In 2010, however, the landscape is very different. In many ways we're at a juncture in mobile computing: smartphones continue to evolve larger screens and more-powerful software and processors; tablets are starting to emerge everywhere; and both of these devices call into question the point of the "ultramobile" PC. With all that in mind, we approach Sony's tiny new Vaio P--and its starting price of $899--with a skeptical eye.
The Vaio P has a very high-res screen and a decent keyboard for its size, but the oddly extrawide-screen layout, combined with the low-powered Atom Z550 processor and the positively frustrating trackpoint and side-mounted optical touch-pad controls (no, the Vaio P does not have a touch screen), leave this product lost in some parallel universe in which Android and iOS devices don't exist.
At $899 (and a whopping $1,499 for our configuration with a 256GB SSD drive), you could buy an iPad and an Android phone, or nearly three Netbooks, or a very nice high-end laptop and still have some spare change to apply toward an iPod Touch. The equation simply won't work for most, except for maybe technology collectors and fetishists.
The chief purposes of the Vaio P boil down to two features: the computer's full keyboard, and its capability to run a full Windows 7 environment. If it matters very much to you to have these two features in such a small form, the Vaio P could be a neat and very pricey toy. For others, an iPad or a far cheaper Netbook would be a better bet.
|Price as reviewed/starting price||$1,499/$899|
|Processor||2GHz Intel Atom Z550|
|Memory||2GB, 1,066MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||256GB SSD|
|Graphics||Intel GMA 500|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Home Premium (32-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||9.6 inches x 4.7 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||8 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||1.4 / 1.8 pounds|
The new Vaio P is certainly well built. A crisp, matte cover in a variety of colors curves underneath and continues to the keyboard deck, showing off a neat paperclip-shaped color swirl when the lid is closed. Ours was hot pink, and it was pink inside, outside, and on the underside, like a bright beacon in a coffee shop. The other colors--green, orange, black, or white--would likely be less of an eyesore.
To its credit, the P is solid to the touch. It folds into a compact clutch/book shape that lies flat. Inside, the elongated shape suits the keyboard better than it does the screen. Simply put, the Vaio P's dimensions mimic those of the compact keyboard. It's no surprise that the shrunken raised keys actually feel decent to type on, although they're mushier than on normal-size Vaios.
The real problem lies below the keyboard: the first Vaio P lacked a touch pad, opting to use a tiny trackpoint instead. The tiny rubber nubbin is present in this new version, too, and is extremely hard to use without losing your patience, especially when looking at the Vaio P's microminiature screen resolution. Sony obviously agrees, because the new Vaio P also adds a tiny optical touch pad in the most awkward of places: to the right of the screen itself.
The idea behind this placement was to offer browsing capabilities when standing, as if holding a laptop-shaped device in a nonseated position was a perfectly natural concept. Admittedly, the optical pad works much better than the trackpoint (it also allows tap-to-click, and discrete buttons are located on the left of the screen), but thumb-navigating when standing is far less sensible than whipping out a smartphone. In today's age of mobile Web browsing, no one would use the Vaio P standing up. And seated, the optical pad is largely useless.
A few extra discrete-function buttons on the bottom edge launch the Web browser, Vaio assist, and a media menu, much like on some full-size Vaios we've seen. Volume buttons--a far more useful concept in a mobile device--are relegated to function key combo presses.
The Vaio P's 8-inch screen is ultrawide and surprisingly high-res: 1,600x768 native pixel resolution, which trumps the average for this screen size significantly. We applaud the effort, but on a small screen Windows 7 becomes myopia-inducing at this resolution. Thankfully, one of the dedicated buttons on the bottom flips over to a much more readable 1,280x600-pixel screen resolution. The screen's colors and brightness are decent even under bright light, but super wide-screen aspect ratios turn most Web browsers and other programs into thin strips, hedged in by toolbars. The only good use we could see would be for movies.
