Sony SA Series Vs. Macbook Pro 13″

This post is part of program called “Charged and Ready” by Sony Electronics and Microsoft, where a group of college bloggers have been given a Sony VAIO-S series laptop to test and review.

As you may well be aware, I’ve been testing out the Sony SA Series laptop that Sony sent me a few weeks ago. In my last post, I compared the Sony’s battery life with that of my Macbook Pro. Now, let’s take a look at some other comparison factors of these two laptops.

Speakers

I’m pleased to say the speakers are great on both models, though the Macbook Pro puts out slightly better bass. Both can get pretty loud, and both have great clarity (as far as laptop speakers go, anyway).

Screen

The Sony has a better resolution, but the Mac has a better screen. The colors seem a bit more crisp and the viewing angles are better.

Touchpad

Hands down Mac. The glass feels much better, though the Sony smartly avoids the glossy surface many HP models use. The tracking is also much smoother, though the Macbook’s tracking is better than the tracking on EVERY Windows-based laptop, so this isn’t a surprise. Sony was smart and made the trackpad quite large, so you shouldn’t have a problem using it. Still, I had to jack the sensitivity all the way up to get it to the point where I could go from one end of the screen to the other with one gesture. Note: if you get the Sony, or any other Windows-based laptop, I’d recommend that you install the free Synaptics driver, which enables two-finger scrolling that’s almost as good as the Mac’s.

Mouse buttons

The Sony’s mouse buttons are pretty good. They’re not the best ones I’ve ever seen on a laptop, but they’re easy to press down and give a satisfying click. The Mac, on the other hand, doesn’t have mouse buttons – the trackpad itself clicks. When it comes to right clicking, it’s a matter of opinion. On the Mac, if you want to right-click, you either have to Command Click, or you have to touch the pad with one finger and click with the other. I use the second method, and I’ve become so used to it that using an actual right-click button feels awkward. However, the Mac method of right-clicking will be just as awkward to someone who is used to using that right-click button.

Build quality

The Sony is a quality laptop when judged against other Windows-based laptops. While still made of plastic, the body feels solid and sturdy, and the keyboard is chiclet-style like the Mac, which makes for a really nice typing experiences. However, it can’t compare with the Macbook Pro’s aluminum Unibody construction – no Windows-based laptop I’ve come across can (except maybe high-end ThinkPads). Additionally, the lid feels a bit flimsy, and it doesn’t stay in place as well as the Mac’s (or many other laptops, for that matter). It certainly won’t fall down by itself, but you can move it with a light push of the finger. The same push wouldn’t move the Macbook’s lid.

Connections

The Sony wins here. HDMI and USB 3.0 support make this a versatile machine that you can use with TVs and a lot of other peripherals. The Mac lacks HDMI, which kinda sucks. I ended up buying a VGA adapter for mine so I could hook it up to projectors. Apple can say what they want, but Mini DisplayPort is the LAST connection I’d choose for a laptop.

Graphics

Sony all the way here. The low-end SB model comes with a Radeon HD 6470, while the beefed-up SA model comes with a Radeon HD 6630. Both of these cards make mince meat of the Intel HD 3000 integrated GPU that’s included with the Macbook Pro. With my SA, I got to playing Dirt 2 up to 30 frames per second after turning off bloom.

OS support

This really comes down to preference – do you want Windows 7 or OS X? Both have their advantages and disadvantages. However, there are a few things to note here: Macs can easily be set up to dual-boot OS X and Windows 7 by using the included Boot Camp program. Depending on your major, you may be able to buy Windows 7 for a super-low price from your campus bookstore (at ISU, business and engineering majors get it for $10). Check with your bookstore to find out.

Cost

Since most of you reading this are college students, I’ll break down the REAL cost of each of these laptops for you. First, the Sony: You basically have two choices with the Sony models.

  1. The SB model. This is the lower-end model that you can get for $899 at the Sony website. If you order by September 17th, you can get optional sheet battery for free, which is pretty nice.
  2. The SA model. This is the model I have, and it retails for $1,199 on Newegg.

With the Macbook Pro, you get $100 off as a student, the the price comes to $1,099. Additionally, you get $100 to spend at the Mac app store, so if there are apps you’d like to get there, you can factor this promotion into the cost.

At the end of the day, I think the choice between these two laptops comes down to preference. If you’re not looking for stellar graphics performance, the Sony SB might be a good budget choice, especially since you can get the sheet battery for free. If I had to pick, I’d still go with the Macbook Pro, but the Sony comes close.

Thomas Frank is the geek behind College Info Geek. After paying off $14K in student loans before graduating, landing jobs and internships, starting a successful business, and travelling the globe, he's now on a mission to help you build a remarkable college experience as well. Get the Newsletter | Twitter | Instagram

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29 Comments:
    • By refurbished, do you mean current-gen or last-gen? It all depends on how good you want your computer to be – refurbished models usually work just fine, so if you’re wanting to save some money I’d go with that.

  1. Another thing Mac users can do to simulate the right-click button is going to the system preferences > trackpad > one finger > secondary click > and choose bottom right corner. I found this to be much more efficient, but it does throw off a lot of people who aren’t aware of it when they are using my laptop.

  2. any sort of encoding, video rendering, the Sony SA will win hands down. And for anyone who is looking to do some real work and business, Sony’s SA screen 1600×900 is far more productive than the comparatively tiny Mac screen. even Dell, and HP’s similar class laptop offers higher resolution.

