Taking some of the most innovative elements of the T-Mobile Sidekick 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.
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.
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.