With the VAIO VGN-TXN15P/W, Sony updates its flagship ultraportable with a fresh Intel Core Solo processor that, while not overwhelmingly powerful, delivers enough performance for the typical productivity work that most users need to complete while on the road. More importantly, the new component resulted in nearly 10 hours of battery life, making it possible to work even a long day on a single charge. We did just that in the course of writing this review; we're grateful that the VGN-TXN15P/W's keyboard, though compact, is extremely comfortable and its 11.1-inch screen just big enough to avoid an eye-strain headache. Add in the built-in DVD burner and integrated Sprint WWAN, and we barely missed having a docking station. It's true that Core Duo-based ultraportables, such as the Asus S6F, offer more raw power, but the Sony VAIO VGN-TXN15P/W is the better choice for business users who can trade some performance for a great mix of features, thorough connectivity, and unparalleled battery life in an attractive, compact case.
One of the thinnest and lightest ultraportables on the market, the Sony VAIO VGN-TXN15P/W measures 10.7 inches wide and 7.6 inches deep, with thickness that progresses from 0.8 inch at the front to 1.2 inches at the back. By comparison, the Asus S6F, which has the same size screen, has the same footprint but is thicker than the VAIO, while the Fujitsu LifeBook Q2010's larger display requires a wider case. To keep its slim profile, the VGN-TXN15P/W incorporates one of the thinnest lids we've seen on a laptop; miraculously, the lid flexes very little and seems to provide ample protection for the display. You'll barely detect the VGN-TXN15P/W's 2.8-pound weight in your laptop bag, though you'd carry 0.5 pound less with the LifeBook Q2010. The Sony's candy bar-size AC adapter adds 0.7 pound to the total weight.
As with every ultraportable, the VAIO VGN-TXN15P/W features a compact keyboard; unlike those of many ultraportables, including previous models in the VAIO T series, this laptop's silver-colored keys don't feel all that cramped. Though the keys' flat-topped design looks uncomfortable, we had no trouble typing this review and a day's worth of e-mail on the VGN-TXN15P/W. An amply sized touch pad beneath the keyboard includes a vertical scroll zone and makes for easy navigation, though we occasionally grazed the pad and misplaced the cursor while typing. The stereo speakers, which sit above the keyboard, reach surprisingly high volumes but produce tinny sound. Despite its small size, the VGN-TXN15P/W has enough room for a media player launch key and playback controls (play/pause, stop, track back/forward, and eject) within its rounded hinge. The final design features of note are volume control keys along the laptop's front edge. While we appreciate the functionality, we could do without the loud beep that sounds every time they're pressed; try as we might, we couldn't figure out how to turn it off.
Like the Asus S6F, the Sony VAIO VGN-TXN15P/W features a lovely, if small, 11.1-inch wide-screen display, with a 1,366x768 native resolution. The screen provides a broad work space--it displayed 21 columns and 34 rows on the default Excel spreadsheet--but text and icons were quite small. Users who want a little more room to work might appreciate the slightly larger 12.1-inch display found on the Fujitsu LifeBook Q2010 or the 13.3-inch display found on Sony's next-largest laptop, the VAIO SZ series (which includes a dual-core Intel Core Duo processor). Though small, the VAIO VGN-TXN15P/W's screen is one of the brightest we've seen, emitting a remarkable 302 cd/m2 at maximum brightness. That's because the VAIO TX is one of the first notebooks to incorporate LED backlight technology--already seen on some desktop monitors and TVs--for higher contrast and brightness in a thinner form factor than traditional laptop displays.
Given its tiny size, the Sony VAIO VGN-TXN15P/W has only enough space for the bare minimum of ports: two USB 2.0 ports, four-pin FireWire, VGA, headphone, and microphone. Sony also squeezes in a Type II PC Card slot, though there's apparently no room for the latest
The Sony VAIO VGN-TXN15P/W costs $2,300; for that somewhat high price the laptop's configuration is downright modest: a 1.2GHz Intel Core Solo U1400 processor, 1GB of midrange 533MHz RAM, a pokey 4,200rpm, 80GB hard drive, and integrated Intel Mobile Express 945GM graphics. Given its single-core processor, we were impressed with the VAIO's performance on CNET Labs' multitasking benchmark, which was within 16 percent of the Core Duo-based Asus S6F. Otherwise, the VAIO VGN-TXN15P/W performed in line with other laptops that feature Core Solo processors, such as the Fujitsu LifeBook Q2010 and the Micro Express NP6260. While none of these laptops could keep up with today's larger, Core 2 Duo-based systems, we found the VAIO had sufficient power for everyday productivity work in Microsoft Word, Excel, and Outlook.
Aside from its tiny case, the Sony VAIO VGN-TXN15P/W's most remarkable feature is its battery life. In our drain tests, the Sony VAIO VGN-TXN15P/W lasted a mind-blowing (and record-setting) 9 hours, 42 minutes. That's 1 hour, 27 minutes longer than the previous battery life record-holder, the Lenovo ThinkPad X60s, and hours longer than other ultraportables. The most likely explanation for this longevity lies in the VAIO's cutting-edge screen technology; the VGN-TXN15P/W's LED backlights are much more energy-efficient than the fluorescent lamps traditionally found in notebooks. We have to commend Sony for achieving the Holy Grail of battery life: a full day's work on a single charge.
Sony backs the VAIO VGN-TXN15P/W with a one-year warranty--the industry standard for consumer laptops, but not the lengthy three years most businesses demand. During the warranty period, you receive free service, including free shipping both ways, and 24/7 toll-free telephone tech support; after the warranty expires, support calls cost $20 per incident. Warranty upgrades are expensive: $200 to extend the warranty to three years and $250 for three years of onsite service. The company's Web site provides a thorough knowledge base, and you have the option of e-mailing Sony technicians for support.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)