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Sony VAIO UX review: Sony VAIO UX

The Sony VAIO UX is one of the best tiny tablets we've seen, but its high price, poor battery life, and less-than-ideal typing experience keep it from being a home run.

Michelle Thatcher
Michelle Thatcher Former Senior Associate Editor, Laptops

Tech expert Michelle Thatcher grew up surrounded by gadgets and sustained by Tex-Mex cuisine. Life in two major cities--first Chicago, then San Francisco--broadened her culinary horizons beyond meat and cheese, and she's since enjoyed nearly a decade of wining, dining, and cooking up and down the California coast. Though her gadget lust remains, the practicalities of her small kitchen dictate that single-function geegaws never stay around for long.

7 min read

While supplies of the VAIO UX currently remain tight in North America, we received a Japanese version from importer Dynamism.com. What first impressed us was the product's weight; the featherlike VAIO UX weighs slightly more than a pound, making it nearly a half-pound lighter than the Samsung Q1 UMPC (which lacks a keyboard) but nearly three times the weight of other portable devices, such as the Treo 650 and the Sony PSP. Measuring 5.9 inches wide, 3.7 inches deep (5.1 inches with the screen extended), and 1.5 inches thick, the VAIO UX is a compact, if stout, package. Its tiny two-prong AC adapter brings the device's travel weight to 1.6 pounds.

6.0

Sony VAIO UX

The Good

Innovative, lightweight design; intuitive user interface; attached keyboard; two built-in cameras; plenty of ports and connections; screen resolution is great for watching movies.

The Bad

High price; tiny, highly reflective screen; keyboard can be uncomfortable during long stretches of typing; short battery life.

The Bottom Line

The Sony VAIO UX is one of the best tiny tablets we've seen, but its high price, poor battery life, and less-than-ideal typing experience keep it from being a home run.
Taking some of the most innovative elements of the and the OQO Model 01, the Sony VAIO UX is a tiny ultraportable with a 4.5-inch (diagonal) wide-screen display that slides up to reveal a QWERTY keypad. Despite its small size, the UX runs on a full-fledged laptop CPU--an Intel Core Solo--and a full version of Windows XP, and it features a touch-screen interface. These characteristics make the VAIO UX a key competitor for true ultramobile PCs, such as the Samsung Q1. And with its intuitive user interface and actual built-in keyboard (most UMPCs are slate tablets that require you to type on an onscreen keyboard or plug in a USB keyboard), the VAIO UX is the most practical of these new small tablets that we've seen to date. Unfortunately, it's also cursed with the poor battery life and ridiculously high price tag of most UMPCs, making it really suitable only for gadget-heads who can afford a $1,799 toy. The rest of us are better off buying either a smart phone for mobile Web surfing or a small-form-factor tablet, such as the $1,549 Fujitsu LifeBook P1510D.

Because of its small size, the VAIO UX's 4.5-inch (diagonal) wide-screen display is just a touch larger than the Sony PSP's. Considering the screen's fine 1,024x600 native resolution, most users will be in for a lot of squinting; icons and text are tiny. We found the display size to be adequate only for pounding out quick e-mails and minimal Web surfing, with one exception: the sharp resolution does make videos pop. However, the screen's glossy finish is so reflective that our own face was reflected over every video we watched in anything other than a theater-dark room. Sony tried to offset the tiny screen by adding a zoom button that can magnify an area of the screen up to three times its size, but it's an inelegant solution; zooming causes the image to become pixelated, and there was often a lag between our input and a change onscreen. On the plus side, the display is touch sensitive, letting you navigate windows and menus with a stylus or your finger--although the UX's highly reflective screen easily picks up fingerprints and smudges. Using the Palm-like stylus is easy enough, though, and when not in use it tucks conveniently into a slot on the back of the device.

As with the Q1, the UX has buttons around the screen to help you navigate without a mouse; unlike the Q1's, the UX's are very intuitively laid out. You can move the cursor using a square pointing stick on the upper-right side of the display, while two buttons on the left side function as right and left mouse buttons. Back on the right side (beneath the pointing stick) are dedicated buttons to zoom in and out; on the left (beneath the mouse buttons) is a button that calls up a touch-screen menu of frequently used controls, including screen brightness, volume, and quick-launch keys for applications and folders. A switch allows you to turn the system's Wi-Fi radio on and off. Other cool features include a handy fingerprint reader that lets you log on to Windows and your favorite Web sites with the swipe of a finger, plus two cameras: the one that faces out from the front acts as a Webcam, while the one that faces out from the back lets you take photos. Two gripes: the speakers on the top and the bottom of the unit emit weak sound, and we wish there was a hardware switch to easily control system volume.

