Sony VAIO VGN-A690 review: Sony VAIO VGN-A690

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MSRP: $2,900.00

The Good Beautiful Sony aesthetics; bright, wide-screen, high-resolution display; full complement of features and connections; powerful performance, yet runs cool and quiet; excellent software and support.

The Bad Big and heavy; no integrated TV tuner; lacks Bluetooth; media-card reader supports only Memory Stick.

The Bottom Line Though it relies heavily on its accessories, the Sony VAIO VGN-A690 successfully delivers TV, DVR, stereo, DVD player, and high-performance PC functions in one big laptop.

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7.5 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 8
  • Support 7

Sony VAIO VGN-A690

The sprawling Sony VAIO VGN-A690 is one of the most versatile desktop-replacement laptops on the market. At $2,800, it costs about what you'd spend on an LCD television, a DVD player, a DVR, and a typical wide-screen notebook combined, but it squeezes all of those devices into one monstrous laptop--and seven additional pounds of accessories. Though its companion port replicator offers virtually any connection you might need and its external speakers sound great, they're still extra bits and pieces; the VAIO VGN-A690 simply isn't as self-contained as our mighty Editors' Choice, the Toshiba Qosmio G25-AV513, which costs $300 more. That's not to say the VAIO VGN-A690 isn't a great system--it's a prime-time contender in the high-end, multimedia desktop-replacement category, giving both the HP Pavilion zd8000 and Dell Inspiron 9300 a run for their money.

Measuring 16.0 inches wide, 11.0 inches deep, and nearly 1.8 inches thick, the Sony VAIO VGN-A690 will dominate nearly any desk, coffee table, or kitchen counter. It weighs 8.4 pounds, making it a bit lighter than the HP Pavilion zd8000 but by no means easily portable. Its brick-size AC adapter, at 1.7 pounds, only makes traveling less desirable, and the included A/V dock and the external speakers bring the entire package to 15 pounds. Your back hurts just thinking about it. Despite its size, the VAIO VGN-A690 somehow manages to look sleek, with its rounded gunmetal case and black accents. It runs quietly and does not get excessively hot.

The keyboard has large, firm keys, and the spacebar and the backspace keys are a bit larger than those on the Toshiba Qosmio G25-AV513; there is no separate number pad, however, as found on both the HP Pavilion zd8000 and the Fujitsu LifeBook N6000. The shape of the VAIO VGN-A690's wide touch pad mirrors the shape of the notebook, but it's on the small size for our taste, and there's no scroll strip. The slim, raised mouse buttons are adequate. There's no switch to turn the touch pad off when you're using an external mouse--an extremely useful feature found on the Pavilion zd8000 and one that we'd like to see on every desktop-replacement laptop.

The VAIO VGN-A690's 17-inch, wide-screen display pumps out rich colors and bright whites in a supersharp 1,920x1,200 resolution (WUXGA); the Qosmio G25-AV513's display is brighter but has a lower resolution. For day-to-day computing, as well as watching TV or playing games, the VAIO VGN-A690's display looks great, though the screen's surface is reflective, which can be annoying in, say, a brightly lit room, and it attracts dust and fingerprints like a magnet. Just north of the keyboard sit six tiny buttons in addition to the power: three control the volume, one toggles through brightness presets, one adjusts the resolution, and the last launches Sony's VAIO Zone multimedia utility. A pair of built-in stereo speakers are also just north of the keyboard, but they're neither as loud, crisp, nor bass-heavy as those on the Qosmio or the Pavilion zd8000.

Though they're less plentiful than on the more expensive Qomsio, the VAIO VGN-A690 itself offers a decent variety of connections. The left edge boasts headphone and microphone jacks, a four-pin FireWire port, one USB 2.0 port, and a PC Card slot, while the right edge supplies a double-layer DVD burner and a LAN modem. Gracing the front edge are a Memory Stick media slot, which doesn't support more popular formats such as Secure Digital, and a Wi-Fi on/off switch, which controls the 802.11 b/g radio. A small black door on the back hides two more USB 2.0 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet connection, an A/V-out port, and a VGA connection. The included A/V port replicator, however, adds just about every conceivable A/V connection you'll need, from S-Video (in and out) to DVI-D to an integrated TV tuner. The only thing missing is Bluetooth--not a big deal to most users, but, for $2,800, we'd want everything.

Accessories abound. With the VAIO VGN-A690, you get a pair of external speakers, which connect via USB--they're a big step up from notebook's built-in set. In addition to notebook buttons for volume and mute, one of the speakers has a handy volume knob and the other serves as the remote control's receiver. The remote itself puts the machine's entertainment potential in the palm of your hand, with large volume and channel controls as well as dedicated buttons for starting TV, video recording, viewing pictures, listening to digital music, and playing CDs and DVDs.

The VGN-A690 comes with quite a bit of software, including Windows XP Home, Sony's excellent wireless LAN utility, Click to DVD for movie editing, MoodLogic for organizing your digital music collection, and PictureGear Studio for image editing. You also get Sony's VAIO Zone software, which is easier to use, quicker, and more attractive than Microsoft Windows XP Media Center 2005. It lets you record shows, then burn them to DVDs, and it uses's online schedule for browsing, viewing, and taping shows.

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