capsule review

Sony VAIO X Series Netbook

At a Glance
  • Sony VAIO X Series

    PCWorld Rating

    The supersexy, slim VAIO X has netbook dimensions, decent specs, and a serious price tag.

Sleek, sexy, and slim, the Sony VAIO X Series is the perfect netbook for the stylish, executive jet-setter. While this machine is smaller than most netbooks and measures just 0.55 inch thick, it packs a bit more gusto--and, starting at $1299 (our unit sells for $1499, as of 11/10/09), it carries an over-the-top price tag that screams, "CEO only!"

I quickly fell for the golden, brushed-aluminum body and the matching widely spaced keys. (Not feeling flashy enough for the limited-edition gold version, like the one we received? The X Series also comes in black.) Measuring 10.95 by 7.29 by 0.55 inches and weighing 1.6 pounds, the X Series out-smalls the MacBook Air and gives the upcoming Dell Adamo XPS a run for its money.

The X Series boasts an 11.1-inch screen that measures merely 0.125 inch thick. The laptop comes with two interchangeable batteries: a standard (3.5-hour) battery and a larger, heavier, battery-and-stand combo that supposedly lasts for up to 14 hours, according to Sony spokespeople. They were wrong. It lasts just a few minutes under 15 hours -- that's easily the longest running laptop we've tested to date. International jet-setter, we've found your PC. The additional battery brings the weight of the X Series to approximately 2.2 pounds. (For reference, the popular MacBook Air weighs about 3 pounds.)

Though the laptop may look like a Jaguar, it runs like a Ford Taurus. Don't forget, that while this looks sweet and costs a fortune, it is still a netbook at heart. The X features a 128GB solid-state drive, 2GB of RAM, and a 2GHz Intel Atom Z550 processor. In PC WorldBench 6 tests, it earned a 39--hardly smoking fast, but better than the average netbook score of 36. In my subjective tests, the X Series ran Windows 7 Home Premium Edition smoothly enough, though I did find the machine slowing down when I tried to get more than three programs running at the same time.

The X Series features a 1366-by-768-pixel, 11.1-inch LCD screen--theoretically, you could get 720p video to run on this machine. Streaming HD (480p) video from Hulu was fantastic: Image quality was crisp and clear, and colors looked fully saturated. Since the machine supports 720p resolutions, we had to throw our higher-quality test video (of a shuttle launch) at it; the result was a herky-jerky viewing experience, however. Your HD-video mileage will vary.

The LED-backlit screen looks good both indoors and out. At the highest brightness setting, it was still readable in sunlight (using the highest brightness setting, however, will cut the battery life to 2.5 hours on the standard battery and 12 hours on the extra-life battery).The only problem: The higher resolution hurts the VAIO X Series. I, admittedly, have bad eyes, but looking at the tiny screen started to give me a headache after about half an hour. Fortunately, I did have the option of zooming (stutteringly) in.

Also featured on the X Series are a multigesture touchpad and a built-in Webcam. The touchpad supports gestures such as the iPhone "pinch" for zooming in/out, and a two-finger horizontal "swipe" for flicking through photos. Most of the gestures work, though not as smoothly as they do on Mac touchpads.

The keyboard offers widely spaced and separate buttons, commonly associated with a MacBook (though, in all fairness, Sony implemented them first). It isn't the worst small keyboard I've ever used, but sacrificing some prettiness for usefulness might have made sense on Sony's part. While the spaced keys are attractive, they're unnaturally small. My fingers (and I have small hands, and seriously delicate fingers) slipped off of the keys so often that typing this review on the X Series was a hassle. I also found that the Shift key and the spacebar were somewhat unresponsive on our test unit, but Sony spokespeople assured us that this is a one-off issue unique to our machine. If we discover otherwise, we'll let you know when we update the final review.

The touchpad also seemed ridiculously small, considering all the space (clearly for aesthetic concerns) surrounding it. The mousing surface measures about 2 by 1.5 inches, and the buttons are 1 by 0.5 inches. And they don't appear to be well made. The touchpad is flimsy, and the buttons seem like they'll be quick to break--it's almost as if Sony is really trying to push its matching wireless mouse.

Elsewhere, the X Series makes room for a Memory Stick Pro slot and an SD Card slot (both located right under the touchpad), a headphone jack, two USB 2.0 ports, a VGA-out, and an ethernet port that conveniently folds out (to keep the machine ultrathin). Don't go looking for an optical drive, though--that's extra.

The included software was pretty basic: Microsoft Works SE 9.0, a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007, a 30-day trial of Norton Internet Security, and some of the standard bloatware. (A 90-day trial of AOL? Last time I checked, it wasn't 1998 anymore.) Sony also tosses in a bundle of multimedia tools, such as the VAIO Video & Photo Suite and the Sony Picture Utility.

Overall, the Sony VAIO X Series exudes sex appeal. However, if you plan on actually using it, the netbook becomes less attractive. The keyboard leaves something to be desired; after about 4 hours of typing, I am starting to get used to it, but I'm also starting to understand what carpal tunnel syndrome feels like. So if you've got small hands and need something to last for an entire intercontinental flight, you're in luck. But it'll cost you.

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    The supersexy, slim VAIO X has netbook dimensions, decent specs, and a serious price tag.

    Pros

    • Incredibly light (1.6 pounds) and very sleek
    • Bright, colorful LED-backlit screen

    Cons

    • Expensive
    • Small keyboard--and an even smaller touchpad
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