Sony will tell you a lot of things about the new Vaio Pro, which replaces the Vaio Z at the top of its laptop heap. It might say that it's exceedingly light, and made from carbon fibre. Or it might say that it's got new Intel Haswell guts. But what it should really say is just this: It doesn't suck. And that's the biggest change to Sony laptops in years.
The new Vaio Pro (11-inch and 13-inch models; $1299 and $1399 starting configs, respectively; out early-June in black and silver) does away with almost all of the crap that made the Z so unusable. That too-shallow, too-small, too-awful keyboard is gone, replaced with a usable, typable island keyboard with nice spacing and travel distance.
The cramped and tiny and also totally unusable trackpad is replaced with a big glass one that seemed to work reasonably well when we saw it a few months back, when its software was still in the early stages. The screen is a very nicely balanced 1080p. And it retains its lightness with the carbon fibre body, but adds an aluminium wrist plate to give the unit a more solid feel. (There was a good amount of flex in the keyboard as we used it, but Sony seemed to imply that it would be fixed for final production; we'll let you know when we get review units in.) The 11-inch weighs 870 grams, and the 13-inch 1.06kg . They also have the Vaio's traditional optional and ugly sheet battery, which doubles battery life.
So basically, Sony made its best Vaio model good, and so that it does not look and feel incredibly cheap, like the Vaio Z did, and to an even greater extent, the Vaio T. Those were just flatly unacceptable. This might not be up to par with pristine ultrabooks like the Acer Aspire S7, but it's at least in the conversation for things that are good. And that's a nice start for Sony.
Elsewhere, Sony has a new convertible, the Duo 13. It's basically the Duo 11, but with a larger, 1080p screen, a tiny trackpad (instead of no trackpad), and a more effective hinge design. Sony says the Duos are designed for visual professionals, which makes a little bit of sense, somewhat, but the compromise of functionality for even this improved version still seems like a lot to give up for, effectively, a touchscreen easel. It's out in Black and White starting at $1699 early-June as well.
This is a pretty good haul for Sony fans — enough that anyone buying Sony sight-unseen won't be getting totally screwed anymore — but hopefully the upward trend continues a few more cycles, since it's good, but not quite all the way there yet.