Taking a cue from the T-Mobile Sidekick, the UX's screen slides up to reveal a backlit QWERTY keypad. Though we were excited to see an integrated keyboard on such a small tablet, a few minutes of typing tempered our enthusiasm. For those of us accustomed to pounding out messages on a Treo keyboard, the keys on the VAIO UX feel like they're spaced a bit too far apart for comfortable thumb typing, though the extra space certainly cut down on typos. More importantly, because the keys are embedded flush with the case (a necessity of the sliding cover), we had to press really hard to get a response. As a result, our thumbs ached after typing just a few sentences.

Given its tiny size, the VAIO UX's feature set is impressive. In addition to its two cameras and biometric fingerprint scanner, you'll get headphone and mic jacks, a USB port, a Memory Stick slot (typical to Sony, no other flash formats are supported), and a CompactFlash reader that can be used as an expansion card slot. Networking connections on our Japanese model include 802.11a/b/g wireless and Bluetooth; the North American version includes Cingular EDGE WWAN. The system's included dock adds FireWire, VGA, and three more USB ports, plus an Ethernet jack. It's an impressive lineup of ports and connections that matches that of any late-model laptop. About the only thing missing is an optical drive for transferring DVDs to the hard drive, plus support for more media card formats.

The only part of the Sony VAIO UX that doesn't meet Microsoft's requirements for an ultramobile PC is its operating system: it runs on Windows XP Home instead of the tablet edition. As a result, the UX lacks some of the handwriting recognition and annotation features found on most tablets--something most users are unlikely to miss, unless they've already been working with a tablet PC. Its robust software package includes Microsoft Streets and Trips navigation software (for use with an optional Bluetooth GPS receiver), Microsoft Works 8, media player software, and a handful of homegrown recovery, security, and file transfer utilities.

We reviewed the Sony VAIO UX50, a Japan-only release that costs $1,699. Clearly you're paying for the petite form factor more than components: the case is stocked with a modest 1.1GHz Intel Core Solo ultra-low-voltage processor; 512MB of slow 400MHz RAM; a tiny 30GB, slow 4,200rpm hard drive; and integrated Intel 945GM Express graphics. Those were enough to help the UX50 outrun the Samsung Q1 on CNET Labs' mobile benchmarks, but not on a par with an ultraportable such as the Fujitsu LifeBook P1510D or the 1.2GHz Core Solo-based Gateway NX100X. In short, the UX50's performance should be sufficient for surfing the Web and playing media files, but it definitely isn't enough to replace your laptop.

Like the Samsung Q1, the UX50 is crippled by its poor battery life. We think a mobile device should run for at least 5 hours if it's going to be truly indispensable, but the UX50 lasted just 2 hours, 27 minutes in our battery-drain tests. That's below average for a laptop (even the Q1 lasted 22 minutes longer), and it eliminates the option of making the UX50 your primary computer on the run.

The North American version of this device, the UX180, costs $1,799. The extra $100 gets you the aforementioned WWAN connectivity and a slightly faster 1.2GHz Core Solo processor; otherwise the UX180's specs are the same as the Japanese model's, and we expect it will have similar performance and battery life. The UX180 is available for preorder on Sony's Web site, with an anticipated shipping date of July 12, 2006.

Sony backs all VAIO UX models with an industry-standard warranty: one year of free service (including free shipping both ways) and 24/7 toll-free telephone tech support; after the year expires, support calls cost $20 per incident. Sony offers an array of warranty extensions; a three-year plan costs $299. The company's Web site provides a good knowledge base and e-mail support from Sony technicians.

Mobile application performance
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo MobileMark 2005 performance rating  

Battery life
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo MobileMark 2005 battery life in minutes  

System configurations:
Fujitsu P1510D
Windows XP Professional; 1.2GHz Intel Pentium M 753 ULV; 512MB DDR2 SDRAM PC3200 400MHz; Intel 915GM/GMS, 910GML Express 128MB; Toshiba MK2006GAL 30GB 4200rpm
Gateway NX100X
Windows XP Professional; 1.2GHz Intel Core Solo U1400; 512MB DDR2 SDRAM PC4300 533MHz; Intel 945GM Express 128MB; Hitachi Travelstar 5K80 80GB 5,400rpm
Samsung Q1
Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005; 900MHz Intel Celeron M353; 512MB DDR2 SDRAM PC4300 533MHz; Mobile Intel 915GM/GMS, 910GML Express 128MB; Hitachi Travelstar C4K60 40 Go 40GB 4200rpm
Sony VAIO UX50
Windows XP Home; 1.1GHz Intel Core Solo U1300; 512MB DDR2 SDRAM 400MHz; Intel 945GM Express 128MB; Toshiba MK3008GAL 30GB 4,200rpm

6.0

Sony VAIO UX

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 7Performance 5Battery 3Support 5
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