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 Zap2it.com's online schedule for browsing, viewing, and taping shows.
A trumped-up version of the earlier VAIO VGN-A190, the VAIO VGN-A690 is available in only one configuration--take it or leave it. Fortunately, it has a strong set of components, including a 1.9GHz Pentium M processor, ATI's Mobility Radeon X600 graphics accelerator with 128MB of dedicated video memory, 1GB of 400MHz memory (expandable to 2GB), and a 5,400rpm, 100GB hard drive. The VAIO VGN-A690 delivered a very good performance in CNET Labs' benchmarks, coming in slightly ahead of the Dell Inspiron 9300 but a bit behind the Qosmio and the Pavilion zd8000. Still, the VAIO VGN-A690 will handle most any computing task you give it, including most games; it displayed 44.1 frames a second (fps) in our Unreal Tournament 2004 test, just behind the Inspiron 9300, although it lagged on Half-Life 2 with 23.5fps, compared to the Inspiron 9300's 64.5fps. Though it's clearly not intended for travel, know that the VAIO VGN-A690's battery lasted for a scant 75 minutes in our drain test.
Sony backs the VAIO VGN-A690 with a one-year warranty that includes overnight shipping, express service, and even damage from lightning or power surges. Upgrading to a more realistic three years of coverage costs a very reasonable $75, but Sony charges an extra $49 for international customers. With drivers, manuals, and an incredibly deep knowledge base of customer experience, the Sony support site can help you fine-tune your system. The site has well-organized setup tips, a list of contact info for its software partners, and a great updater that allows the notebook's software to run Microsoft's latest Windows security fix. Sony's 24-hour toll-free hotline lasts for the life of the warranty; after that you'll have to rely on the Web or e-mail.
|BAPCo SysMark 2004 rating||SysMark 2004 Internet content creation||SysMark 2004 office productivity|
|Atari Games/Epic Games Unreal Tournament 2004|
Dell Inspiron 9300
Windows XP Media Center; 2GHz Intel Pentium M 760; 1GB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; Nvidia GeForce Go 6800 Go 256MB; Hitachi Travelstar 5K80 80GB 5,400rpm
HP Pavilion zd8000
Windows XP Media Center; 3.6GHz Intel Pentium 4 560; 1GB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon X600 256MB; Toshiba MK8026GAX 80GB 5,400rpm
Sony VAIO VGN-A690
Windows XP Professional; 1.86GHz Intel Pentium M 750; 1GB PC3200 DDR2 SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon X600 128MB; Hitachi Travelstar 5K100 100GB 5,400rpm
Toshiba Qosmio G25
Windows XP Professional; 2GHz Intel Pentium M 760; 1GB PC 3200 DDR2 SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce Go 6600 128MB; (2) Fujitsu MHT2060BH 5,400rpm
Find out more about how we test Windows notebooks.