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Review: Sony VAIO Fit 15A

By Leigh D. Stark | 1:36 pm 03/06/2014

Big computers shouldn’t necessarily be chunky, at least that’s what Sony believes, as it puts the 15 inch computer on a diet and gives it a modern, touch friendly form-factor in the VAIO Fit 15A.

Features

Not exactly you’re small run of the mill laptop, the VAIO Fit 15A is a 15 inch computer geared at people who a fair amount of performance coupled with a big screen, which is exactly what this computer has. While most Ultrabooks seem to sit between 11 and 14 inches, with 13 being the most popular size, the 15 inch area is normally dominated by chunky powerhouse computers and just-as-chunky budget boxes.

The VAIO Fit 15A is a little different, though, offering a decently spec’d machine with a form-factor for someone who needs a big screen, but can’t decide between a laptop or tablet. We’re not sure how many people there are out there with these needs, but given that Windows 8 has a preference for touch, it makes sense for Sony to try this.

To make this happen, though, Sony has had to change the form-factor, and instead of using a special hinge or rotating screen, the company has developed a display that folds in half. Specifically, when the screen is locked in position it stays perpendicular to the keyboard, as most laptops do, but when unlocked, allows the display to fold backwards and cover the back of the laptop when closed, turning it into a big tablet.

How big a laptop?

Sony’s VAIO Fit 15A uses a 15.5 inch screen, a little different from the 15.6 inch panels used in most laptops, running a resolution of Full HD or 1920×1080, with Sony’s own Triluminos technology keeping the colours bright and crisp, and with touch enabled across the entire panel.

Under the keyboard, you’ll find the guts of the computer, with an Intel Core i5 processor from the fourth-generation, also known as “Haswell,” clocked at 1.6GHz, 4GB RAM, and a 750GB conventional hard drive, with Intel’s HD4400 taking point for graphics. Windows 8 comes pre-installed on the VAIO Fit 15A.

Ports for the computer are reasonably varied, with three USB 3.0 ports, one HDMI port, a single wired Gigabit networking port, an SD card slot, and a headset jack supporting both headphones and microphone.

Connections are pretty standard, with 802.11b/g/n (no 802.11ac here), Bluetooth 4.0, and even the inclusion of Near-Field Communication for those odd times you might want to pair a speaker, a pair of headphones, or something banking related by simply touching it to the computer.

Since it’s a computer and not a tablet — even though it can fold into one — you can expect a camera here, though only of the webcam variety, with a high definition webcam sitting above the screen.

The battery is rated for as much as five hours of life.

Performance

Sony returned to the forefront of computer design last year with its 2013 slate of VAIOs, impressing us greatly at the Intel Haswell launch last year, and again when the company let us play with one of the lightest and most-feature rich Ultrabooks we’d ever played with, the VAIO Pro 11.

Unfortunately, Sony decided to hang up its PC roots early in 2014, selling the VAIO business to another company and essentially closing the book on future VAIO computers. This means the VAIO Fit will probably be our last Sony laptop review, at least until Sony decided to revive its PC business and start again, and that’s not even a definite concept at this time.

Despite this sad fact, the VAIO Fit 15A is an interesting product to depart on, not least because its price should essentially drop now that Sony is exiting the PC business, which means customers should be able to find it for less than the $1499 asking price for that fact alone. Rather, the reason the VAIO Fit 15A is interesting is the form factor, which takes on a look that no one else has thought of.

In recent times, computer manufacturers have been struggling, especially in how they appeal to consumers looking for a tablet experience on a laptop. Microsoft tried to force this along with Windows 8, an operating system that drove touch more than any other version of Windows before it, but it wasn’t just the OS that needed the touch evolution applied.

No, the design of the PC has had to change with it, after all, a laptop is hardly a tablet, and a tablet is hardly a laptop.

Many manufacturers have tried to apply various spins on the laptop-tablet hybrid, with the most basic making the traditional laptop screen work with touch, and that works with Windows 8, but it’s not really a hybrid style of machine, but rather a laptop with a touch screen.

Asus, though, practically pioneered the separating laptop design, allowing you to detach the screen section from the keyboard, giving you both concepts for the price of one. Dell tried a different approach last year in one of its XPS Ultrabooks, allowing you to push the screen out from its frame and rotate that in its place, essentially giving you a tablet inside a laptop.

In the VAIO Fit 15A, Sony has taken a page out of Dell’s book to make the screen change its position, but also modified the formula.

Rather than have the 15 inch display on a special hinge, it instead detaches from the screen’s backing material and folds up, allowing the screen to take over the lid of the laptop when the Fit is closed shut. This in turn gives you a big 15 inch tablet to work with, though it’s not completely flat, but is flat enough for most people.

