Sony's first foray in to the world of Atom-powered laptops was the Vaio P-series Lifestyle PC, which sported a unique miniaturized design (about the same footprint as a standard business envelope), but was hampered by input issues (no touch pad), and the use of Windows Vista as its OS.
At the time of that product's release, Sony was adamant that despite the Atom processor and small size, it was most definitely not a Netbook. The new Vaio W, on the other hand, is very clearly a Netbook, with Windows XP, a 10-inch display, and a familiar Netbook form factor.
While the $499 price may cause some sticker shock, as the base components aren't too much different from what you'd find in a $299-$399 Netbook, Sony is hoping the inclusion of a 1,366x768 high-definition display is enough to push the Vaio W over the line into the elusive "premium Netbook" category--perhaps the holy grail of PC makers looking to escape the price-cutting wars at the lower end of the Netbook biz.
If the hi-res display is worth a $100 (or more) premium to you, than the Vaio W is one of the nicer overall Netbook packages out there, but the same basic combo of an Intel Atom N280 CPU, 1GB of RAM, 160GB hard drive, and Windows XP is definitely available for less. Dell's less snazzy-looking Mini 10 can also be outfitted with a similar hi-def display for around the same price, and offers more configuration flexibility.
|Price as reviewed||$499|
|Processor||1.6GHz Intel Atom N280|
|Memory||1GB, 533MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||160GB 5,400rpm|
|Chipset||Mobile Intel 945GM Express|
|Graphics||Intel GMA 950 (integrated)|
|Operating System||Windows XP Home SP3|
|Dimensions (WD)||10.6 inches wide by 7.3 inches deep|
|Screen size (diagonal)||10.1 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||2.5/3.0 pounds|
While not the thinnest or lightest 10-inch Netbook around, the Sony Vaio W offers a solid, well-constructed chassis that feels sturdier than some of the less expensive Netbooks we've seen. Our unit was decked out in an all-over pink color scheme, from a rich, darker pink on the lid, to a pale pink on the patterned keyboard tray, to a subtle pink crosshatch on the touch-pad surface. If pink's not your color, brown and white versions are available as well.
With the recent (and welcome) trend toward oversized keys on Netbooks--relatively speaking, of course--we were a little surprised by how diminutive the keyboard on the Vaio W felt. It looks and feels like a shrunk-down clone of the standard Vaio laptop keyboard, with flat-topped, widely spaced keys. But this leaves the individual keys smaller than we'd like, and the Function, Tab, and right shift keys are especially tiny.
Sony includes its custom Media Plus software for organizing and playing media files. It's a well-done app, but we're usually wary of investing the time to learn a proprietary software package that's only used on one brand of laptops.
The real star here is the 10.1-inch wide-screen LED display. It has a 1,366x768 native resolution, which is higher than the Netbook standard of 1,024x600. We've also seen this higher resolution on a couple of 11.6-inch Netbooks, such as the Asus Eee PC 1101HA.
While it's arguably a better fit on those 11-inch screens, it also works nearly as well on the smaller 10-inch display, and we didn't find text or icons too small to see. Of course, your mileage with HD video files with a Netbook's anemic video capabilities may vary; we were able to load up HD versions of TV show episodes on Hulu, but they stuttered in full-screen mode.
|Sony Vaio W||Average for category [Netbook]|
|Audio||headphone/microphone jacks||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||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
Being a Sony Vaio, it's not surprising that there's a second media card slot for the proprietary Memory Stick format. And being at the top end of the Netbook price scale, it's also not surprising to find Bluetooth and 802.11n Wi-Fi included (but not HDMI, as found on the similarly priced Dell Mini 10).
With an Intel Atom N280 CPU, the Vaio W is a bit zippier than Netbooks with the N270 version of the Atom (or the even slower Z520 version). The difference isn't major, but in a system with little processing headspace as it is, every little bit counts. We found the Vaio W perfectly usable for basic Netbook tasks, from Web surfing to e-mail to working on office docs--and it's much easier to use than Sony's P-series non-Netbook.