Home Web graphics VAIO FE 14.1 Review | PCMag

VAIO FE 14.1 Review | PCMag

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Caviar at Costco? Tiffany on target? VAIO is a laptop brand that we associate with two things, sleek engineering and premium pricing. The new VAIO FE series, however, consists of affordable laptops sold at Walmart, where the 14.1-inch FE starts at $699 and costs $799, as seen in our review model here. It’s a reasonably attractive slimline with a modern Intel processor, but utterly unremarkable. The same money will get you a nicer aluminum construction, rather than plastic, from one of the many vendors.


Same logo, different manufacturer

If you still think VAIO laptops are made by Sony, you’re eight years behind. The move to Walmart represents a market expansion for current owners of the brand, whose $699 base model pairs a Core i5-1235U processor (two performance cores, eight efficient cores, 12 threads) with 8GB of memory , a 512 GB solid state drive and a Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixel) non-touch screen.

(Credit: Molly Flores)

Our $799 review unit doubles the RAM and storage to 16GB and 1TB respectively, while the top-end – which Walmart.com confusedly listed for $949 and $799 when we checked – replaces the Core i5 chip with a Core i7-1255U. The IPS display and integrated Intel Iris Xe graphics are the same in all units; no hi-res or OLED panels are offered.

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At 3.5 pounds, the VAIO FE 14.1 is half a pound above the ultraportable line. It measures 0.78 by 12.8 by 8.7 inches, a little bulkier than the Acer Swift 3 (0.63 by 12.7 by 8.4 inches and 2.71 pounds). Available in black or rose gold as well as silver for our model, the VAIO is easy to carry but tends to flex if you grab the corners of the screen or press down on the keyboard. The chassis as a whole could use more stiffness.

VAIO FE 14.1 rear view

(Credit: Molly Flores)

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

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

VAIO FE 14.1 left port

(Credit: Molly Flores)

VAIO FE 14.1 right ports

(Credit: Molly Flores)


Not much touchpad on the left

The backlit keyboard earns points for having real Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down keys instead of requiring you to pair the Fn key with the cursor arrow keys, and also for having the arrows in the correct inverted T instead of a clumsy, HP-style line. The top-row function keys control volume and screen brightness, but lack a few shortcuts often found there, such as airplane mode and microphone mute.

The typing feel is shallow and a bit rubbery, but not uncomfortable. The touchpad is said to be medium in size but two rather large chrome buttons and the fingerprint reader reduce the available space, so it is rather small. The pad slides and taps smoothly, but the large buttons are flimsy.

VAIO FE 14.1 Keyboard

(Credit: Molly Flores)

The webcam offers the usual marginal 1280 x 720 pixel resolution with a 16:9 aspect ratio but a sharper 1600 x 1200 pixel if you don’t mind a squarer 4:3 ratio. images appear dark and washed out. At least they’re reasonably clear, without too much static.

If you press your ear to the speaker grill above the keyboard, you can hear a surprisingly smooth sound; 100% volume on the VAIO FE 14.1 sounds like around 30% on most laptops, hard to hear from 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 make out overlapping tracks – but you’ll definitely want to use headphones. A THX Spatial Audio software utility makes tracks less hollow and offers music, movie, game and voice presets as well as an equalizer. But it certainly does not deliver symphonic sound or 3D effect.

VAIO FE 14.1 left corner

(Credit: Molly Flores)

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


VAIO FE 14.1 review: nothing special, in terms of speed

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

Productivity tests

UL’s leading PCMark 10 benchmark simulates a variety of real-world productivity and content creation workflows to measure the overall performance of office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet, web browsing and videoconferencing. We also run PCMark 10’s Full System Drive test to gauge a laptop’s load time and storage throughput.

Three benchmarks focus on the CPU, using all available cores and threads, to gauge a PC’s suitability for CPU-intensive workloads. Maxon’s Cinebench R23 uses that company’s Cinema 4D engine to render a complex scene, while Primate Labs’ Geekbench 5.4 Pro simulates popular applications ranging from PDF rendering and speech recognition to machine learning. Finally, we 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 PugetBench for Photoshop from Puget Systems, which uses the Creative Cloud 22 version of Adobe’s popular image editor to benchmark a PC’s performance for content creation and multimedia applications. It is an automated extension that performs a variety of general and GPU-accelerated Photoshop tasks, ranging from opening, rotating, resizing and saving an image to applying masks, gradient fills and filters.

The VAIO passed 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 was a disappointing performer in our other tests, near from the back of the CPU benchmarks. It managed a silver medal in our Photoshop test, but its shoddy screen disqualifies it from serious image editing or digital content creation.

Graphic tests

We test Windows PC graphics with two DirectX 12 game 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 ran two tests from the GFXBench 5 cross-platform GPU benchmark, which emphasizes both low-level routines like texturing and high-level, game-like image rendering. 1440p Aztec Ruins and 1080p Car Chase, rendered off-screen to accommodate different display resolutions, drive 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 come out of the cellar in these tests; The integrated graphics of budget laptops are more or less guaranteed incapable of playing demanding games or offering much entertainment besides solitaire and streaming video. The VAIO ran with the pack, but it’s a very slow pack.

Battery and display tests

We test laptop battery life by playing a locally stored 720p video file (the open source Blender movie Tears of Steel(Opens in a new window)) with display brightness at 50% and audio volume at 100%. We make sure the battery is fully charged before testing, with Wi-Fi and keyboard backlight turned off.

We also use a Datacolor SpyderX Elite monitor calibration sensor and its Windows software to measure the color saturation of a laptop screen (what percentage of the sRGB, Adobe RGB and DCI-P3 color gamuts or palettes the screen can display) and its 50% and peak brightness in nits (candelas per square meter).

It was just good enough for fourth place in our five-man contest, but the VAIO FE’s 11.5 hours of unplugged life is enough to get you through a full day of work or school. Its display color quality was fair at best, though only the Acer did better, but its measured peak brightness of 265 nits is down in Chromebook territory – we’re not happy with a laptop that can’t muster 300 nits, and not really satisfied with less than 400.


Verdict: a simply passable laptop

We’re all for democracy and happy to see more options for Walmart shoppers, but the VAIO FE 14.1 joins the hypermarket’s in-house Gateway and EVOO brands instead of threatening Dell, Lenovo or Acer. Nothing about it is bad enough to disqualify it from consideration by budget buyers, but it does come up against better-built and more capable competitors, as well as some better value models, such as the Lenovo IdeaPad 3 14 .

The essential

The VAIO FE 14.1 (not to be confused with the high-end VAIO SX14) is a perfectly serviceable budget laptop, but its screen, build quality and ho-hum speed keep it from making the top four or five. first.

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