capsule review

Sony VAIO W Series

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At a Glance
  • Sony VAIO W Series

The VAIO W isn't Sony's first netbook--technically, that honor belongs to the fashion-forward Vaio P, even if the company touted the P as a bite-sized "lifestyle laptop." But the Sony Vaio W Series netbooks are the first to angle for a more traditional size (hint: It won't fit in your coat pocket), a more reasonable price (our review unit sells for "only" $499), and a couple of nips and tucks. Some of these I can deal with, while others left me unsatisfied and scratching my head.

Like most Sony products, style plays an integral role with the Vaio W. This device comes in three colors ranging from stark white and subdued brown to a hot pink. The unit measures 10.5 by 7.1 by 1.3 inches, and weighs 2.6 pounds, putting it right in line with other netbooks packing a 10.1-inch screen. The rounded curves and firmly designed plastic frame makes it a bit of a coffee-shop eye-grabber. (Sony takes full advantage of this marketing opportunity: You'll see a big, silvery VAIO logo on the back of the lid; at least, it's not nearly as obnoxious as what you'll see on the lid of the Samsung Go.)

The big scene-stealer, though, has to be the screen. The 10.1-inch backlit-LCD panel delivers amazing picture quality. Properly positioned (that is, with the screen pushed back to a 45-degree angle), this display wowed me. Minimal glare combined with rich colors and a sharp contrast make pictures pop. A sample image with a flower on a leafy background stood out as particularly sharp compared with other netbooks. Or notebooks, for that matter.

The 1368-by-768-pixel native resolution means sharp detail and a 720p high-definition picture (the unit delivered good-quality, stutter-free 720p video). Whether this resolution makes for workability on such a small system is another question. As we complained regaring the Dell Mini 10's sharp screen, the high resolution can be a little difficult to read at times. Images and text are so small that your first stop will likely be the Windows Control Panel to tinker with font sizes.

Otherwise, the 1.66GHz Intel Atom N280 CPU and 1GB of RAM are enough to get the job done here. While everyday applications seem to load reasonably quickly, we can't give you the definitive scored review just yet. We're running into a couple of WorldBench 6 test anomalies that we need to work out first. We're also waiting on final numbers for battery life tests. Sony claims that this machine will last for 3 hours with standard usage. I obviously can't pass judgment at this point, but that isn't exactly a promising number for two reasons: First, our tests usually show battery life being about 30 minutes less than advertised times. Second, 3 hours is a far cry from the 10 hours that Toshiba's NB205-310 lasted in our tests (and that machine costs $100 less).

As for the keyboard and mouse on the W, my initial vibe is one of disappointment. I've always been a fan of Sony's cut-out keys, but for some reason the buttons here feel oddly scrunched and a little harder to use than those of many other netbooks to make their way through the PC World Test Center. And I don't know what this says about me, but three keys that I find myself using often--Esc, Tab, Delete--and the spacebar buttons are all too small for their own good. Trying to write this review on the W, for example, took a whole lot longer than normal if only because I had to slow down and keep backtracking. Meanwhile, the oversized "1" key all but guarantees I'll typ1e 1's w1hen 1 don't mean t1o.

The touchpad garners fewer gripes because it has an average-sized strike zone with a texture difference so you know where your fingers should be. But unfortunately, it lacks multitouch driver functionality, and it has two plastic buttons that feel a little shallow. They don't feel as if they are going to fall off, but maybe nice, firm metallic buttons camping closer to the lower edge would have been better.

What else could have been better? More than two USB 2.0 ports. Instead of an extra USB port, we get an extra memory card slot, dedicated to Memory Stick (the other card slot handles SD Cards). The only other I/O options you get are VGA-out, a 10/100 ethernet port, a 1.3-megapixel Webcam, and headphone and mic jacks. At least the W offers 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth in the standard configuration.

The unit's audio is about what one expects from a netbook--and it's not very good, at that. Tunes sound hollow when piped through the tiny speaker sitting below the front of the machine, and the audio was painfully tinny. Still, this is about par for netbooks (save for the rare exception of some models from Asus).

The software is a hodgepodge of useful apps and bloatware (plus mercifully easy-to-delete links to Sony online shopping sites). You get Microsoft Works, free--and then a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office. Google Chrome is the pre-installed default browser, though you still have Internet Explorer sitting there on your desktop. You get Arcsoft's Webcam software, InterVideo WinDVD, and Sony's handy Control Center Software--a bare-bones, one-stop spot for monkeying with the most commonly altered items in the Control Panel. It may not be fancy, but the one thing I like about it is the ability it gives to easily track and undo recent system changes.

I'm glad to see Sony delivering a true netbook-class machine, but this model doesn't bring the price down enough considering what's included in its $500 asking price. And while the keyboard isn't quite as picayune as that of the P Series, it isn't perfect (if your hand ranges from adult male goon, like yours truly's to Yao Ming-size, don't bother with the Vaio W). If you're looking for a final score on the Vaio W, stay tuned. We'll update this review--and our conclusions--once it finishes all of our tests.

--Darren Gladstone

Note: See our list of Top 10 Netbooks.

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At a Glance
  • It's got some flair--and some issues--but Sony's netbook is bound to find an audience among the fashion-conscious.


    • Fantastic backlit LCD panel
    • Strong software suite


    • Quirky keyboard layout
    • Needs more USB ports.
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