Speaking of which, the Vaio P can play video files about as well as any Atom Netbook, which isn't a surprise since this ultramobile PC packs an Atom Z550 processor. Streaming video is a mixed affair: small-window YouTube and Hulu videos play well, albeit in tiny postage-stamp squares, but full-screen streams get choppy. The experience is a hair better than the average Netbook, but it doesn't deliver consistently smooth video. The built-in speakers function, but are hardly usable in noisy environments.
The Vaio P does have a Webcam, placed on the side of the screen. It also has a few neat features and tricks up its sleeve: an accelerometer will auto-orient the screen from landscape to portrait, a useful trick for e-reading, though the open clamshell shape of the P doesn't lend itself wonderfully to such a function. GPS is also built in, as well as mobile broadband optional upgrades in higher-end configurations (ours had Verizon service).
|Sony Vaio P||Average for category [netbook]|
|Video||VGA (via sold-separately dongle)||VGA|
|Audio||Speaker, headphone jack||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||2 USB 2.0, SD card reader, memory stick reader||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
The two USB ports are welcome on a machine this small, but any external video has to be output via a separately sold cable that interfaces with the Vaio P's custom connector port. An HDMI port seems like it could have fit easily. Wireless connectivity options are more abundant. Bluetooth is a nice add, as is optional Verizon mobile broadband, although the price for a data plan could be prohibitive to many. Included GPS gives this device some navigational and location-aware capabilites, but the design of the Vaio P's shape makes it an awkward bedfellow with a car or when moving about in places most folks would rather use a smartphone.
Two chief configurations are sold through Sony's Web site, best described as "expensive" and "even more so." For $899 you get a Vaio P with a 1.6GHz Atom Z-series processor, 2GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD drive. Paying $1,499 ups the processor speed to 2GHz, doubles the SSD drive to 256GB, and adds Verizon mobile broadband.
The 2GHz Atom Z550 processor in our configuration didn't perform much better than the standard Atom N450 CPU seen in most $299 Netbooks. Single and multitask benchmarks gained slightly, but the Vaio P still runs on a single-core Atom, and it shows. Basic programs and Web browsing worked well, but any intense media or Flash use slowed things down to a crawl.
|Raw kWh number||16.43|
|Annual power consumption cost||$1.87|
The more mobile a product is, the more important battery becomes. The Vaio P lasted only 2 hours and 41 minutes on our video playback battery drain test using its included battery, which is less than we'd expect from a 15-inch midsize laptop. Sony does sell an extended-life battery on its site, but it costs an additional $129. Considering this type of device is specifically engineered for on-the-go use, a battery this limiting is a disappointment. Many Netbooks have battery lives lasting twice as long and cost less than half the price.
Sony includes an industry-standard one-year parts and labor warranty with the system. Upgrading to a three-year plan will cost an extra $299, and support is accessible through a 24-7 toll-free phone line, as well as an online knowledge base and driver downloads through a generally well-designed, easy to navigate Web site.
Find out more about how we test laptops.
Sony Vaio P (2GHz Intel Atom Z550)
Windows 7 Home Premium; 2GHz Intel Atom Z550; 2048MB DDR2 SDRAM 1066MHz; 762MB (Shared) Mobile Intel GMA 500; 250GB Hitachi 5400rpm
Asus Eee PC 1201PN
Windows 7 Home Premium; 1.66GHz Intel Atom N450; 2048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 512MB Nvidia ION; 250GB Western Digital 5400rpm
Archos 9 PC Tablet
Windows 7 Starter; 1.1GHz Intel Atom Z515; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 400MHz; 250MB (Shared) Mobile Intel GMA 500; 60GB Toshiba 4200rpm
Sony Vaio P (1.33GHz Intel Atom Z520)
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1; 1.33GHz Intel Atom Z520; 2048MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 128MB Mobile Intel GMA 500; Samsung 64GB SSD