The Sony W Series
The first VAIO Mini Laptop
The Sony W Series (the first real VAIO mini laptop) is here and now available in the shops. I really wanted this netbook to be good. Really I did. After all the fuss that Sony made about not getting in to the 'race for the bottom' that they perceived the netbook market to be I thought that any true netbook (by their own definition) they produced would be something special, high priced sure, but it would be special.
So Is The Sony W Series Something Special?
Out of the box, first impressions are good; sleek clean lines with the prominent VAIO sign on the lid. Open it up and the good feeling continues with a metallic appearance to the design and a mottled texturing to the keyboard surround that suggests good quality. So far so good; this VAIO mini laptop is shaping up fine.
Powering on the machine and you are presented with a lovely 10.1 inch 1366x768 pixel display which out ranks just about every other netbook around most of which still get by on the standard 1024x600 pixel size.
Unfortunately this is where the excitement ends. The rest of the features of the Sony W Series fall squarely into the run of the mill features for any netbook with the Intel Atom 280 processor, 1g ram and a 160g hard drive being pretty much the standard choice. It does come in a range of colours though.
From a performance point of view the above would have you thinking that it would be average at best and you would be right. The higher resolution screen suggests that this might be an ideal on the move entertainment device with ability to display HD movies and content but in practice the machine struggles with this level of content. It seems to cope OK with standard definition but then you are not really maximising the use of the display so what's the point.
For everyday tasks, browsing, email document processing all will be fine and the extra screen space may help with word documents and spreadsheets as long as you don't struggle with the smaller type sizes (we didn't so think most people will be ok).
The keyboard is of a decent size but uses the chick-let or scrabble size keys which may be an issue for those that want a netbook for heavy typing duties. Myself I'm still a two fingered typist and I quite like the keyboard and quickly adapted but touch typists may find the transition more tricky.
The rest of the Sony VAIO W Series carries on in the same vein. The usual USB ports, SD card slot, vga monitor connector and the addition on a Sony Memory Stick Pro Duo slot. Connectivity features draft N wireless and blue-tooth but with no built in 3g connectivity so again OK but a bit of a disappointment.
So, so far we have a nice netbook, nothing special (apart from the lovely display) but nothing really bad until... we get to the battery. For some reason beyond me Sony have opted for a three cell battery that even by their own admission is going to be limited to around 3-4 hours off power usage. This is the fatal blow in the Sony VAIO mini laptop. Most recent high end netbooks are appearing with 6 cell batteries as standard and with more refined designs, managing more than 6 hours on a charge is quite common.
Finally we get to the pricing. Being Sony you would have thought that the Sony W Series would be firmly pegged the top end of the netbook price range. Indeed at launch it looked like that was to be the case but recent weeks have seen the VAIO W Series showing up at similar if not lower prices than the Samsung N110 for instance. It's not really surprising as apart from the screen the W Series simply is not a premium netbook, Sony have had little choice but to pitch it in the middle of the pack.
The overall tone of this review might suggest that we feel the Sony W Series netbook is a poor choice. It's not really the case as for its features and price it's really a pretty good buy especially if you need the resolution its great display provides. It's just that we tend to expect more from Sony. There are loads of players in the low and middle ends of the netbook market all producing very similar machines and with Sony we sort of hoped that the W Series would be something special. A Sony VAIO mini laptop would be expensive but maybe it would show the way to other netbook manufacturers as to what you could do in the netbook market.
The only real issue I have with the Sony is the poor battery life. It's just not good enough. There are rumours of a six cell version and as long as the price uplift is reasonable this will make it a far more attractive offering.
So if you need style over substance or you need the higher resolution screen and can put up with poor battery life then the Sony is good choice. If you need a highly portable machine with long battery life then I suggest looking elsewhere like the Samsung N110.
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