(3/22/02; updated 6/18/02)

Editors' note: After announcing the GR series, Sony put it on hiatus. To see a review of a desktop replacement notebook similar to the one detailed in this First Take, go to the review.

Sony's new VAIO PCG-GR390 is a laptop fit for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. This desktop replacement's design is at once plain and cutting-edge, lacking many of today's standard usability frills such as quick-launch buttons, while including Sony's unique scroll wheel and Memory Stick slot. The system's spec list, however, reads like a royal pedigree.

Flashy specs; basic design
The VAIO PCG-GR390's features are flashier than its sober dressing would suggest. Spec highlights include a big, 15.1-inch, active-matrix screen; a modular DVD/CD-RW drive; an IEEE 1394 port; a 1.2GHz mobile Pentium III-M processor; a whopping 512MB of memory; and a speedy 16MB ATI Mobility Radeon graphics chip. We expect the latter trio to make an impressive showing in CNET Labs' upcoming benchmarks. The system's fairly sizable lithium-ion battery should also fare well in our Labs' battery-drain tests.

Sony went with a less-is-more approach when designing the VAIO PCG-GR390's 1.5-by-12.8-by-10.6-inch chassis. Open the system's lid, and you're greeted by a pretty basic layout consisting of a keyboard, a touchpad, and two mouse buttons. But Sony has thrown a couple of interesting curves into the mix. Beneath the mouse buttons sits a scroll wheel that you use to roll up and down through an onscreen program menu; once you land on the app you want, press the scroll wheel once to launch the program. The wheel also lets you scroll through commands in each app. A Back button next to the wheel adds to the convenience by taking you back a step in your commands each time you press it.

Spotlight on multimedia
Sony has outfitted the VAIO PCG-GR390 pretty well for multimedia use. The system ships with several respectable audio and video apps, including SonicStage and DV Gate Motion. It also includes a surprisingly sharp-sounding pair of speakers. For multimedia paradise, however, a system such as the PCG-GR390 should also have a hardware volume control and dedicated CD buttons.

The VAIO PCG-GR390 is off to an overall solid start, but a trip through CNET Labs will reveal this notebook's true colors. Check back in the coming weeks for our full review and find out whether the system retains its sure footing.