Sony’s take on the tablet hybrid design is certainly interesting, and reminds us of what Acer did in its R7, a computer with a special hinge that catered for multiple angles, as well as the flat-like-a-tablet design Sony is going for here.

That said, on a desk, most people will likely leave the computer in its laptop form-factor, locking the screen in place and letting the fairly firm hinge hold the screen up, which it does so well, but if you desperately need a big tablet — and one with 750GB of media — the Sony VAIO Fit 15A does provide one, even though it’s much too big to really be portable.

This is where the screen separates.

Under the hood, the grunt is enough to tackle most activities, though you may find some slowdowns here and there, which we’ll get to later.

One thing that you may like is the build, which is a comfortable collection of aluminium and plastic, which works well together, providing both a cool surface for resting your wrists on, looking professional, and still feeling relatively easy to grip, especially with that matte black plastic at the back. The thickness is also equally impressive, providing a 2cm thickness when closed, which upon first glance will remind people more of an Ultrabook, even though that’s not the case.

The screen is also very lovely, though also very, very reflective.

While we wish we could cut back on the amount of reflections we were seeing, the Full HD screen is a cut above what most 15 inch computers offer, with that excellent 1920×1080 resolution better than the 1366×768 that seems to come standard with every other 15 inch laptop out there, and really shouldn’t. Seriously, computer manufacturers of the world: it’s 2014, give up on basic HD already, it’s over.

Sony’s Triluminos technology helps to make the colours really stand out, too, and it’s working together with a prime panel offering decent viewing angles across both the vertical and horizontal landscape. You may find a minor amount of colour wash out as you shift in position, but it’s not enough to get cranky about, as the colours remain solid all throughout.

The same can’t be said about computers still keeping those low grade panels around that permeate so many computer makes and models.

But the excellence of the screen and the interesting form factor won’t stop us from disliking some of the problems with the VAIO Fit 15A, things we don’t understand that are in a machine this playful.

One of these is the performance, which is a combination of mediocre and loud.

We know the fourth-generation Intel Core i5 processor has some grunt behind it, clocked at 1.6GHz and showing up as a quad-core model, but paired with 4GB RAM, the VAIO Fit just doesn’t feel like much of a performer, taking its time to load applications and switching between them.

The computer tends to stay pretty loud, too, whining at the top of its lungs as the fan whirrs away.

At points during the review, GadgetGuy staffers could be heard asking “what’s that noise” out loud, referring to the tiny pink Harrier jet sitting on this writer’s desk, and that’s when it didn’t need to do much more than power the screen and let a writing application remain open.

The battery is equally unimpressive, yielding around 3-4 hours out of its battery on balanced mode, which doesn’t bode well for anyone who switches the regular mode off to let the computer run in its fast mode. This isn’t probably helped by the lack of thickness in the machine, and the large 15.5 inch screen that offers a ton of brightness, but we still can’t help but think the Fit should perform better than just four hours. And that’s if you’re lucky.

Another thing that is truly unimpressive is keyboard, which just has far too much flex and travel, and makes for a rather tiring and uncomfortable typing experience.

It’s just a little too flexible, and you can see the entire thing move and shake as you type, which in turn pushes the keys down with it, resulting in a keyboard that should be tighter. In fact, it’s not too far from what Sony was offering in the VAIO Pro, one of the other last computers for Sony, which too had a light keyboard with a springy middle section, and was one of the weakest parts of the package.

And hey, there’s even a special button to take you to Sony’s help system called “Assist” sitting above the keyboard. It’s a button you probably won’t frequent, but at least Sony has decided not to include it as part of the regular keyboard design.

Conclusion

It wasn’t the best note to depart on, but Sony’s VAIO Fit 15A was one of the more interesting hybrid tablet laptops to come by the GadgetGuy reviews desk. It’s a shame Sony didn’t spend more time refining this concept, because like some of the other hybrid ideas we’ve seen, there’s certainly some promise here, though it would have been nice to see it matched with a better keyboard, stronger battery life, and a little more performance.

We’re not sure the $1500 price is warranted for this machine, but you find it for much less and can’t decide on what you need, the VAIO Fit 15A is an interesting middle ground.

 

Price (RRP)

$1499

Pros & Cons

Product Pros

Stylish metal chassis with a first plastic bottom; Very interesting form-factor; Great screen; Thinner than most 15 inch computers out there;

Product Cons

The last Sony laptop we'll probably ever review (not really a negative about the machine, rather a negative for us); Keyboard has far too much flex; Performance isn't crash hot; Gets loud; Weak battery; It's a big and heavy tablet when collapsed into one;

Ratings

Overall

Features

Value for money

Performance

Ease of Use

Design

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