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Photos: Sony VAIO laptops

Sony, a company that prides itself on its sense of style, offers a dizzying array of laptops. At present, there are nine VAIO laptop lines in all, each of which illustrates Sony's eye for design. With this slide show, we'll walk you through each line, starting with Sony's ultra-mobile PC (UMPC) and ending with its fully loaded, 17-inch multimedia powerhouse.

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Matt Elliott
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Seen here nestled in its dock, the VAIO UX390N is Sony's version of an ultra-mobile PC (UMPC). We've got reservations about the compromises one must make to cram a full Windows PC into a device not much larger than a Sidekick, but the UX390N is the best we've seen of this new breed of mobile PC. The device uses an Intel Core Solo processor and runs the full version of Vista Business Edition. Its solid-state hard drive allows the device to run longer on a single charge than other UMPCs, but battery life must improve and prices must come down before UMPCs find a wider audience.
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The Sony VAIO UX390N features a 4.5-inch display and a slide-out QWERTY keyboard for thumb typing. There is a pencil eraser-style nub on the right side of the chassis for moving the mouse pointer, and left and right mouse buttons to the left of the screen. The UX390 functions as a tablet PC too, and its touch-sensitive screen works with both the included stylus or your fingertip (or any similar object).
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If you can find a better-looking ultraportable than the VAIO TX, we'd like to see it. Sony's ultraportable weighs less than 3 pounds and features an outstanding 11.1-inch, LED-backlit, wide-screen display. Sony too manages to squeeze in an optical drive--a feature often left out in this class of laptop. Ultramobile workers will appreciate the host of wireless connectivity options: 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and broadband cellular by way of Sprint WWAN. And everyone will enjoy its stellar battery life.
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Looking to stand out on the subway or commuter train? Like many VAIO lines, the TX is available in a number of colors. Our review unit showed up in a brick red hue that Sony dubs "sienna."
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Think of the VAIO SZ as Sony's answer to the 13-inch MacBook. Its design is arguably the MacBook's equal, and Sony's thin-and-light VAIO SZ features more business-friendly features, including a fingerprint reader (oddly sandwiched between the laptop's two mouse buttons below the touchpad). And weighing only 3.8 pounds, it's more than a pound lighter than the MacBook. The VAIO SZ's keys are impressively large and nice to type on, even for long periods--a rare quality for such a lightweight laptop.
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Think of the 13-inch VAIO C series as the heftier cousin of the sleeker, pricier VAIO SZ. At 5 pounds even, it's nearly identical in size and weight to Apple's 13-inch MacBook (the VAIO C is a half-inch thicker). It also features a similar minimalist design as does the MacBook, and is one of our favorite thin-and-light models. It's also one of the more affordable models in the VAIO line.
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Choose either of the customizable VAIO C models and then select from a lovely pallet of pastel colors, shown here, or from one of four limited edition graphic designs (not shown). The pink or light-green models might make a splash with your summer wardrobe, but we like the MacBook-like black and white models. (Sadly, it appears that the white model is no longer an option.)
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Moving from the VAIO C series to the new VAIO CR series adds an inch to the screen size and some luminous lids. The color shown here is what Sony calls "sangria" (we'd have gone with oxblood red). Those of you who still believe that it's what's inside that counts can rest assured: the 5.5-pound, thin-and-light laptops will include Intel's latest Centrino Duo platform, with Core 2 Duo processors, integrated graphics, and an 802.11n wireless card. These new 14-inch models will start shipping in July.
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Released earlier this month, the new VAIO FZ is now one of three Sony laptops to feature a 15.4-inch, wide-screen display. It's impossibly thin for a 15-inch laptop and also boasts Intel's latest Centrino Duo platform, plus multimedia extras such as an HDMI port and the option to add a Blu-ray drive. The one downside to this otherwise excellent laptop? In a word: Shovelware. Nothing is more annoying than plugging in a brand-new, pristine laptop and having to delete gigs of annoying trial offers and otherwise useless applications. The VAIO FZ is one of the more egregious offenders in this regard.
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Looks like the red graphics wrap was the least popular--it's the only option that's still available on Sony's older, 15-inch laptop. It offers Core 2 Duo processors, but on Intel's previous-generation Centrino chipset. You also won't find newer features, such as HDMI ports or a Blu-ray drive, that are offered on the VAIO FZ. What the VAIO FE does have going for it--other than Sony's typically excellent design--is its price. It's the cheapest VAIO laptop you'll find on Sony's Web site.
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Sony's budget model, the midsize VAIO N, uses older and now underpowered Intel Core Duo processors, but its bright screen and slick styling will make it attractive to the design-conscious consumer on a budget. It's the heaviest of Sony's three 15-inch laptops at 6.7 pounds, but it's also one of the few VAIO models below $1,000.
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Finally, we arrive at the 17-inch VAIO AR series, the Big Kahuna of Sony's laptop lineup. Marketed as a portable, end-to-end HD studio, the VAIO AR190G offers a pretty compelling set of A/V features to back up the claim. In addition to a Blu-ray burner, a TV tuner, and HDMI out, you get a Core 2 Duo processor on Intel's latest Centrino Duo platform, a choice among Nvidia's latest mobile graphics cards, and up to 320GB of hard-drive space. The highest-end VAIO AR model features a native resolution of 1,920x1,200p for true HD viewing.

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