The VAIO touchpad

I love VAIO. I have been a VAIO laptop user for at least a decade. When my current 6-year-old VAIO began shutting down due to overheating I figured it was time to get a new one. Yeah, I could replace the heatsink/fan, but I deserve a new one.

I settled on the VAIO Z flip with its powerful Intel Core i7-6567U CPU and strong uni-direction carbon fiber shell.  The design was beautiful.  Everything about it, including the flip mechanism and keyboard, felt solid.

Before I ordered it, I made the decision that I could live without Thunderbolt 3 ports.  Even when I discovered that the VAIO’s fan produced much more noise than, say, a Lenovo Yoga 910 when powering a 4K external monitor I was determined to keep the VAIO.

What killed it for me was the touchpad, the pride and connections of VAIO’s Imai (second to last paragraph) notwithstanding.  There are four main problems with the touchpad:

  1. Surface – The surface of the touchpad is much rougher than any other high-end ultrabook.  This would be fine except that also the static coefficient of friction is larger than the dynamic, so when you need to press hard to perform a drag operation your finger stutters across the pad if moving slowly or precisely.
  2. Thumb rejection – The thumb rejection algorithm is non-existent so if you rest your thumb on the pad to maintain positional awareness it interferes with index-driven cursor movement.  This also may cause the cursor to jump just before clicking with your thumb, therefore causing errors in selection.
    Except for the MacBook, thumb rejection on other ultrabooks is not very advanced, however they do provide a delay of a quarter second or so which results in quite a bit more precision.  The MacBook’s algorithm outstandingly provides thumb rejection for as long as you are using your thumb as a clicker.
  3. Button force – Here again the specs of the VAIO differ greatly from that of other ultrabooks.  The force needed to click the button is far too great.  If you try to use your thumb as a clicker you run into the thumb rejection/interference issue; if you try to use your index finger as a clicker you lose precision due to surface friction and sensitivity – which brings me to VAIO’s last touchpad problem.
  4. Sensitivity – Touchpad tracking is much less smooth on the VAIO than other ultrabooks.  You will find that when attempting to finely position the cursor it will stick then jump, or zigzag, rather than moving smoothly from one position to another.

I spent an embarrassing amount of time in Best Buy comparing the touchpads of the Lenovo 910, Lenovo X1 Carbon, HP Spectre X360, Dell XPS 13, Microsoft Surface Book, and Apple MacBook Pro.  Unfortunately they all performed significantly better than the VAIO.

I really wanted to keep the VAIO so I tried hard to fix the issues.  I applied a 5 mil adhesive Teflon film to the touchpad surface to decrease the friction and fastened a thicker polymer strip to the bottom of the pad to prevent thumb detection.  Unfortunately this increased the sensitivity problem and rendered the pad useless.  (Interestingly this modification completely fixed the Lenovo’s thumb rejection issue while retaining complete functionality of the remainder of its touchpad.)  Also I hoped that the Teflon film would help with the sensitivity issue by distributing the electrical charge from a pointing finger, but it did not help at all; the third and fourth problem could not be fixed with a home solution.

VAIO, I love your engineering.  If you fix the touchpad issue I’ll be back.