Is Blu-ray the future of laptops? If Sony had its way that would certainly be the case. And if all Blu-ray-playing laptops were as well-executed as Sony's Vaio NW160J, that wouldn't be the most daunting consideration. Sony has been packaging its Vaio laptops as design-centric, relatively expensive multimedia machines with a Blu-ray-playing focus for a while now, so it shouldn't be a surprise that the company's new line of slightly higher than midrange laptops, the NW series, culminates with a 15-inch Blu-ray version.
This model, the NW160J, comes in at $929. With above-average, gaming-capable ATI graphics and a midrange Core 2 Duo processor, it's more expensive than slightly less graphically robust competitors. However, if you're looking for a well-designed Vaio with Blu-ray, a very good screen, and an excellent-feeling keyboard and touch pad--without moving up to a massive 17-inch desktop replacement--you've come to the right place.
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$929|
|Processor||2.1GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6500|
|Memory||4GB, 800MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||320GB 5,400rpm|
|Chipset||Mobile Intel PM45 Express|
|Graphics||ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4570|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Home Premium SP1|
|Dimensions (WD)||14.5x9.7 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.4 inches|
|System weight/Weight with AC adapter||5.84/6.66 pounds|
The NW160J comes in three colors: brown (like our review unit), white, and silver. The design of the case is something you may love or hate, but we thought it looked great with its wavy, modern texture, crisscrossing lines that look like wood grain, with a large silver Vaio logo on the back of the large lid. Inside, the wood-grain-like design continues around the keyboard and touch pad.
Although there's no separate number pad (an increasingly common feature on 15-inch 16:9 laptops), the raised-key keyboard, sunken in slightly from the wrist-rest area, feels fantastic. With widely spaced keys and an excellent balance of clickiness and give, it might be one of the best keyboards we've tried in a while. The touch pad, too, felt great. Sunken in and curved at the edges, the translucent smoky plastic has a pleasant grid texture that provides a great traction. The two plastic buttons underneath are responsive, and fingers will have no problem staying in the good-sized touch pad zone.
Above the keyboard is a small handful of buttons: a hot key for your Web browser of choice, a volume mute button, and a display on/off button for energy saving. While the "Web" button is clever, all three seem an odd triplet of features to select next to the power button. Volume control, brightness, and other controls are operated through function key combinations. The Web button also launches a pre-Windows OS, which includes a Web browser, when the Vaio's power is off, in case you want to do some quick surfing (though it's still not as fast as simply putting your laptop in standby and waking it up as needed).
The Vaio NW160J comes with plenty of Sony's usual pre-installed Vaio media software, including Media plus, MusicBox, and Movie Story, which are Sony's versions of Media Center, music jukebox, and movie-editing apps. All three have attractive interfaces, but we tend to shy away from proprietary media software, as it requires a learning curve useful only on that one laptop (or brand).
The 15.4-inch glossy 16:9 LED screen has a 1,366x768-pixel native resolution, which is standard for a screen this size. Even though Blu-ray Discs can't be played back in full HD 1080p resolution on this screen, it's generously large and bright and looks great playing movies--but the angles of visibility weren't as wide as we would have liked. Blu-ray Discs loaded quickly and effortlessly on the Vaio, as is often the case with Sony's laptops--not surprisingly, since Blu-ray is Sony's format. If there's a multimedia shortcoming to the NW160J, it's the speakers. While the sound was passable, the maximum volume wasn't that loud, and they lacked extra punch.
|Sony Vaio NW160J||Average for category [mainstream]|
|Video||VGA-out, HDMI||VGA and HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader, mini-FireWire||4 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, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||Blu-ray/DVD combo drive||DVD burner|
Naturally, since it's a Sony system, you'll find a proprietary Memory Stick slot in addition to the normal SD card reader. For multimedia fans, there's both an HDMI output and a rarely seen mini-FireWire input.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)