We recently reviewed one end of the desktop-replacement laptop spectrum in the shape of the £410and now here's the other -- the Sony Vaio VGN-AW31M/H. With an 18.4-inch screen, this is one serious slab of Sony technology and it has a price tag to match: £1,100. So, given that it costs nearly three times the price of the entry-level Toshiba, does it provide three times the PC?
It may be something of a monster, but understated styling and a slender chassis make the Vaio AW31 look much less imposing than most desktop replacements. Anyone who's familiar with Sony's smaller Vaios will recognise some scaled-up design cues, such as the circular screen hinge with end-pieces that contain the power button and power socket. Overall, it's a very classy-looking laptop that doesn't scream, "I cost a packet!" Though some people would no doubt prefer rather more bling when spending this amount of money.
Lift the enormous lid on its stiff hinges and you'll find a full-width keyboard with separate numeric keypad. As long as you like the Sony's usual rubbery 'chiclet' style, it's an absolute joy to type on -- the keyboard is rock-solid and the keys perfectly proportioned.
The half-size function keys are a permissible concession, particularly since there's a full-size cursor key cluster and conveniently placed column of Home/End/Page up/Page down keys next to the oversize Return key. If only all laptop keyboards were this well designed...
The 18.4-inch screen is clearly one of the reasons for the Sony Vaio VGN-AW31M/H's high price. Not only is it huge for a laptop, but it has an equally expansive widescreen resolution of 1,680x945 pixels. The depth of the laptop (almost 30cm) means the screen sits at a comfortable distance when typing and while it can't be folded flat, it does tilt far enough back to make actual lap-top use viable -- although the weight of the screen makes this a precarious balancing act.
The screen's 945 vertical pixels obviously aren't quite enough for full 1080p video, but they're still enough to do justice to HD content, and the AW31 is equipped with a Blu-ray drive to provide it. The glossy screen does a smashing job with movies too, and the wide horizontal viewing angle means a few people can gather round and still have a clear view.