Sony has thus far taken a position just adjacent to Apple's when it comes to the question of Netbooks. Rather than embracing these low-cost, low-power systems that have become incredibly popular with bargain-hunting consumers, Sony stayed out of the market initially. Its subsequent entries have skirted the outer edges of the category, offering premium designs at premium prices (as in the $499 Vaio W).
The Vaio X is the latest, and like Sony's previous Atom-powered high-concept P series, it has only one foot in the Netbook camp. Incredibly thin and light, thanks to a carbon fiber chassis and solid-state hard drive, the 11-inch Vaio X looks like a high-end ultraportable. It's so weightless that several people picked up our review unit and asked if it was a dummy mockup build, instead of a fully functioning PC.
The extreme design doesn't seem out of place for $1,499, if the performance could keep up. Instead, the Vaio X uses Intel's 2.0GHz Atom Z550, a small step up from the same Atom CPUs found in $299 Netbooks. Adding 2GB of RAM and Windows 7 helps, and the system is slightly faster than other Atom-powered notebooks we've tested, but Vaio X still offers essentially Netbook-level performance in an extremely expensive package.
And yet, using the Vaio X in coffee shops and on the couch, we found ourselves greatly enjoying the experience. A little bit of luxury goes a long way in a market dominated by price-cutting and commodity products. While we can't say this is the best bang for your buck, the Vaio X certainly has a place in the hearts of those looking for a brag-worthy conversation piece.
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$1,499 / $1,299|
|Processor||2.0GHz Intel Atom Z550|
|Memory||2GB, 533MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||128GB SSD|
|Chipset||Intel GMA 500 / US15W|
|Graphics||Mobile Intel GMA 500 (integrated)|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Home Premium|
|Dimensions (WD)||11 inches wide by 7.3 inches deep|
|Screen size (diagonal)||11.6 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||1.5/2.3 pounds|
Designed for maximum visual impact, our Vaio X was not only about half an inch thick and only 1.5 pounds (without the AC adapter or extended battery), but it was also clad in blingy gold. Sony calls this version the "Signature Collection," and at least it's a subtle matte finish. A black edition, with a smaller 64GB SSD drive, is available for $200 less.
Thanks to the SSD-only design, the system is incredibly light. While we have confidence in the ruggedness of the carbon fiber construction, the lid flexed a bit too much under our fingers, especially when opening and closing the lid, which made it feel a little fragile.
The standard Sony Vaio keyboard layout, with its flat-topped and widely spaced keys, works well on larger laptops. On a Netbook-sized unit, the individual keys end up a bit too small, especially compared with what other 11-inch Netbooks have done to maximize typing comfort. The right shift key is particularly tiny. The square touch pad is also on the small side, and leaves a lot of empty space on the wrist rest. Except for a power button, there are no quick-launch or media control buttons, either, making this less than ideal for media playback on the go.
The 11.6-inch wide-screen LED display offers a 1,366x768 native resolution, which is standard for an upscale Netbook--basic 10- and 11-inch systems typically have 1,280x800 screens. Images were clear and bright, and the screen was, thankfully, not especially glossy.
|Sony Vaio X 115KX/N||Average for category [Netbook]|
|Audio||Shared headphone/mic jack||headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||2 USB 2.0, SD card reader, Memory Stick reader||2 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Mobile broadband antenna (Verizon)||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
With a system this expensive, it makes sense that a mobile broadband antenna is included by default (in this case, it's for Verizon service). As always, Sony makes room for a Memory Stick slot, but only a single audio jack for headphone and mic use. Since the Vaio X is so slim, there's barely room for an Ethernet jack--it literally folds out to accommodate a data cable. The standard VGA jack juts out slightly from the side--although we'd rather have an HDMI port, which could have been a better fit.
While the 128GB SSD drive, mobile broadband antenna, Windows 7 Home Premium, and 2GB of RAM are all high-end parts, the $1,499 Vaio X uses a processor from the Intel Atom family as its CPU. That might be fine for a premium Netbook, but prices for those systems typically top out at around $600 at most. At more than twice that, buyers could very well have unrealistic expectations about performance.
At 2.0GHz, the Intel Atom Z550 has a faster clock speed than the 1.6GHz and 1.66GHz Atom N270 and N280 processors found in the vast majority of Netbooks. In our benchmark tests, it was, indeed, slightly faster than systems with those slower Atoms, including Sony's Vaio W Netbook. In practice, the Vaio X felt like an excellent Netbook experience, especially combined with Windows 7 and 2GB of RAM (Windows XP Netbooks were restricted to 1GB). But if you're expecting premium performance for a premium price, those expectations may be unrealistic. The Vaio X is best suited for basic tasks, such as Web surfing and e-mail.
There may not be room for it in the thin chassis, but we'd love to see a dual-core ULV Intel processor (as in the Toshiba T135), and Nvidia's Ion Netbook GPU, to help with HD video playback (as featured on HP's Mini 311). Until that happens, it's important to keep in mind that you're paying for the design and build quality, not performance.
|Mainstream (Avg watts/hour)|
|Raw kWh number||18.05|
|Annual energy cost||$2.05|
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
The Vaio X ran for 2 hours and 23 minutes on our video playback battery drain test, using the default battery. That was on the low side, especially for a Netbook designed for on-the-go use. Perhaps sensing this, Sony includes an extended battery as well. The results from that battery were much more impressive, at 9 hours and 49 minutes. That's easily among the best battery life scores we've seen, but the extended battery is just plain huge--nearly as big and heavy as the system itself.