While "green" technology has often been used as much as a marketing catchphrase as a legitimate way to save the planet, it's undoubtedly an increasingly vital part of the focus on consumer electronics in the future. With the number of products being made every year, and the degree to which so many are considered "disposable," the sooner products can be both more energy-efficient and made of safer, recycled materials, the better.
That's why, right off the bat, we're happy about the Sony Vaio Eco VPC-W212AX. While it's largely the same Vaio W Netbook we have reviewed previously (more on that in a bit), the Eco's opalescent chassis is made of 20 percent recycled CD and DVD cases, while the carrying case it comes with is made with recycled soda bottles containing PET plastic. The paper instruction book has been digitized, leaving only a small quick-start pamphlet tucked into the attractive and useful case.
Even better, the Vaio Eco VPC-W212AX doesn't even come packaged in a box: it comes inside the shrink-wrapped laptop case itself, which is a somewhat brilliant decision. Doing away with box packaging and offering a free case in one fell swoop is a move we'd love to see manufacturers of all portable gadgets adopt. And, to Sony's credit, the Eco Series Vaio W isn't any more expensive than its existing W line, and looks awfully attractive with its nearly iridescent finish. From an ecological standpoint, the W Eco Series is a thumbs-up.
From a Netbook standpoint, the Vaio W is still an expensive Atom ultraportable. Starting at $480, the Vaio Eco VPC-W212AX does come with a new Atom N450 processor and a 250GB hard drive, but so do many new Netbooks, and often at cheaper prices, although this Eco Series edition with its increased specs does come in at $20 less than the original Vaio W we reviewed. This Vaio W does have a higher-res 10.1-inch screen than many other competitors, but you'll have to decide for yourself whether a premium-priced Netbook is for you, ecological considerations notwithstanding. Regardless, this is a direction we'd like to see all laptops take in the future.
|Starting price / Price as reviewed||$480|
|Processor||1.6 GHz Intel Atom N450|
|Memory||1GB, DDR2 RAM 800MHz|
|Hard drive||250GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Intel GMA 3150|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Starter|
|Dimensions (WD)||10.5 x 7.0 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||10.1 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||3.3 / 2.8 pounds|
The original Vaio W we reviewed in mid-2009 wasn't the thinnest or lightest 10-inch Netbook around, and this new edition of the W is no different. Still, we appreciated the solid, well-constructed chassis and sturdy feel--this is a Netbook we wouldn't be afraid to jam into our backpack. While normal Vaio W Netbooks come in white, pink, or blue, the Eco Series model has a shiny, pearly white exterior, and a pale silvery-green interior around the keyboard and screen. The color scheme is unusual but attractive, and normally white is not even our color preference in laptops.
One issue that still hasn't been solved since we last visited the Vaio W series is keyboard size. Considering the recent trend toward fuller-size keys on Netbooks, the diminutive Vaio W keyboard comes as a surprise, especially since the W has ample edge margins that could have been used to expand the size of the keys. The raised keyboard looks and feels like a shrunk-down clone of the standard Vaio laptop keyboard, and although the keys are widely spaced, they're too small to type comfortably on. Function, Tab, and right Shift keys are especially tiny, and are hard to locate for those who have touch-typing sense memory for normal-size key layouts.
Sony includes its custom Media Plus software for organizing and playing media files. It's a well-done app that resembles the media bar seen on the PS3 and on some Sony TVs, but we're usually wary of investing the time to learn a proprietary software package that's only used on one brand of laptops.
As in the original Vaio W we reviewed, the 10.1-inch wide-screen LED display has a 1,366x768 native resolution, which is a welcome and rare improvement on the Netbook standard of 1,024x600. We're more used to seeing higher-res screens on 11.6-inch and larger Netbooks, and this remains one of the few that offers this fine a resolution on a 10.1-inch display. While we were initially concerned about text and icons getting too small for comfort, the bright and crisp display actually looks great and not too small at all. We might gripe a little that Sony could also add an 11-inch model, as many other Netbook makers have done, but having the HD option on a 10-inch screen is the next best thing.
On the other hand, that doesn't mean that HD video files will play well on the Vaio Eco VPC-W212AX. HD video clips we shot on a Flip Ultra HD displayed some stutter, and Hulu streaming video at "high-res" 480p wouldn't play in full-screen without suffering severe choppiness. That's a factor of the Atom N450 processor, although we also played back full-screen Netflix movies and got very watchable results. The speakers, however, are extremely quiet--at full blast they could barely be audible in a normal living room with soft noise, making headphones a virtual necessity in most instances.
|Sony Vaio Eco VPC-W212AX||Average for category [Netbook]|
|Audio||Speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader, memory stick reader||2 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
While the Vaio Eco VPC-W212AX does have Bluetooth 2.1 and 802.11n Wi-Fi, connectivity--features not seen on lower-priced Netbooks--it lacks HDMI-out, eliminating any easy video playback on an HDTV. Sony's media software does offer HDNA streaming to PlayStation 3 and Location-Free TV devices, but that's hardly as universal a solution as a simple HDMI port. This being Sony, memory card support extends to both SD cards and Memory Sticks with dual card slots.
This Vaio W also adds a 250GB hard drive instead of the previous version's 160GB, a welcome upgrade--although the amount of RAM still remains a paltry 1GB. The included OS is Windows 7 Starter, not Home Premium. While Starter can do most of what you'd require for basic computing, its level of customization and flexibility is limited compared to full-blown Windows 7. Other Netbooks do include Home Premium instead.
Since we last visited the Vaio W line, Sony has updated the Netbooks to include "Pine Trail" Atom N450 processors, Intel's next-generation line of Atoms. While these processors don't really offer much more in the way of zip, they do offer far better power management, resulting in significantly improved battery life. In our benchmark tests, the Vaio W Eco Series performed slightly better at media tasks than the last-gen Atom N280 version we previously reviewed, but not enough to call it a new experience. Atom N450 Netbooks remain machines best suited for simple tasks such as Web browsing, office document work, and casual media consumption--anything more and they get seriously taxed.
We have to point out that, for nearly the same price, the 12.1-inch Asus EeePC 1201N offers a dual-core Atom processor plus Nvidia Ion integrated graphics. While it may not be as eco-friendly, it is a better fit for those who want more of a media kick to their Netbooks.