capsule review

Sony VAIO VGN-NW125J

At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Sony VAIO VGNNW125J/T Notebook

    PCWorld Rating

    Sony hits with big screen, general-purpose entertainment for a budget-friendly price.

Editor's Note: This laptop is a special fixed-configuration model offered only at the Best Buy retail chain.

Forget playing games, how about a semi-stylish 15.5-inch widescreen notebook that's built with movies in mind? If this sounds appealing to you, then check out the Sony VAIO VGN-NW125J. For $800, this model offers up a decent experience--and a whole lot of software (some of it even useful).

The big selling points on the stickers scream: "HDMI-output (cable sold separately)!" and "A Stunning LCD!" That's as good a cue as any to tackle some of the multimedia claims for the VGN-NW125J. The 1366-by-768-pixel panel delivers good results on the 15.5-inch screen. Blue colors popped a little when you set the brightness to full blast (and tilt the screen back to a 45-degree viewing angle), but at midlevel brightness and contrast settings, the machine seems a little muted. Its glossy coating doesn't really help matters because it picks up a glare. Trying to watch episodes of Lost streamed over Hulu requires a little more monkeying with contrast than I'm accustomed to, but at least the effort pays off in the end.

Plug the NW125J into an HDTV set through the HDMI port and you can actually get a decent picture from the on-board DVD-ROM drive. Yeah, and that'd be one of my complaints. I know that Sony is trying to keep prices down, but for less than 100 bucks more, you can invest in Sony's VGN-NW180J/S that comes with a Blu-ray drive. Y'know, Sony's own home video format that the company is desperately trying to push on consumers.

On the audio side, the sound isn't exactly full--or cubemate-annoyingly loud. But it is crisp enough and even throws in some of that psuedo-spatial-sound tomfoolery to make it seem more "3D." However, the absence of good bass makes it a little hollow when you listen to Jack caterwauling about wanting to get off, and then back, on the island. In short, it's good for a base-level all-purpose machine, but not great.

For such a big notebook, I found myself hitting the wrong keys a disproportionate amount of the time. Are the keys comfortable? Yes, the cut-out buttons feel springy enough when you're typing--they are plenty large as well. It's even hard to find fault with the function buttons and the few shortcut keys that line the top row (buttons for quick Web launching, muting, and display toggling). I think the problem lies in the spacing of the keys. Though the NW125J is big and wide, the keys feel scrunched a little too tightly. About one and a half inches are on either side of the keypad--not a major gripe, more an observation.

Sony scores back a couple of brownie points by loading this laptop up with every major port or slot you're likely to want: three for USB and one each for HDMI-out (as mentioned earlier), VGA-out, FireWire, PC Express, and Memory Stick and SD cards.

Deeper in the guts, the 2.GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6500 CPU and 4GB of RAM should be enough to muscle through basic tasks and provide a little extra oomph, but they won't break any land-speed records. The NW125J winds up with a WorldBench 6 score of 80; a similarly loaded, and similarly priced, Gateway U7807u scored 84 in WorldBench 6 a while back, so the new Sony's score is a little disappointing. The lackluster, integrated GPU ensures that you won't be aiming much higher than casual games on this laptop (not a bad thing). As for its endurance, it's able to last 4 hours, 13 minutes in our battery drain tests. In other words it's a fairly average machine, able to last as long as most all-purpose machines already out there--the NW125J just tries doing it for less.

The software bundle looks promising for the most part, with only a couple of dogs in the mix. On the utilitarian side, you have the fairly vanilla VAIO Control Center that parks everything you'd need to tweak on the PC in one place. The SmartWi (for wizards) utility is a little goofy and caused more confusion than help. (Let me interject a little anecdote: I'm trying to set up a wireless connection and the Wireless wizard asks me to....plug in....an ethernet cable! Really?)

The boatload of multimedia-minded apps range from the not-bad to the not-needed. On the positive side: Roxio Easy CD Creator 10 and a couple of basic video- and photo-editing apps are the headliners, but here's something that had potential: the VAIO Content Exporter. Of course, it's only optimized to export content to three settings: PSP, Memory Stick, and Mylo. Would it kill Sony to acknowledge that other devices exist? Another dark-horse app worth noting is the PMB. It lets you manage and organize videos and pictures. A handy calendar view lets you put all your pictures in perspective. The biggest disappointment: The basic MusicBox is a prime example of trying to remake the wheel without rounding the edges. (I know that Sony wants to put its stamp on music software, but do we really need it at this point?)

The NW125J is an oversized and promising machine that does what it says: That is, give your kids the basics they need for the new school year along with a mild multimedia boot in the keister. But with limitations like the lack of a discrete GPU, I'm wondering if Sony could have made a couple of smarter moves to keep the price down at the $800 level.

Other laptops specially configured for retail sale at Best Buy include the Dell Studio 14z, the HP dv4-1465dx, and the Toshiba Satellite M505-S4940. And check out our video coverage of the four laptops from Best Buy in "Back-to-School Laptops: We Review Best Buy's Exclusives."

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    Sony hits with big screen, general-purpose entertainment for a budget-friendly price.

    Pros

    • Good screen
    • Loaded software suite

    Cons

    • Keyboard is a little scrunched
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