Editors' note, December 4, 2008: We have corrected this review to remove mention of the laptop featuring Bluetooth. It does not include a Bluetooth antenna.
Editors' note, October 27, 2008: This review is part of our Holiday 2008 Retail Laptop Roundup, covering specific new configurations of popular laptops that can be found in retail stores.
The Vaio VGN-NS140E represents a minor update to Sony's previous 15-inch NR line. Nearly identical to the Vaio VGN-NR498 we reviewed in July, the NS140E is another fixed-configuration retail model that features the same strong, textured plastic shell and excellent keyboard and moves to a more recent Intel chipset, while adding a Webcam and Gigabit Ethernet to the mix. More impressive than the new additions is the price. The NR498 carried a $849 list price, and the NS140 comes in at $799, and serves up a current Intel chipset and Core 2 Duo (though it falls short of Intel's current cream of the mobile crop, Centrino 2). We liked the previous version three months ago, and though we still think any Sony system should come outfitted with media control keys, we like the Vaio NS140 even more than the NR laptops it replaces for offering a bit more power--and a Webcam--at a lower price.
|Processor||2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5800|
|Memory||3,072MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz|
|Hard drive||250GB, 5,400rpm|
|Chipset||Intel GM45 Express|
|Graphics||Intel GMA 4500MHD (integrated)|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Premium|
|Dimensions (WDH)||14.2 x 10.6 x 1.5 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.4 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||6.1 / 6.8 pounds|
The Vaio NS140 features a textured plastic shell, both on the lid and inside on the keyboard tray. The NS140E/W model is white; you can also get it in blue or silver. The laptop feels solid, with little flex that is sometime evident on cheaper laptops with thin, plastic chassis. The two hinges holding the display are wide and strong, resulting in little to no wobble when the laptop is bumped or moved.
More importantly, the keyboard is the same flat Sony keyboard we've come to know and love. The keys are flat--similar in feel to a MacBook's--and feature good travel. The touch pad, too, is comfortable and amply sized with responsive vertical and horizontal scroll areas along the right and bottom, respectively. The two mouse buttons, however, make a loud clack sound when pressed.
Though the Vaio NS140's keyboard tray leaves plenty of room for multimedia control keys--something most media-consuming students will come to appreciate, we believe--you won't find any here. We're seeing such controls on more and more laptops, even at the low-end of the price spectrum. For example, Dell's entry-level Inspiron 1525 features touch-sensitive media control keys. Aside from the power button, you'll find only two buttons above the NS140's keyboard: a mute key and a button labeled AV Mode. The mute key can be reprogrammed, while the AV Mode button launches a useless Vaio media app that lets you choose among various multimedia programs to access your music or photos or play a DVD. You're better off just choosing an app from the Start menu or simply creating a desktop shortcut. The AV Mode button does not allow for instant-on access. That is, you cannot play a CD or DVD without first booting to Windows.
Preloaded shovelware is kept in check; the trial offers have been whittled down to four AOL desktop icons, one of which, however, is animated.
The 15.4-inch wide-screen LCD display offers a 1,280x800 native resolution, which is typical of a display this size, though some vendors, including Dell, offer a finer 1,440x900 resolution option on configurable models. The Vaio NS140 features Sony's Xbrite-Eco screen, which we found to be crisp and vivid--movies and photos showed accurate colors, crisp edges, and smooth movement. In anecdotal testing, we found it to be less bright than other laptops, but at max brightness, the image looked fine under a variety of conditions. It features a glossy screen coating, but it wasn't as prone to glare and reflections as other glossy screens we've seen. And it offers a surprisingly wide viewing angle.
A laptop's integrated stereo speakers will never fill a room to a pleasing degree, but we must say that the Vaio NS140's do an admirable job. At maximum volume, the output is louder than usual and suffers from little distortion. You'll be able to enjoy movies without reaching for your headphones, and perhaps even a little music, as long as you aren't the head-banging type or require heavy bass.
|Sony Vaio VGN-NS140E||Average for category [mainstream]|
|Video||VGA-out, Webcam||VGA-out, S-video, Webcam|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||4 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, MemoryStick, SD card readers||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Modem, Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
The Vaio NS140 provides the basic allotment of connections. While many mainstream models are serving up HDMI or DisplayPort connections, the Vaio NS140 sticks with the tried-and-true VGA-out should you want to hook up an external monitor. We were pleased to find four USB ports conveniently split with a pair on each side of the laptop. On the front edge, next to the SD and Memory Card slots, is an always appreciated Wi-Fi on/off switch. Two new features not found on the previous NR series models make an appearance on the NS140: a Webcam and Gigabit Ethernet.