Editors' note: This review is part of our Winter 2009 Retail Roundup, covering specific configurations of popular laptops that can be found in retail stores.
The Vaio VGN-NS240E/W is a minor update to Sony's previous 15.4-inch NS model we tested, the NS140E/W. The most notable update to this fixed-configuration retail model is a new processor--the 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6400, as well as a $100 price drop.
Everything we liked about the NS140E/W is still here, but so are all the cons, including a lack of dedicated media control keys, and less memory and storage than you can get from the comparably priced competition.
|Price as reviewed||$699|
|Processor||2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6400|
|Memory||3GB, 800MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||250GB 5,400rpm|
|Chipset||Mobile Intel GM45 Express Chipset|
|Graphics||128MB Intel GMA 4500MHD (integrated)|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Home Premium SP1|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.4 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||6.1/6.8 pounds|
The Vaio NS240 has a textured plastic pattern, both on the lid and inside on the keyboard tray. The texture gives it a strange feel, but the body is sturdy, with little flex that is sometime evident on mainstream 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.
Though the Vaio NS240's keyboard tray leaves plenty of room for multimedia control keys, 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, the Gateway MD-series laptops have touch-sensitive media control keys.
Aside from the power button, you'll find only two buttons above the NS240's keyboard: a mute key and a button labeled AV Mode. The AV Mode button drops down a Vaio media application quick-launch menu that lets you choose among various multimedia programs to access your music or photos or play a DVD. You can add or subtract items from the menu or connect icons to a different application (click Music to launch iTunes instead of the preprogrammed Vaio MusicBox). The AV Mode button does not allow for instant-on access, though, so you cannot play a CD or DVD without first booting to Windows.
Sony includes Microsoft Works 9 and a handful of multimedia applications such as MusicBox that can analyze your music collection and automatically create stations by mood, activity, time of day, or style. It worked better than we expected and is a little more fun than your standard "shuffle."
The 15.4-inch wide-screen LCD screen offers a 1,280x800-pixel native resolution, which is standard for a screen this size. 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 (which will hurt battery life), 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. Also, 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 NS240s do an admirable job. At maximum volume, the output is louder than usual and suffers from little distortion.
|Sony Vaio NS240E/W||Average for category [mainstream]|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||4 USB 2.0, mini FireWire, SD card and Memory Stick readers||4 USB 2.0, mini FireWire, SD card reader|
|Networking||Modem, 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 ports and connections selection for the NS240E/W is standard for its class. While many mainstream models are serving up HDMI or DisplayPort connections, the Sony has just a VGA-out for connecting to an external monitor or TV. There's also no built-in Bluetooth for connecting to a mouse or headset.
The NS240E/W is a fixed configuration so what you see is what you get. Other variations on the model exist, including a $929.99 model direct from Sony with Blu-ray playback, but with no HDMI jack you'll just be paying for it to watch your Blu-ray discs on the go. At this price, the Sony's 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6400 is common, but so is 4GB of memory and a 320GB hard drive, which won't be found in the NS240E/W. Instead you get 3GB of memory and a 250GB hard drive. However, the memory is 800MHz--faster than the 667MHz used by the competition--that is probably why the Sony was able to remain competitive in our performance tests. The component combination held its own on CNET Labs' multitasking and audio-encoding tests, but got trounced on with the image-processing tests.