With the VAIO VGN-AX570G's integrated TV tuner and beautiful 17-inch wide-screen display, Sony seeks to compete with the Fujitsu LifeBook N6210 and the Toshiba Qosmio G25-AV513, delivering a self-contained laptop that's equal parts TV and media-center computer. Though the VAIO VGN-AX570G lacks the best-in-class performance of the Qosmio and some of the features found on the LifeBook, it offers a competitive multimedia experience for several hundred dollars less. Still, all these systems are designed for people who are quite serious about making their laptop the entertainment hub of their home; more casual users who can do without the integrated TV tuner are better off with the much less expensive HP Pavilion dv8000z.
The VAIO VGN-AX570G measures 15.8 inches wide, 11.7 inches deep, and 1.7 inches thick, making it nominally smaller overall than its predecessor, the VAIO A690. The VAIO VGN-AX570G's base weight of 8.4 pounds is more in line with that of current-generation, lighter-weight desktop replacements such as the 8.4-pound Gateway NX850XL, the 8.3-pound HP Pavilion dv8000z, and the 8.2-pound Dell Inspiron 9300; heavier multimedia-focused desktop-replacement laptops include the Fujitsu LifeBook N6210 and the Toshiba Qosmio G25-AV513. The VAIO VGN-AX570G's bulky AC adapter adds a bit less than a pound to the package. Though the system doesn't run particularly hot, the fan is quite loud and runs often.
The keyboard has large, firm keys, and we found it comfortable to use. It has no separate number pad, however, unlike the Pavilion dv8000z and the LifeBook N6210, and there's quite a bit of dead space around the keyboard. The VAIO VGN-AX570G's tiny touch pad lacks a scroll strip, and the mouse buttons are quite small; a separate pointing stick anchored in the middle of the keyboard has its own set of mouse buttons. We find it odd that a laptop the size of the VAIO VGN-AX570G has two diminutive pointing options; we preferred to use our own external USB mouse.
The VAIO VGN-AX570G's best feature is its superb 17-inch-diagonal wide-screen display; it's among the brightest laptop displays we've seen, providing richly detailed images and a very fine 1,440x900 (WXGA+) native resolution. The stereo speakers, placed along the front edge of the laptop, sound good, if not as loud or bass-heavy as the Qosmio's or the Inspiron 9300's. Other notable A/V features include an integrated 0.3-megapixel camera, an external mute button (but no volume controls), and Sony's new integrated TV-tuner module (more about that later). The VAIO VGN-AX570G lacks many of the external multimedia controls found on competitive models, relying instead on its big remote control to manage the optical drive and the TV tuning.
The VAIO VGN-AX570G performs well as a stand-alone LCD TV. Its sharp and stable picture is one of the best we've seen on a laptop TV, though the couple of seconds it takes to start and change channels is annoying. The laptop's integrated TV tuner comes as a swappable module, which we like, but because the modular DVD burner fits into the same slot, you can forget about burning a DVD from a TV show without first putting it onto the hard drive. If that's a deal breaker for you, consider Sony's $300 docking station, which offers an additional modular bay.
Though it's the first VAIO laptop to feature Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition, Sony still throws in a great assortment of apps, including Click to DVD for disc burning, SonicStage for audio editing, and Image Connector for transferring files to a Sony PSP.