Editors' note: This review is part of our Winter 2009 Retail Roundup, covering specific configurations of popular laptops that can be found in retail stores.
The $799 Sony Vaio CS215J/W is a clean-looking, glossy white laptop that is a slight step up in terms of features from Sony's other budget retail offering, the $699 Sony Vaio VGN-NS240E/W.
Both models have the same great keyboard and touch pad, but this more expensive version adds touch-sensitive media controls, more RAM, and Bluetooth--but both have hard drives smaller than some other laptops in the same price range. That said, most consumers choose Sony laptops for their unique look, rather than a head-to-head comparison of ports and components.
|Price as reviewed||$799|
|Processor||2.0 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6400|
|Memory||4GB, 800MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||250GB 5,400rpm|
|Chipset||Mobile Intel GM45 Express Chipset|
|Graphics||Mobile Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 4500MHD|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Premium|
|Dimensions (WD)||13.2 inches x 9.6 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||14.1 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||5.7 pounds|
The Vaio CS215J/W has a clean, rounded-edge design that combines a glossy white lid with a more muted gray palette on the keyboard tray. There is a bright, silver trim along the edges, and purchasers should note the silver inlay of "Vaio" on the back of the lid if you're sensitive about overt branding.
The touch pad and nicely spaced, wide-button keyboard allows for an excellent typing experience, similar to the keys found on Apple laptops. A helpful row of media control buttons sits above the keyboard. The AV Mode button drops down a Vaio quick-launch menu that lets you choose multimedia programs for music, movies, videos, and photos. As is standard with Vaio laptops, the system comes preloaded with a ton of software, from proprietary media apps to trial versions of paid software. It's up to you to remove, hide, or uninstall any or all of these to reclaim desktop real estate and hard-drive space.
The 14.1-inch wide-screen LCD display offers a 1,280x800 native resolution, which is standard for a screen this size. The similar Sony NS240E/W is a 15-inch system, but we generally prefer the 14-inch screen as a smart balance of size, weight, and design. Despite the glossy screen coating, we saw less distracting glare from nearby light sources than in other laptops in this category, which is a plus.
|Sony Vaio CS215J/W||Average for category [mainstream]|
|Video||VGA-out, Webcam||VGA-out, HDMI|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader, Sony Memory Stick reader, mini-FireWire||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Modem||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
While many mainstream laptops include HDMI ports, both budget Sony models we looked at have only a VGA-out for connecting to a monitor or TV. However, one advantage the Sony Vaio CS215J/W has is Bluetooth capability for connecting to an external wireless mouse, smartphone, or wireless headset, something often missing from less expensive laptops. Besides the standard SD card slot, Sony also includes a Memory Stick slot for its proprietary memory card format.
Compared with other laptops we've looked at in the budget category of our current retail laptop review roundup, the Vaio CS125 has a hard drive on the smaller end of the spectrum, only 250GB. By way of comparison, the Gateway MD7818u topped the category at 500GB.
The 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6400 CPU is what we found in the vast majority of laptops between $600 and $899 in our retail model review roundup, and the Vaio CS215J/W was on par with other T6400 laptops, including the similarly configured Vaio NS240E/W. For typical multitasking use--Web surfing, office documents, media viewing, etc.--any of these systems will be capable performers, and we saw no slowdown or stuttering in anecdotal use.
Unfortunately, battery life is one weak spot for these budget Vaios. The CS215J/W ran for an unimpressive 2 hours and 9 minutes on our video playback battery drain test. The Gateway MD7818u ran for more than 4 hours on the same test, and even the Asus X83VB-X2, which needs to power a discrete video card, ran longer.
The Sony Vaio CS215J/W includes an industry-standard one-year parts-and-labor warranty with the system. While retail shops are happy to sell you an in-store extended warranty, they are often expensive and hard to use, so we don't recommend them. Vaio support is accessible through a 24-7 phone line (but it's not a free call) and a well laid-out Web site, with an online knowledge base and driver downloads.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)