The Sony VPC-SB1V9E is Sony's latest power ultraportable laptop but it's unusual for Sony - itfalls into the business-oriented VAIO S-Series range.
The VAIO Z-Series is the Japanese giant's usual ultra-portable laptop range, producing ridiculously sexy mini machines that can handle any application. Of course, this combo of power and portability often comes at quite a cost, usually well on the wrong side of a grand.
But while the VAIO VPC-SB1V9E S Series may not have the looks of the MacBook Air or the Samsung 9-Series, this is still a fantastic laptop that doesn't skimp on performance. Even better, at £899, the asking price isn't too steep for an ultra-portable.
At first glance, the VAIO VPC-SB1V9E isn't much of a looker. The lid is attractive enough with a dark brushed aluminium finish, but the insides look a little too plastic. Still, it's available in black, white and silver, and is a solid effort all round. We found no areas that flexed under pressure, and the lid is tough enough to withstand a few knocks, unlike the VAIO VPC-Y21S1E/SI's effort.
A weight of just 1.7kg means you can carry the S-Series laptop around all day, while the 30mm depth is comparable to a netbook. Thankfully the chassis is wider than a netbook's, so the isolation-style keyboard is well-sized. Each key pokes up through individual holes, meaning they are separated from each other by a covered gap. This greatly aids touch-typing.
If you're a fan of late-night spreadsheet fiddling, you'll be overjoyed to hear that the keyboard is also backlit, which highlights the keys in low light.
Sony's usual VAIO, WEB and ASSIST shortcut buttons are stuck just over the VAIO VPC-SB1V9E's keyboard. WEB is self-explanatory, while ASSIST takes you to the proprietary VAIO Care application, which helps you to diagnose any problems with your laptop and improve performance. VAIO acts as a hub for your media, giving you quick access to your photos, videos and music.
We also enjoyed using the VAIO VPC-SB1V9E's surprisingly spacious touchpad, which makes the most of the compact palm rest. Two firm mouse buttons make a nice change from the typical single bar.
Working on your laptop when you're out and about can be a massive pain, thanks to the prevalence of glossy screens. Squinting at hazy images is never fun, so Sony has used an anti-glare TFT display for enhanced models in the VAIO S-Series, which eliminates any annoying reflections.
At 13.3-inches, it's a comfortable display to work on for extended periods. We were also impressed by the vivid colour reproduction, because images usually appear a little drained without a glossy Super-TFT coating. The 1366 x 768 resolution keeps things sharp, with excellent contrast levels.
A real surprise was the presence of a built-in DVD drive, a feature rarely seen on slender ultra-portables such as the VAIO VPC-SB1V9E. You therefore won't have to lug around a USB drive to watch movies or install and run applications.
Since the Sony VAIO S-Series are business laptops, Sony has included a tiny fingerprint scanner, which is nestled between the mouse buttons. This is a great security measure, especially if you struggle to remember complex passwords.
We were also impressed by the VAIO VPC-SB1V9E's 500GB hard drive, considering the compact chassis. Many ultra-portables use Solid State Drive technology instead – with the likes of the MacBook Air only featuring 128GB of storage – so it's refreshing to have plenty of space to take our media with us.
Networking is strong, with 802.11n Wi-Fi support alongside Gigabit Ethernet. VGA and HDMI ports can be used to hook up monitors or projectors, while one of the three USB ports is USB 3.0, for super speedy data transfer.