VAIO FE 14.1 review | PCMag


Caviar at Costco? Tiffany at Target? VAIO is a notebook brand that we associate with two things: elegant technology and first-class prices. However, the new VAIO FE series consists of affordable laptops sold at Walmart, where the 14.1-inch FE starts at $699 and goes for $799, as seen in our review model here. It’s quite an attractive slimline with a modern Intel processor, but completely unremarkable. The same money will get you a nicer looking aluminum rather than plastic, built by one of several vendors.

Same logo, different manufacturer

If you still believe that VAIO laptops are made by Sony, you’re eight years behind the times. The move to Walmart represents a market expansion for current brand owners, whose $699 base model has a Core i5-1235U CPU (dual performance cores, eight efficient cores, 12 threads) with 8GB of memory, a 512GB solid state drive and a Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixels) non-touch screen.

(Image credit: Molly Flores)

Our $799 review unit doubles RAM and storage to 16GB and 1TB, respectively, while the top-of-the-line model — which confusingly listed as $949 and $799 when we reviewed it — sports the Core i5 chip replacing a Core i7-1255U. The IPS display and integrated Intel Iris Xe graphics are the same in all units; No high-resolution or OLED panel is offered.

PCMag logo

At 3.5 pounds, the VAIO FE 14.1 sits half a pound above the ultraportable line. It measures 0.78 x 12.8 x 8.7 inches, which is slightly bulkier than the Acer Swift 3 (0.63 x 12.7 x 8.4 inches and 2.71 pounds). Available in black or rose gold, as well as our model’s silver, the VAIO is easy to carry but tends to flex when you grab the screen corners or press the keyboard. The chassis as a whole could do with more rigidity.

VAIO FE 14.1 rear view

(Image credit: Molly Flores)

When you open the lid, its back edge folds down to support the keyboard at a slight typing angle. The display bezels aren’t particularly thin, particularly at the top (home to a webcam with a sliding privacy screen) and bottom. The camera lacks Windows Hello facial recognition, but there is a fingerprint reader in a corner of the touchpad.

An SD card slot and an old-school USB 2.0 port are located on the left side of the laptop, along with an audio jack and the power adapter plug socket. Three USB 3.1 ports, two Type-A and one Type-C, connect to an Ethernet jack and an HDMI video output on the right. Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth are the standard wireless connectivity plans.

VAIO FE 14.1 left ports

(Image credit: Molly Flores)

VAIO FE 14.1 right ports

(Image credit: Molly Flores)

Not much touchpad left

The backlit keyboard deserves points for having true home, end, page up, and page down keys instead of pairing the Fn key with the cursor arrow keys, and also for having the arrows the right one have an inverted T instead of a cumbersome HP series. The function keys on the top row control volume and screen brightness, but lack some shortcuts that are often found there, such as B. Airplane mode and microphone mute.

The typing feel is flat and somewhat rubberized, but not uncomfortable. The touchpad would be medium-sized, but two rather large chrome buttons and the fingerprint reader reduce the available space, so it’s on the small side. The pad glides and taps smoothly, but the large keys feel flimsy.

VAIO FE 14.1 keyboard

(Image credit: Molly Flores)

The webcam offers the usual, marginal resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels with a 16:9 aspect ratio, but a sharper 1600 x 1200 pixels if you don’t mind a squarer 4:3 ratio. His paintings look somber and washed out. At least they are reasonably clear without too much noise.

If you press your ear to the speaker grille above the keyboard, you can hear a surprisingly quiet sound; 100% volume on the VAIO FE 14.1 sounds like around 30% on most laptops, difficult to hear from just a few feet away. The audio itself isn’t bad – there’s no bass, but the sound isn’t tinny or harsh, and you can spot overlapping tracks – but you’ll definitely want to use headphones. A THX Spatial Audio software utility makes tunes less hollow and offers music, movie, game and speech presets and an equalizer. But it certainly doesn’t deliver a symphonic sound or any 3D effect.

VAIO FE 14.1 left angle

(Image credit: Molly Flores)

Like the audio, the FE’s 1080p display is mostly a disappointment. Contrast is decent and white backgrounds aren’t too grungy if you tilt the screen quite far back to an optimal viewing point. But viewing angles aren’t as wide as we’re used to from IPS panels, and the overall effect is weak, with bland colors.

