Sony's desktops -- sorry, Panel PCs -- don't get as much fanfare as their laptops. It's a small wonder, as these things are gorgeous, even if they do look like an amplifier that escaped from the '80s.
Brushed aluminium and powder coated, perforated plastic are the orders of the day, with clear plexiglass surrounding the screen. The LM18G's lot in life is to clearly be as appealing as a TV, and to hide the computer like components -- it's even wall mountable. Small wonder then that there's no holder behind the screen to hide the keyboard or mouse.
The keyboard does feature a fold over cover however to hide those unsightly digit flexing devices known as keys, which can cleverly fold out to make a wrist wrest. This becomes completely useless if trying to type with the keyboard on your lap as there's no way to remove the rest, but for normal desk use it's supreme. The mouse is reasonably standard fare apart from its somewhat ovoid shape, and both are wireless. You'll waste six AA batteries here, with no charging dock in sight. At least on the keyboard there's an indication of how much charge you've got left -- for the mouse you'll find out when it stops working.
Volume control is also provided on the keyboard, as is screen brightness. In fact, it's obvious this is a laptop trapped inside a TV's body (and inherits the price hike with it) -- the ExpressCard and PC Card slots, as well as the modem in the back prove that. An optical audio out and microphone jack finish off the back ports, with a big silver cover included to hide these and others away and manage cables if you're the overly tidy type.
The glossy screen itself can be adjusted by the neck, which acts like a picture frame. Depending on your height, the neck can be pushed out further so the screen faces you at a comfortable angle -- which is a good thing as the vertical viewing angles are rotten -- you really do have to sit down to use this PC.
If it's on a laptop, it's on the LM18G. A card reader offers Memory Stick Pro and SD compatibility, a headphone jack is present, as is wireless networking, a slightly more generous five USB ports, a 1.3MP Webcam, gigabit Ethernet and firewire. Amusingly there's even a wireless LAN on and off switch -- a feature usually reserved for laptops to save power -- but this thing can't be disconnected from the wall or its hernia inducing power brick. The power button sits inconviently on the top right behind the clear bezel, while another next to it allows you to turn the screen on or off, to avoid slow boot times and also save power.
There's also an AV input port for older cameras and S-video in, so the unit can be used to show or capture video from older video cameras. These are built into the hybrid TV tuner, which unfortunately isn't dual, so you can't record a show while watching another. A remote is bundled, but is infrared -- so this is line of sight action only.
In terms of other accessories a 12cm to 8cm disc adaptor is included, so the smaller discs won't get lost in the slot-load drive -- and that, folks, is it.
We didn't expect a massive amount of grunt out of the Panel PC, and we were right, scoring a wheezing 1942 in 3DMark06, and a not too bad 4803 in PCMark05. Then again, it really doesn't need more than this, and it could be argued that it's even a little overpowered for its lot in life -- so most will be happy with it. We just wish Sony could cut down on the overly loud laptop-esque fan noise the thing makes.
No doubt the VGC-LM18G will find its way onto some people's walls and benches, and it is thoroughly enjoyable to use. But it's got a few more revisions to go before it's perfect.