Sony VAIO NR160E/W
Sony's VAIO family of laptops has traditionally been known for its high style and high prices, making these sleek machines (second only to Apple in design chops) popular with upscale buyers. With the new NR series, Sony is making its first real stab at a lower-priced laptop. Starting at $829, the system is a decent value based on the components you get, but the Sony design aesthetic apparently doesn't translate well to cheaper parts. The 15-inch VAIO NR160 feels cheap and plasticky when compared to Sony's more expensive laptops, and even similarly priced mainstream systems from Dell, but at least the NR160 rigorously maintains Sony's traditionally thin profile. There's still much to like about this inexpensive VAIO, but Sony's penchant for weighing systems down with excessive bloatware and adware tips the scale away from a full-fledged recommendation.
|Price as reviewed||$829|
|Processor||2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300|
|Memory||1GB, 667MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||160GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Mobile Intel 965GM|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Premium|
|Dimensions (WDH)||14.1x10.4x1.3 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.4 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||6.3/7 pounds|
Like the rest of the Sony VAIO laptop family, the NR160 has a large VAIO logo embossed on the back of the lid, clearly advertising your brand preference to anyone sitting nearby. The biggest difference between this and other VAIOs is the textured plastic that covers everything except the screen bezel and bottom surface. It's not the worst look in the world, but it feels cheap compared to the design-oriented mix of metal and plastic materials found on other VAIO laptops.
At only 1.3 inches thick, it's slightly slimmer than Sony's 15-inch home theater laptop, the VAIO FZ180, but heavier, by nearly half a pound.
Sony's flat-key keyboard is one of the VAIO trademarks that made the leap to this budget system intact. It's among our favorite laptop keyboards, but we wish the touch pad mouse buttons were a little more substantial. The keyboard tray is sparse, with only a power button and two quick-launch buttons (one launches Windows Media Center, the other is a programmable shortcut key) above the keyboard.
The 15.4-inch wide-screen LCD display offers a 1,280x800 native resolution, which is acceptable for a screen this size. The screen looks excellent--on a par with more expensive Sony laptops, and budget buyers likely won't miss having a higher resolution.
As a budget laptop, we don't expect much in the way of extras from the NR160, but the extras we did get weren't exactly the kind you'd want. At a time when other vendors such as Dell and HP are making conscious efforts to declutter their systems, removing desktop come-ons for Internet access and music subscription services, Sony is one of the most egregious offenders we've seen in recent memory. The default desktop background image is an advertisement for Sony's Spider-Man 3 movie, and launch buttons for shovelware come built right into the desktop, featuring pitches for various casual games and apps such as Napster. Desktop links included links to Xdrive, AOL, and Office Live.
Removing much of this junk, especially the programs that run in the background, can speed up a sluggish system, especially one with a long boot time. Check out this helpful video on removing crapware from your laptop for step-by-step instructions.
|Sony VAIO NR160||Average for mainstream category|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||Four USB 2.0 ports, a mini-FireWire, and a mulitformat memory card reader||Four USB 2.0 ports, a mini-FireWire, and a mulitformat memory card reader|
|Expansion||ExpressCard/34 slot||PC Card slot or Express Card slot|
|Networking||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11b/g Wi-Fi||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
Most new laptops we see include 802.11n Wi-Fi technology, but we can't fault Sony too much for not including it on a budget system. Bluetooth and an S-Video out are also fairly standard specs that we miss having on this machine.
As a fixed-configuration system, you're stuck with the default specs of the NR160. An extra $20 will get you the NR180, which has a slightly larger 200GB hard drive. Both versions are available in Wenge, Granite, and Silk--or brown, gray, and white, as we prefer to call them.
With a 1.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5250 CPU and 1GB of RAM, the TR160 isn't as fast as the current crop of T7000-series laptops on the market but is perfectly acceptable for less than $1,000. For $899, you can configure a comparable Dell Inspiron 1520 (except the Dell defaults to a massive 320GB hard drive). It was considerably slower than its more expensive cousin, the 15-inch VAIO FZ180, which more than doubles the price, but adds a 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300 and a second gigabyte of RAM. For casual multitasking, such as playing media files while Web surfing and working on office documents, we suffered some stuttering and slowdown, but that improved somewhat after we cleaned out some of the bloatware running in the background.