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Laptops

Photos: Hands-on with the Sony Vaio FW Series (VGN-FW11ZU)

Our hands are once again all over a new Sony Vaio laptop: this time the sleek Vaio FW Series. And as there's an £899 Blu-ray model, there's good reason to be excited

It's not just the business end of the market getting all of Vaio's attention. A slinky new consumer model showed its face this week in the form of the Vaio FW Series: the entry-level VGN-FW11E, the VGN-FW11M, the VGN-FW11S and the VGN-FW11ZU rocking at the top.

Sony's 16.4-inch silver-backed FW Series is geared for entertainment, enjoying Blu-ray drives in all but the entry-level configuration. A true 16:9 LCD display will let you enjoy those HD movies when it's not convenient to output their 1080p picture via the built-in HDMI socket.

Like the rest of the new Vaio range, the FW Series is powered by new Intel Centrino 2 CPUs, maxing out at 2.53GHz. Add to that a maximum of 4GB of RAM, 300GB of storage on a 4,200rpm hard disk and ATI Mobile Radeon HD 3650 graphics and watching 1080p BD movies seems like a mere stroll in the park.

Also on board is integrated 802.11a/b/g and Draft-N Wi-Fi, and the whole lot packs into a sleek chassis that weighs just a shade over 3kg.

Sony's isolated keyboard again felt really good to type on and we noticed the FW Series' 1,600x900-pixel resolution display had terrific viewing angles, which should make group viewings of HD badger fights just splendid.

One feature unique to the new Vaio range -- though not exactly new technology in the grand scale of things -- is the dedicated AV button, which you'll see in our photos over the next few pages. Hitting this key allows you to instantly load up a Linux-based media playback utility from an isolated HDD partition, thereby eliminating the need to boot into Windows to just play music.

This is somewhat reminiscent of what Microsoft was aiming for with Vista's SideShow technology, only less questionable. Although we got some prime playing time with the laptop, we weren't able to see this Linux-happy feature in action.

Expect more on this when we bring you our full review of the FW Series. We'll be able to confirm UK launch dates then, but expect prices to start from a reasonable £799 for the entry-level VGN-FW11E, £899 for the VGN-FW11M, £1,199 for the VGN-FW11S, and £1,299 for the top-end VGN-FW11ZU.

For now, do peruse our gallery of hands-on close-ups over the next few pages. -Nate Lanxon

If you look closely you'll notice this keyboard is living up the Auf Deutsch lifestyle. Umlauts FTW!

But yes, the isolated keyboard design made touch typing painless, and should -- in theory, at least -- make mistyping less frequent.

Just look at that big ol' track pad. True, there's nothing particularly notable about it -- it's just a track pad after all. But it felt pretty decent and that's the main thing. You may notice the lack of the fingerprint reader -- one of the features lacking on such a consumer-oriented design.

Here are a few of those dedicated media keys, located below the two speakers lurking behind that grille.

And here you can see the aforementioned AV button for pulling up the Linux-based media playback utility.

FireWire, Ethernet, VGA and HDMI ports sit on the left-hand side of the chassis...

...while a USB threesome takes place on the right-hand side.

And on the front are some easily accessible headphone and microphone sockets.

All being well, the battery inside should last at least for the duration of a Blu-ray movie. At least that's the hope. We'll have more news on this when we pen our full review.