At first, we didn't expect to find a Sony system that would qualify for our roundup of laptops with a price tag of $1,000 or less. After all, Sony's reputation for beautiful, expensive laptops is probably outranked only by Apple's. Yet the VAIO CR120, which comes in at exactly $1,000 and is available at retail outlets, was full of surprises. Its shiny finish, with touches of chrome and decorative LEDs, certainly looks more expensive than its actual price. And the 14.1-inch laptop is slightly more portable than similarly priced laptops, most of which feature 15.4-inch screens. That's not to say the VAIO CR120's upscale appearance is not without cost: The $1,000 configuration includes just 1GB of RAM, and you'll pay for the VAIO CR120 in time spent removing bloatware from the laptop. Nevertheless, we like the VAIO CR120's looks and would recommend it to home users who are willing to trade a little performance for an attractive, portable design.
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$1,000 / $899|
|Processor||1.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7100|
|Memory||1GB of 667MHz|
|Hard drive||120GB at 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Intel GMA X3100|
|Chipset||Intel 965GM Express|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Home Premium|
|Dimensions (wide x deep x thick)||13.1 x 10 x 1.3 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||14.1 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||5.3 / 6.1 pounds|
Sony is clearly going for style with the CR series laptops, which are available in such colors as Sangria, Cosmopolitan, and Dove. Our CR120 review unit featured a downright subdued indigo color, though the lid does sparkle in sunlight. Both the piano-finish lid and chrome rim around the base of the laptop are shiny enough to attract both envious stares and fingerprints. An LED panel beneath the laptop's front edge pulsates between white and blue colors when the laptop is closed--not quite the 16-color LED fiesta found on the Dell XPS M1730, but a fun touch nevertheless; the feature can also be turned off easily within the VAIO software. The interior of the VAIO CR120 is a monochrome silver that's reminiscent of a MacBook Pro.
The keyboard is another part that reminds us of an Apple laptop: The flat-top, rounded-square keys on the VAIO CR120 are spaced well apart, much like a MacBook. Once we got used to the different feel (most keyboards feature slightly concave keys) typing was comfortable. The VAIO CR120's vast touch pad made navigation easy, and we like the chromed-out mouse buttons. Beneath the touch pad, along the chromed front rim, you'll find media controls (play/pause, stop, track forward, and track back buttons) that are accessible even when the lid is closed. Above the keyboard is a row of tiny Chiclet-like buttons to control and mute the volume, launch the media player (whether the or not the operating system has been booted), capture images with the built-in Webcam, and turn off the display to conserve battery life.
The Sony VAIO CR120's 14.1-inch display has a native resolution of 1,280x800 that's typical of slightly larger 15.4-inch displays. Though the laptop has a little less real estate for those pixels, icons and text are still readable. Like most consumer-oriented systems, the VAIO CR120 incorporates a glossy screen finish that helps colors pop but which produces slightly annoying reflections in brightly lit environments (e.g., next to a sunny window or when there's a light source directly behind the user). Unfortunately, there is no matte screen finish option. A 1.3-megapixel Webcam above the display lets users conduct video chats and performed well in low-light conditions.
Be warned: The Sony VAIO CR120 comes loaded with crapware. And while this is hardly unique among low-cost laptops--the Toshiba Satellite A215-S7437's desktop also comes cluttered with icons--Sony is a particularly egregious offender. Desktop icons on our VAIO CR120 include four shortcuts to AOL services, two Microsoft shortcuts, and a link to purchase Spider-Man movies; our Vista Sideshow sidebar included Travelocity and AOL gadgets by default; and when we launched Internet Explorer, we were greeted by three tabs--one each for AOL, Sony, and Norton. Removing much of this junk, especially the programs that run in the background, can speed up a sluggish system. Check out this helpful video on removing crapware from your laptop for step-by-step instructions.
|Sony VAIO CR120||Average for thin-and-light category|
|Video||VGA, S-Video||VGA-out, S-Video|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, MemoryStick and SD card readers||3 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, multiformat memory card reader|
|Expansion||ExpressCard/34||PC Card or ExpressCard|
|Networking||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/g/n Wi-Fi||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
As part of Sony's closed ecosystem, the VAIO CR120's memory card reader only recognizes MemoryStick and MemoryStick Pro formats; the company has branched out and incorporated a separate SD card reader. The included ExpressCard and 802.11a/g/n Wi-Fi radio are welcome additions that should help the VAIO CR120 age well as these new technologies become more widespread. We only wish the laptop's stereo speakers, which frame the keyboard, sounded better; the faint, muddled sound is acceptable in a pinch, but we couldn't stand to listen to more than one song before plugging in our headphones.
We tested the $1,000 VAIO CR120, which can be found in-store at retail outlets such as Best Buy and Circuit City. We were happy to see that such a (relatively) low price could include Intel's latest Centrino Duo platform (also known as Santa Rosa), though the VAIO CR120's 1.8GHz Core 2 Duo T7100 processor is the entry level for the current generation. Still, entry level was enough to gain an edge on the multimedia multitasking and iTunes modules of CNET Labs' performance benchmarks, where the VAIO pulled ahead of other systems in its price range, including a Fujitsu LifeBook A6110 stocked with Intel's previous generation Core 2 Duo processor ($999) as well as the AMD-based Toshiba Satellite A215-S7437 ($899) and Gateway M-1618 ($899). The Sony's performance on those tests was more closely matched by a $984 Lenovo 3000 N200 that also included a Core 2 Duo T7100 processor and integrated Intel graphics.
Our only disappointment with the VAIO CR120's components rests in its single gigabyte of RAM, which (with Windows Vista) isn't enough to run such taxing software programs as Adobe Photoshop. On the Photoshop portion of our testing suite, the Sony ran more than 50 percent slower than even the next-slowest machine, the Gateway M-1618, which includes 2GB of RAM. It is possible to add aftermarket RAM to the VAIO CR120, but that would launch it above the $1,000 price mark. On the plus side, we found that the 1GB configuration had sufficient oomph for the casual multitasking and Web surfing that make up the bulk of computer use by buyers of budget laptops.
The Sony VAIO CR120 lasted two hours on our taxing DVD battery drain test, matching the battery life of the nearly identically configured Lenovo 3000 N200. That isn't too impressive, but it is longer than the battery life posted by other similarly priced systems. Our DVD battery drain test is especially grueling, so you can expect even longer life from casual Web surfing and office use.
Sony includes an industry-standard one-year parts-and-labor warranty with the system, which included on-site service. Upgrading to a three-year plan will cost an extra $199. Support is accessible through a 24-7 toll-free phone line and an online support Web site, which helpfully gives you a custom page of links to manuals and drivers for your specific model.