Sony likes to keep its Vaio products aimed at mid-to-high-end buyers--much like Apple does--and generally eschews the budget end of the market (although there are a handful of less expensive Vaios we've reviewed favorably).
When it comes to Intel-Atom-powered systems, it's no different; Sony's entry into the very hot minilaptop category shares a lot with Netbooks such as the Dell Mini 9 or Asus Eee PC, but clearly goes out of its way to avoid being lumped in with them (Sony doesn't even call the P-series a Netbook).
Even with a wide-screen, 8-inch, 1,600x768-resolution display and reasonably usable full keyboard, the $1,199 P-series Lifestyle PC fits into roughly the same footprint as a standard white business envelope, and is less than 1 inch thick. That makes it both an impressive engineering feat, as well as a system that will work best for a highly specific group of users. While it can be a useful travel PC for those most concerned with size and weight, casual users may be put off by the tiny trackpoint navigation and bloated Windows Vista operating system. That said, next to the new MacBook, we've rarely had a laptop with more gawkers dropping by the CNET Labs to eyeball it.
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$1,149 / $899|
|Processor||1.3GHz Intel Atom Intel Z520|
|Memory||2GB, 533MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||64GB SSD|
|Chipset||Mobile Intel 945GSE|
|Graphics||Intel GMA 500 (integrated)|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Home Premium|
|Dimensions||9.6 inches wide by 4.8 inches high|
|Screen size (diagonal)||8.0 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||1.4/1.7 pounds|
The P-series Lifestyle PC is one of the smallest laptops we've seen; it almost reminds us of a UMPC (such as Sony's own UX series), but with a traditional clamshell laptop design. Sony offers a variety of colors, including garnet red, emerald green, onyx black, crystal white, and classic (matte) black, with matching accessories including a fitted leather case.
To fit a reasonably full-featured PC into a chassis this small, some sacrifices had to be made, and the lack of a standard touch pad (instead there's a ThinkPad-like pointing stick), keeps the P-series from being as useful as it could be. The pointing stick's sensitivity has to be jacked up to get across the wide screen easily, which makes fine control difficult.
The mouse buttons are relegated to tiny slivers at the front edge of the system. One can also optionally tap on the pointing stick for a left-click, although you'll invariably end up with a lot of false left-clicks that way. A middle mouse button for scrolling helps, as does an additional button to the right, which arranges your open windows side-by-side on the desktop. With the extra-wise 1,600-pixel resolution, you can fit a couple of open browser or document windows next to each other.
The Linux-powered, instant-on environment resembles the menu used on Sony's PSP and PlayStation 3 game consoles, and provides for a decent Web-surfing experience while helping save battery life--which is important, as the default battery is small, and using the included 3G mobile-broadband antenna (or the built-in GPS) will run it down even quicker.
We spent most of our time in Windows Vista, currently the only operating-system option available. With Vista, the P-series' 2GB of RAM is practically a minimum requirement, and the OS felt sluggish and hung frequently, even with the graphics options set to Vista Basic. Windows XP is currently the best match for Atom processors, and we've also had some success experimenting with Windows 7. Sony, as is its custom, includes plenty of its proprietary media and networking software, which you can choose to use, ignore, or even uninstall.
The 8-inch, wide-screen, LED-backlit display offers a 1,600x768 native resolution, which is the highest we've seen in an Atom-powered laptop. Because of this, text and icons are small, and some may find them hard to read. A zoom button helps a bit, but if you have trouble with small onscreen text, the P-series will drive you mad.
|Sony Vaio P-series Lifestyle PC||Average for category [Netbook/ultraportable]|
|Video||VGA-out (via dongle)||VGA-out|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone jack||headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||2 USB 2.0, SD card reader, Memory Stick reader||2 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet (via dongle), 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, WWAN, GPS||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
What makes the Vaio P-series stand out from run-of-the-mill Netbooks is its impressive array of extra features. Mobile broadband is standard (it's Verizon's EV-DO Rev A and requires a monthly fee), as is a GPS antenna and Bluetooth, and even the Wi-Fi is of the faster 802.11n variety.
It would be wise not to expect too much in terms of raw performance from this system. Taken as a Netbook, it falls behind systems with Windows XP, such as HP's new Mini 2140 (that has a slightly faster version of Intel's Atom CPU, and costs around $500), in our benchmark tests. When looked at as an ultraportable laptop, it performs even worse, although it's an unfair fight against more expensive 11-inch systems with Intel's ULV dual-core processors.
With those caveats in mind, we were able to successfully surf the Web and work on documents, much the same as any Atom-powered laptop. Online video streaming and DVD file playback were likewise smooth, and our biggest productivity problems stemmed from waiting for Vista menus to open and struggling with the pointing stick. As much as Sony wants to stay away from the Netbook tag, the guiding principle remains the same: if you manage your expectations appropriately, the P-series works great. Expect it to do the same things as your full-size computer, and you'll be disappointed.