Sony Vaio VPC-YB35KX/B review

Laptops

The Good The Sony Vaio YB35KX/B has a lot of hard-drive space, solid performance from an AMD E-450 processor, and long battery life; this 11-incher has the portability of a Netbook, and it’s reasonably affordable.

The Bad The cramped keyboard and touch pad make this Vaio feel more like a Netbook from 2010 than an ultrabook from 2011, and it lacks USB 3.0.

The Bottom Line The more affordable and better-performing Sony Vaio YB35KX/B is a modest improvement on the last YB model we reviewed, adding up to a full-featured but cramped 11-inch laptop that’ll cost a lot less than an ultrabook.

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7.5 Overall

  • Design
    7
  • Features
    8
  • Performance
    7
  • Battery
    8
  • Support
    7

The Netbook is dead; long live the new Netbooks. Atom-toting 10-inch laptops might be a thing of the past, but the 2011 trend of sticking low-power processors in small-screened computers is alive and well. However, this time, the result is a far better laptop. An AMD Fusion processor in a sub-$500 11-incher was a novelty back in January, but now, we’re quite used to these devices, which have been slowly getting modest processor upgrades and price adjustments through the year.

Compare

Sony Vaio VPC-YB35KX/B

Acer Aspire One 722

Asus Eee PC T91

Asus Eee PC 1201PN

Gateway LT3103u

Design 7 7 8 7 8
Features 8 7 9 6 8
Performance 7 6 6 7 8
Battery 8 8 9 5 6
Support 7 7 6 6 7
Overall 7.5 7.1 8.0 6.2 7.2
Price

We reviewed the Sony Vaio YB15KX/S in February; like many early-2011 laptops, it paired an AMD E-350 APU with ample storage space and RAM to create a tiny laptop that performed well and didn’t cost too much (for a Vaio, at least). The Vaio YB35KX/B is a revision that upgrades to an AMD E-450 processor, keeping the same 4GB of RAM and 500GB hard drive as its predecessor, at a lower cost. Depending on where you buy it, it currently can be found for as low as $469.

A similar thing happened to the HP Pavilion dm1, which got its own slight redesign and AMD E-450 upgrade. The processor upgrade isn’t something you’ll notice at all, but the price drop is a bigger story. At this price, the latest Sony Vaio Y is a much better value. The ample hard-drive space and speedier processor make this an excellent choice as a Netbook-sized laptop that can truly transcend its size and be used as a full-fledged computer.

Yes, there are limitations: the AMD E-450 is considerably slower than a mainstream Intel Core i5 or its equivalent, such as you’d find in an ultrabook or MacBook Air. It’s nowhere near as thin as a ultrabook or an Air, but it’s also not as expensive. From that perspective, it could be the compromise you’re looking for, if you can live with a smaller screen and slower performance.

Price as reviewed $499
Processor 1.6GHz AMD Fusion E-450 Dual-Core APU
Memory 4GB, 1,333MHz DDR3
Hard drive 500GB, 5,400rpm
Chipset AMD 1510h
Graphics AMD Radeon HD 6320
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
Dimensions (WD) 11.2×8 inches
Height 1-1.2 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 11.6 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 3.1 pounds / 3.6 pounds
Category Ultraportable

Clad in grayish-black plastic, the Vaio YB35KX/B looks rather generic. A casual passerby might mistake it for an Asus Eee PC Netbook. Classic Sony Vaio touches abound if you know where to look, as in the slightly cramped raised keyboard, convex palm rest, and circular side hinges. The glowing green power button is embedded in the right side of the hinges, which got confusing for me, as I kept pressing the rectangular button on the top right of the keyboard instead, which looks like a power button but is really the Vaio Assist key. Pressing it boots diagnostic software that bypasses Windows 7, and I had to exit and restart when I made this mistake, which I imagine many will.

The left-side hinge is where the AC plug goes. It juts out of the side, without blocking any USB ports.

The modest keyboard has small keys but good key travel, and an overall typing feel that resembles that of a Netbook. Volume and screen brightness are controlled via numbered function keys rather than dedicated buttons.

Nestled below is one of the smallest touch pads I’ve ever seen. Two discrete plastic buttons beneath restrict space even further, to the point where the responsive touch-pad surface is barely larger than two-and-a-half SD cards placed side by side.

The 11.6-inch, 1,366×768-pixel-resolution glossy inset screen is crisp and bright, but requires head-on viewing for the best results. Movies and pictures looked very sharp. Speaker quality is another matter. The stereo speakers have barely any oomph, and sound is hard to hear even at maximum volume. You’ll want to keep headphones handy at all times. The 640×480-pixel Webcam (1,280×960-pixel for still pictures) is serviceable, barely. Pictures looked dark and grainy. Considering Sony’s camera and lens expertise, it’s surprising that this Vaio didn’t have a better Webcam.

Was using this laptop exciting? No. Is it functional? Yes, of course it is. A few Sony software touches like a pull-down dock on the top of the screen (for accessing Sony software, naturally) aren’t too intrusive. I found this Vaio easy to hold in one hand, it rested easily on my lap, and the screen tilted to a comfortable viewing angle for lap-typing.