Testing the VAIO FE 14.1: Nothing special in terms of speed

For our benchmark charts, we compared the VAIO FE against our current budget laptop, the Editors’ Choice winner, the $519 Lenovo IdeaPad 3 14, and the Asus VivoBook S14. Two other 14-inch portables, the Acer Swift 3 and the Dell Inspiron 14 7415 2-in-1 convertible, make up the higher-priced range at around $1,000 each. You can see their basic specs in the table below .

productivity tests

UL’s PCMark 10 core benchmark simulates a variety of real-world productivity and content creation workflows to measure overall performance for office-related tasks such as word processing, spreadsheets, web browsing, and video conferencing. We also run PCMark 10’s Full System Drive test to evaluate a laptop’s memory load time and throughput.

Three benchmarks focus on the CPU, using all available cores and threads to assess a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads. Maxon’s Cinebench R23 uses the company’s Cinema 4D engine to render a complex scene, while Primate Labs’ Geekbench 5.4 Pro simulates popular apps ranging from PDF rendering and speech recognition to machine learning. Finally, we’ll use the open-source HandBrake 1.4 video transcoder to convert a 12-minute video clip from 4K to 1080p resolution (lower times are better).

Our final productivity test is Puget Systems’ PugetBench for Photoshop, which uses the Creative Cloud version 22 of Adobe’s famous image editor to evaluate a PC’s performance for content creation and multimedia applications. It’s an automated extension that performs a variety of common and GPU-accelerated Photoshop tasks, ranging from opening, rotating, resizing, and saving an image to applying masks, gradient fills, and filters.

The VAIO surpassed the 4,000-point hurdle that indicates good daily productivity in PCMark 10, so Word, Excel, email, and browsing won’t be a problem, but it underperformed in our other tests, near the bottom of the CPU benchmarks. It earned a silver medal in our Photoshop test, but its low-quality screen disqualifies it from serious imaging or digital content creation.

graphics tests

We test Windows PC graphics with two DirectX 12 gaming simulations from UL’s 3DMark, Night Raid (more modest, suitable for laptops with integrated graphics) and Time Spy (more demanding, suitable for gaming rigs with discrete GPUs).

We also run two tests from the cross-platform GPU benchmark GFXBench 5, which emphasizes both low-level routines like texturing and high-level, game-like image rendering. The 1440p Aztec Ruins and 1080p Car Chase tests rendered off-screen to accommodate different screen resolutions, practice graphics, and compute shaders using the OpenGL programming interface and hardware tessellation, respectively. The more frames per second (fps), the better.

The Core i7-powered Acer was the only laptop to make it out of the basement in these tests; The integrated graphics of the economy notebooks are more or less guaranteed not to be able to play demanding games or to offer much entertainment besides solitaire and streaming videos. The VAIO ran with the pack, but it’s a very slow pack.

Battery and display tests

We test laptop battery life by watching a locally saved 720p video file (the open-source Blender movie tears of steel(Opens in a new window)) with a display brightness of 50% and an audio volume of 100%. We make sure the battery is fully charged before testing, with WiFi and the keyboard backlight off.

We also use a Datacolor SpyderX Elite monitor calibration sensor and its Windows software to measure a laptop screen’s color saturation — how many percent of the sRGB, Adobe RGB, and DCI-P3 color gamuts or palettes the display can display — as well its 50% and maximum brightness in nits (candelas per square meter).

It only came fourth in our five-way competition, but the VAIO FE’s 11.5 hours of battery life is enough to get you through a full day of work or school. The display’s color quality was adequate at best, although only the Acer does better, but its measured peak brightness of 265 nits is in bargain Chromebook territory – we’re not happy with any laptop that can’t muster 300 nits, and we’re not really happy with anything less than 400.

Conclusion: A passable portable device

We’re all pro-democracy and happy to see more options for Walmart shoppers, but the VAIO FE 14.1 joins the superstore’s budget range of house brands Gateway and EVOO rather than threatening Dell, Lenovo or Acer. Nothing about it is bad enough to exclude it from price-conscious buyers, but it does compete against some better-built, more powerful competitors, as well as some more affordable models like the Lenovo IdeaPad 3 14.

The final result

The VAIO FE 14.1 (not to be confused with the top-of-the-line VAIO SX14) is a perfectly serviceable economy laptop, but its screen, build quality, and high speed keep it from cracking our top 4 or 5.

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