Here’s the reddest laptop PC Labs has ever tested. The VAIO SX14 (starts at $ 1,299; $ 2,299 as tested) gets its devilish good looks from a three-layer paint process—shiny pink metallic, transparent red, and a glossy UV coating—as well as from thin screen bezels that make the 14-inch laptop barely bigger than its 13.3-inch VAIO S predecessor. The SX14 is easy to carry at just 2.32 pounds, performs well, and has a plethora of ports including Ethernet and even VGA (in case you need to give a presentation with an antique projector). It’s an intriguing alternative to our ultraportable Editors’ Choice Dell XPS 13, though it lacks the latter’s touch screen and Thunderbolt 3 ports (just as the Dell lacks the VAIO’s HDMI and USB Type-A ports).
Four Color Choices
Separate from Sony since 2014, VAIO offers the SX14 in several configurations. The silver-hued, $ 1,299 base model features a Core i5-8265U processor with Intel UHD 620 integrated graphics, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB solid-state drive, and a 1080p non-touch display. My $ 2,299 Red Edition test unit boasted a 1.8GHz (4.6GHz turbo) Core i7-8565U chip with the same integrated graphics, 16GB of memory, a 1TB PCI Express SSD, and a non-touch screen with 4K (3,840-by-2,160-pixel) resolution. You can opt for a model in black or brown for $ 100 less.
A contrasting black VAIO logo decorates the lid, which extends past the rear edge of the system so that when you open it, it props the keyboard at a sloped typing angle. (It’s like the ErgoLift hinges of several Asus ZenBook models.) The SX14’s angle is steeper, leaving more room for cooling airflow under the machine (you’ll notice some moderate fan noise when the system is working hard), but not uncomfortable for typing, even in your lap with the back of the lid on your knees.
Carbon-fiber construction (with an aluminum palm rest) keeps the VAIO lighter than the 2.7-pound XPS 13, though the 14-inch Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon comes close at 2.49 pounds. A conventional 14-inch laptop like the Asus ZenBook 14 is noticeably heavier at 3.5 pounds, though a tad smaller—the Asus measures 0.63 by 12.6 by 7.8 inches to the VAIO’s 0.7 by 12.6 by 8.8 inches. The SX14 doesn’t feel flimsy, though it shows some flex if you grasp its screen corners or mash its keyboard.
The laptop’s tapered left edge holds two USB 3.0 Type-A ports, an audio jack, and a security lock slot, as well as the connector for the compact AC adapter. On the right side, you’ll find a USB 3.1 Type-A port with device charging, a USB 3.1 Type-C port, HDMI and VGA video outputs, an Ethernet port, and an SD (not microSD) card slot. As I said, it’s an impressive array, though we do subtract points for an over-$ 2,000 notebook without a Thunderbolt 3 port.
What’s Not to Like?
The 720p webcam centered above the screen captures adequately crisp images, though they looked a little dark and colors were muted on an overcast day. It’s not a face-recognition camera, though Windows Hello users can skip sign-in passwords thanks to a fingerprint reader on the palm rest.
The keyboard is backlit, but, most of the time, you’ll notice it only in a very dark room or if you tilt the machine and look beneath the keys—the keys themselves don’t glow much. The Escape and Delete keys are small, as are the cursor arrows (which double with the Fn key for Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down). On the positive side, the typing feel is light yet snappy, surprisingly comfortable despite being a bit shallow. I was cruising at a brisk pace with only a little practice.
If manufacturers like Apple and HP pride themselves on extra-large touchpads, VAIO is the opposite—the SX14’s is very small. It measures 1.75 by 3.13 inches, not counting its two buttons. It glided and tapped smoothly enough, but I missed it or slid off its edge more than once. The buttons manage to be stiff and rubbery at the same time.
The screen has a matte finish that does a good job of reducing glare. (Of course, it benefits from not having a touch overlay.) It’s sufficiently bright—I’m always greedy for more brightness, but the SX14 offers nicely white backgrounds and deep contrast—and its 4K resolution makes the finest details stand out. Viewing angles are wide, and colors are rich and well saturated.
Bring your headphones if you want to listen to the VAIO—the diminutive, bottom-mounted speakers sound flat and weak. There isn’t enough volume to fill a small room, while pop vocals were a distant echo. I strained without success to hear any bass. The only happy note was that my SD card of MP3s fit flush with the slot; many laptops leave it sticking out to snag on something in my briefcase.
Keeping Up With the Competition
For our benchmark tests, I matched the VAIO against not only the ultraportable champion Dell XPS 13 but three 14-inch Core i7 travelers: the Asus ZenBook 14, the Huawei MateBook X Pro (okay, that one’s 13.9 inches), and the HP EliteBook x360 1040 G5 (okay, that one’s a convertible). As you can see below, they all rely on Intel’s integrated graphics except for the Huawei and its Nvidia discrete graphics.
Neither the VAIO nor any other ultraportable with integrated graphics will come within a country mile of satisfying would-be gamers (and the MateBook isn’t much closer), but the SX14 proved itself a capable productivity partner. On the minus side, the main thing that knocked it out of Editors’ Choice contention was its battery life.
Productivity, Storage, and Media Tests
PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheeting, Web browsing, and videoconferencing. The test generates a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better.
PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a Storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the storage subsystem. The result is also a proprietary numeric score; again, higher numbers are better.
The VAIO’s Samsung SSD squeaked to victory among a fast field in PCMark 8’s storage test. The system also posted a fine score in PCMark 10’s office apps measurement, even if it narrowly missed the 4,000 points that we consider excellent.
Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.
The VAIO finished in the middle of the pack here, technically, but the top three contenders were all quite close. You won’t mistake it for a 3D rendering workstation, but you’ll have no trouble with everyday spreadsheet and database jobs.
We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and, at the end, add up the total execution time (lower times are better). The Photoshop test stresses the CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters, so systems with powerful graphics chips or cards may see a boost.
Another solid result here, just a few seconds off the pace set by the Asus and Dell. Between its ample speed and beautiful screen, the SX14 is a first-rate candidate for managing a photo library.
3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores.
The Huawei and its GeForce graphics easily won this event, though its scores were way below those of real gaming laptops equipped with Nvidia’s GTX or RTX rather than MX silicon. The other laptops are strictly for casual or browser-based games.
Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it’s rendered in the company’s eponymous Unigine engine, offering a different 3D workload scenario than 3DMark, for a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess. We present two Superposition results, run at the 720p Low and 1080p High presets.
Same story—you might try the Huawei for some light gaming, but shouldn’t even bother with the others.
Battery Rundown Test
After fully recharging the laptop, we set up the machine in power-save mode (as opposed to balanced or high-performance mode) where available and make a few other battery-conserving tweaks in preparation for our unplugged video rundown test. (We also turn Wi-Fi off, putting the laptop into airplane mode.) In this test, we loop a video—a locally stored 720p file of the Blender Foundation short film Tears of Steel—with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent until the system conks out.
The VAIO fell short of surviving an eight-hour workday, and almost four hours shy of the next worst contender. To be sure, its 4K display consumes much more power than a 1080p panel like the HP’s, but the Dell has a 4K screen too and the Huawei’s resolution is 3,000 by 2,000.
Little Red Corvette
With a little more battery stamina, and maybe fixes for a few other gripes like the missing Thunderbolt 3 port, the VAIO SX14 would be a strong contender for our top recommendation. Even as is, it’s worth a look if you value light weight and hate carrying a dongle to connect an external monitor.
Ditto for if you value visual style as well as productivity. The brown model, with gold trim and logo, is almost as handsome as the red.