.

Image: Vaio Corporation

Performance & battery life

The UK pricing may be high, but the SX14 does live up to its claim of being a 'daily performer'. The Core i7 processor has a standard clock speed of 1.8GHz, but this benefits from a TurboBoost option that lifts it right up to 4.6GHz. This produces very solid scores in the Geekbench processor tests, with 5230 for single-core performance and 14,769 for multi-core performance. By contrast, the Core i7 version of Apple's 13-inch MacBook Pro nudges ahead with 18,580 for multi-core performance, but is more expensive at £1,999.16 (ex. VAT; £2,399 inc. VAT, or $2,499 in the US).

The Vaio also strikes back with good graphics performance, hitting 55fps in the Cinebench R15 test suite, compared to the MacBook Pro's 40fps. The Vaio's integrated UHD Graphics 620 can't quite handle the more demanding Unigine Valley rendering test, dropping to just 5fps. However, the SX14 is not intended to be a graphics workstation, and certainly provides strong enough performance for Microsoft Office or presentations that involve some basic photo or video editing.

There's a rather large air-vent on the left-hand edge of the laptop, but we were pleased to see that it ran cool and quiet throughout all our tests. However, the lightweight, slimline design does mean that there's not much room for a large battery, with Vaio quoting a modest 7 hours and 45 minutes for the HD version of the SX14 (and six hours with a 4K display). We only got 6.5 hours of continuous streaming video from the BBC iPlayer, and while less intensive use should allow you to eke another hour or so from it, the Vaio can't match the nine hours that we've seen from the MacBook Pro and a number of other Windows laptops.

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Image: Vaio Corporation

Conclusions

The new Vaio SX14 is a very attractive laptop in many respects, with a slim, lightweight design that's well suited for life on the road. It also provides strong, desktop levels of performance, along with a wide range of connectivity features that will be useful when you get back to the office. However, battery life leaves room for improvement, and UK customers might wonder if Vaio's spring price cuts will be transferring from the US to Europe as well.

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