    In fact, Sony’s SA offers the highest resolution in class along with Acer’s new UX31 Zenbook. Once you use that kind of resolution for office application (large spreadsheet, charts, photoshop etc.) you just dont’ look back at Mac’s screen.

    • @tyw214 all valid points. To be honest, I sometimes get frustrated with my MacBook’s small screen. I think the reason I’m usually OK with it is because I have a dual-monitor desktop as well – but I know this isn’t something most students have.

  3. @claray

    I think it depends on your point of reference. For me it is no louder than my 15″ Macbook Pro or HP Elitebook and certainly quieter than an older Dell XPS. I also found the occurrence of the fans going full-out is less than my Alienware m11x which seems to whine incessantly! So it is based on your expectations and experience. Right now I am at work so with the ambient air conditioning noise I can’t hear it at all.

  4. @thomasfrank09 Thanks for the comments. What do you think of the operating noise? Is it just the normal level or somewhat distracting? Thanks again in advance.

  5. @txa1265 Thanks for the comments. But is it true that the Sony SA can be extremely loud (screaming fan)? Under what circumstances can it get that loud? I have to consider this as it can be annoying if the laptop makes distracting noise every time I perform some graphics-heavy programs. Thanks again!

  6. @claray I don’t consider it an issue at all. I was also part of the ‘Charged & Ready’ program, and am a hardcore gamer so I put the Sony through some grueling paces with recent graphics-heavy games … and while it got a bit warm and the fan was screaming, there was never any issue. Part of that was also that when using the extended ‘sheet’ battery it serves as a sort of heat sink.

  7. I read a few reviews complaining about the cooling system of the Sony SA, since the fan is located in the back which can be easily blocked when the screen is opened up, and thus overheats the machine. Do you consider it a serious problem while using it, especially after a long period of time or while performing some memory-consuming programs? My major requires me to do lots of graphic-related work using adobe creative suite as well as GIS, do you think that will incur the over-heat problem? Thanks a lot in advance! – Clara

  8. @[email protected] Yeah just go to Sys. Pref. and click Trackpad, the point/click, and for secondary click just select bottom right. This will have the trackpad behave like a “typical” trackpad and button combo.

  9. I just want to say that I have used both a PC and a Mac in my collegiate career and by far my Mac is superior…and I am no artsy-type either (business student). Also you can change the settings on your Mac trackpad to act more like left and right-click buttons. This feature is under System Preferences.

  10. @[email protected] Salladay Good point on the HDMI, I get a little irritated having to buy adapters for it. On the other hand I learned today that the macbook is a favorite bed/seat for kittens. Win 🙂

  11. @Jacob Salladay The longevity that the Geek Squad guy was referring to can probably be more attributed to the fact that OS X doesn’t get as many viruses and doesn’t really experience bit rot. As for extreme temperatures – I wouldn’t subject any laptop to something like that! However, I’d agree with you that it just LOOKS like a more durable machine than most Windows-based laptops. Still, there are some things missing from it that I wish it had – at least give me an HDMI connection!

  12. @[email protected] Salladay Due to the outer construction, I don’t know if you’ve experienced it, but a Macbook comfortably runs in conditions that would typically be very difficult for other computers (eg. extreme temperatures). Also (according to a Geek Squad representative) the typical lifespan of a Macbook Pro is about 2-3 times that of your typical PC. That’s at least what I’m saying here, despite that the internal components are the same. I think it’s truly just the design and especially as you’ve mentioned the solid aluminum case that lends itself to this.

  13. @Jacob Salladay I’ll agree that the construction seems better on the outside; however, I don’t think the internals are going to last longer than the other laptop. They’re very similar.

  14. @thomasfrank09 Okay that sounds like a good idea to do then. I think I am going to be stuck with my Macbook and future products as my entire house is tied into the Apple community.

  15. @Justicewordlaw I’m in the same camp as you; my Macbook is still my favorite. However, I really like the Sony. It is quite a bit lighter than the Mac when the sheet battery isn’t attached, and the graphics performance is better. I could see using it for a little mobile gaming. I might also get some use from testing out Windows tricks for future posts 🙂

  16. Some of the PC features is something that I just don’t like. I do enjoy the overall look of the Sony it’s just that my Macbook just offers everything that I like and the trackpad is just really good. The screen is the brightest that I have seen with any laptop w/o having to play around with functions as well.

  17. @[email protected] I havent’ used a utility like that … too many years of keyboard-only DOS and UNIX stuff that I just got used to keystroke-mania! But I know on the Mac there is ControllerMate, which allows you to customize *everything*. I have used it for X360 controller profiles, but you can use it for keystrokes as well.

    Also, with Lion, you can (in certain places) hold down a key (like e) and rather than repeating it will pop up a list of accented alternatives.

  18. @txa1265 I’ll agree with that. On the other side of the coin, though, being able to use AutoHotkey on my Windows computers makes me wish there were an alternative for OS X…

  19. Most important factor missing here I think is longevity and durability. While a larger price tag for a Macbook may seem like a hassle at first, but when you consider how long it will last, I think it’s a hands-down comparison for true long-term cost.

    Good comparison and review though!

  20. Great comparison – I have the high-end 15″ Macbook Pro with Quad Core i7 and full-on Radeon HD, so it isn’t a fair comparison … but using gestures on the Mac makes so many things feel laborious and inefficient on *any* PC laptop …

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