PC makers have been having fits over Apple’s (AAPL) MacBook Air line of ultraportable laptops. The MacBook Air took 39% of the market for slim laptops in 2012, despite Intel (INTC) and its PC partners pushing Ultrabook alternatives running Microsoft’s (MSFT) Windows.
The arrival of Windows 8 and the introduction of touchscreen support for Ultrabooks changed the equation and led to a range of hybrid ultrabooks that offer laptop power with Windows 8 tablet capability, making them better able to compete against Apple’s powerhouse MacBook Air. It’s now not uncommon to see a glowing Ultrabook review — a far cry from the indifference we initially saw from most reviewers.
Sony (SNE) is going through somewhat of a resurgence of its own these days, with hits like the Playstation 4 and Xperia line of smartphones. The company also makes PCs and sent me its new Vaio Fit 15A (a hybrid Ultrabook) to try out.
While Sony hopes the new Vaio Fit 15A — part of its Flip PC line — will take a chunk of Apple’s MacBook Air sales, it’s also going up against a very popular fellow Windows 8 hybrid in the Lenovo (LNVGY) Yoga and Samsung’s (SSNLF) ATIV Q Windows 8/Android hybrid.
What are the chances SNE has a hit on it’s hands? Read our Ultrabook review to see if Sony’s Vaio Fit 15A has what it takes.
Ultrabook Review: Sony Vaio Fit 15A is SNE’s Best Shot at Reigning Champ MacBook Air
But looking at the Vaio Fit 15A and comparing it to the MacBook Air is literally like comparing apples and oranges. The Vaio is a slim, powerful and attractive PC, but that’s as close as it comes to the MacBook Air.
This Flip PC laptop is bigger (it’s a 15-inch model vs. 11-inches or 13-inches for the MacBook Air), it runs Windows 8, and to take full advantage of Microsoft’s tablet-friendly user interface it’s equipped with a touchscreen display which pivots on a hinge.
This transforming act lets you use the Vaio Fit 15A as a traditional laptop, or as a slightly thick and heavy Windows 8 tablet. Or, you can flip the display around (that’s where the Flip PC comes in) to face the rear — perfect for running presentations without the distraction of looking at a keyboard.
The MacBook Air can’t manage any of these tricks.
The Vaio Fit 15A is also equipped with Sony’s Triluminos display technology and even on my tester (which was Full HD), it looked great — I can only imagine how brilliant the 2880 x 1620 version is.
Sony has also positioned the Vaio Fit 15A as a powerhouse laptop. The version I was sent is equipped with a 4th generation Intel Core i7 processor. I wasn’t able to find benchmarks among the usual Ultrabook review resources, but this portable Flip PC seemed snappy and never left me wishing it had more power under the hood.
In short, the Sony Vaio Fit 15A looks good and performs solidly.
But it’s not quite at the level of the MacBook Air.
Ultra Book Review: Sony Vaio Fit 15A is Good, but Reflects Hybrid Challenges
For example, that thin case looks sharp (especially in black like my Ultrabook review unit was), but it means the keyboard has some flex in the middle. In comparison to the unibody aluminum MacBook Air, that gives the Vaio Fit 15A a slightly less solid feel.
My test unit had several keys where the backlighting wasn’t working — I wouldn’t be surprised if that flex had something to do with it. There’s a latch at the base of the display that locks the screen from pivoting on the hinge. On the test unit, that latch seemed a little cheap and there was enough play in it that the display would sometimes start folding out when I opened the lid.
Probably the biggest strike against the Sony Vaio Fit 15A when compared to the MacBook Air is battery life. With that big display and all those pixels to push, it’s rated at “up to 5 hours,” a number that was reflected in testing. In comparison, a 13-inch MacBook Air (also available with a Core i7 CPU) is rated for up to 12 hours of battery life.
Other PC makers are doing better than Sony too — in a post-CES Samsung Ultrabook review, a similarly equipped ATIV Book 9 (15-inch display with Core i5 CP U) ekes out 14 hours. Maybe Sony just needs a bigger battery.
Ultrabook Review: Sony Vaio Fit 15A Specs
- 15-inch LED touchscreen display with Sony Triluminos for mobile technology
- Screen resolution ranges from Full HD (1920 x 1080) to 2880 x 1620
- CPU choices include Intel Core i5 and Core i7
- Graphics in base model are integrated Intel HD Graphics 4400, on other models (including the test unit used in this Sony Ultrabook review) are equipped with Nvidia (NVDA) GeForce GT 735M GPUs
- 1 TB hybrid hard drive (includes 16GB NAND Flash)
- Standard RAM installed ranges from 8GB to 16GB
- Intel High Definition audio
- HD web camera
- HDMI out, 2 x USB 3.0, SD card slot
- Ethernet, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
- Backlit keyboard
- Supports Vaio pressure-sensitive digital Active Pen (included with some models)
- 3170 mAh lithium polymer battery rated for up to 5 hours
- Weighs 5.05 lbs, 0.79-inches at thickest
- Price ranges from $999 to $1799.99
For complete technical specs of the Sony Vaio Fit 15A model featured in this Ultrabook review, please refer to Sony’s product page.
Ultrabook Review: Sony Vaio Fit 15A Conclusion
As I said earlier, comparing the Sony Vaio Fit 15A to a MacBook Air isn’t exactly fair, but the reality of Sony’s situation is that if it wants to move the sales bar in a meaningful way, it needs to compete with Apple. Time and time again, Ultrabook review sites make this point — PC makers can be at the top of the Windows heap, but their eye needs to be on Apple.
Sony’s 15-inch Flip PC laptop definitely earns points for performance, style and its ability to make the most of Windows 8. Being able to transform into a serviceable Windows 8 tablet with a very responsive touchscreen and digital stylus support is a useful feature and the Sony Vaio Fit 15A does it better than many hybrids.
If a Google (GOOG) Chromebook isn’t your thing and an Apple’s not in the cards, then this is a very snazzy looking and capable PC.
Compared to the MacBook Air, it’s priced competitively, offers a similarly wide range of models and price points and looks the part of a premium piece of gear. It offers extras Apple’s ultra portable can’t match like the touchscreen, quasi-tablet capability and stylus support. But, it loses marks for low battery life and a few minor annoyances — like a noisy fan — that MacBook Air owners simply don’t have to put up with.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.