Sony Vaio VPC-YB35KX/B Average for category [ultraportable]
Video VGA, HDMI VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 3 USB 2.0, SD card reader, Memory Stick reader 2 USB 2.0, 1 USB 3.0, SD card reader
Networking Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband
Optical drive None None

This little Vaio doesn’t have USB 3.0 connectivity, but it does have Bluetooth. There are three USB 2.0 ports, plenty for a small laptop. There’s also HDMI, and…well, that’s it. Like all Sony Vaio laptops, the YB35KX/B has a Memory Stick card slot in addition to an SD card slot. The two discrete slots are stacked on top of each other.

One of the best parts of this Vaio is its ample hard drive. It’s no solid-state drive (SSD), but a 500GB hard drive matches the average for a larger mainstream laptop. Those looking to make this their big media-library repository will be in luck. The comparatively limited SSD storage on ultrabooks is one of the biggest hindrances for digital hoarders. That won’t be a problem here.

Unlike Atom-based Netbooks, this Vaio, thanks to AMD’s Fusion processor, is pretty adept at handling Flash and video streaming. On the other hand, Netflix movies sometimes exhibited choppiness during high-speed action; not enough to ruin watching, but enough to make purists feel grumpy. The 1.6GHz AMD E-450 processor, aka an APU, has its own onboard graphics–AMD Radeon HD 6320–to enhance video playback and even allow some basic gaming. Street Fighter IV ran at 17.8 frames per second with 2x antialiasing at native 1,366×768-pixel resolution, as compared with 18.9fps on the HP Pavilion dm1-4010us, which has the same processor. That’s not really what gamers would call “playable,” but hey, it’s something. You could play your average game on this Vaio at toned-down graphics settings.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple MacBook Air 11.6-inch (Summer 2011)
103 Samsung Series 3 NP300U1A
206 HP Pavilion dm1-4010us
325 Lenovo IdeaPad S205
334 Sony Vaio VPC-YB35KX/B
351

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple MacBook Air 11.6-inch (Summer 2011)
253Samsung Series 3 NP300U1A
1,212Sony Vaio VPC-YB35KX/B
1,552Lenovo IdeaPad S205
1,828HP Pavilion dm1-4010us
2,087

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple MacBook Air 11.6-inch (Summer 2011)
110Samsung Series 3 NP300U1A
257HP Pavilion dm1-4010us
441Sony Vaio VPC-YB35KX/B
453Lenovo IdeaPad S205
457

Juice box
Sony Vaio VPC-YB35KX/B Avg watts/hour
Off (60%) 0.39
Sleep (10%) 0.71
Idle (25%) 10.84
Load (05%) 22.66
Raw kWh number 36.34
Annual power consumption cost $4.12

Annual power consumption cost
Apple MacBook Air 11.6-inch (Summer 2011)
$2.70Lenovo IdeaPad S205
$2.78Samsung Series 3 NP300U1A
$3.30HP Pavilion dm1-4010us
$3.70Sony Vaio VPC-YB35KX/B
$4.12

The included removable battery lasted 4 hours and 52 minutes while the YB35KX/B played back a continuous video loop. That’s better than the 4 hours and 23 minutes we got out of February’s Vaio YB15KX/S, and it’s also better than the 11-inch Apple MacBook Air‘s time, but the HP Pavilion dm1-4010us bests them all, at 5 hours and 18 minutes. Nearly 5 hours of battery life is still very good for an ultraportable, and should last most users the better part of a day with some battery-setting and screen-brightness adjustments.

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
HP Pavilion dm1-4010us
318Sony Vaio VPC-YB35KX/B
292Lenovo IdeaPad S205
290Apple MacBook Air 11.6-inch (Summer 2011)
276Samsung Series 3 NP300U1A
161

The Sony Vaio VPC YB35KX/B comes with a one-year standard warranty from Sony. Sony no longer sells the Vaio Y series on its own Web site, but it’s still available from a variety of retailers, who offer their own extended warranty options. Sony’s site offers a 24-7 toll-free phone line, Web chat, and driver downloads.

It’s a shame Sony doesn’t offer the Vaio Y series on its site anymore, because it’s the most affordable ultraportable line in Sony’s stable of laptops. The YB35KX/B is a solid but modest improvement on the YB series 11-inchers from earlier in the year; the added savings make this a very good, if not ultrasexy, ultraportable.

System configurations:

Sony Vaio VPC-YB35KX/B
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.65GHz AMD Fusion E-450 Dual-Core APU; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 384MB (Dedicated) ATI Mobility Radeon HD 6320; 500GB Western Hitachi 5,400rpm

Apple MacBook Air 11.6-inch – Summer 2011
OS X 10.7 Lion; 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-2467M; 2GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 256MB (Shared) Intel HD 3000; 64GB Apple SSD

HP Pavilion dm1-4010us
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.65GHz AMD Fusion E-450 Dual-Core APU; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 384MB (Dedicated) ATI Mobility Radeon HD 6320; 320GB Hitachi 7,200rpm

Samsung Series NP300U1A
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.3GHz Intel Core i3-2357M; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 3000; 320GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

Lenovo IdeaPad S205
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 1.6GHz AMD Fusion E-350 Dual-Core APU; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 384MB (Dedicated) ATI Mobility Radeon HD 6310; 500GB Western Digital 5,400rpm

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