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Sony VAIO VGN-CR13G review: Sony VAIO VGN-CR13G

The Sony VAIO CR13G is a head turner that most would be proud to tuck under their arms.

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Craig Simms
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Craig Simms

Special to CNET News

Craig was sucked into the endless vortex of tech at an early age, only to be spat back out babbling things like "phase-locked-loop crystal oscillators!". Mostly this receives a pat on the head from the listener, followed closely by a question about what laptop they should buy.

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4 min read

Sony has been churning out the stylish laptops for some time now. With the CR series, things have taken another fashionable turn, the coloured varieties available sure to fulfil most people's desires.

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8.2

Sony VAIO VGN-CR13G

The Good

Attractive design. Excellent keypad. Great display. Great specs for the size.

The Bad

Back of screen could do with some reinforcement. Poor positioning of speakers. No digital video out. Separated card reader. Vaio Update needs some streamlining.

The Bottom Line

The Sony VAIO CR13G is a head turner that most would be proud to tuck under their arms.

Design
We received the white variant, the only non white areas of the chassis being the silver keyboard, the grey bottom and the transparent mouse buttons. It paints a very stylish picture, although at first we were concerned about the keyboard -- silver paint has a habit of rubbing off, and the alphanumeric characters appeared to be applied using stickers. On closer observation the copperplate lettering didn't seem to be a sticker, but there was an indentation around each letter giving the illusion. No amount of furious fingernail scratching damaged the letters or the paint job, meaning the keyboard should endure for years to come.

The keys have an unexpectedly long travel for a notebook, raised high above the board with a generous gap between them. This results in a typing experience that feels just fine to touch type on at great speed.

At the bottom of the base are the play/pause, stop, rewind and fast forward buttons for Media Player. These jut out when the notebook is closed -- which can be advantageous when using Sony's "AV Mode", a light multimedia client that can load pre-Windows to offer a low battery use solution when you just want to play music, watch a DVD or browse through some pictures on the hard drive. The client itself is simple and easy to use, and when you're done there's an option to either turn off the notebook or boot windows.

The 1,280x800 screen manages to achieve a well balanced level of glossiness, reflections proving to be not too much of a problem. A 1.3 megapixel Webcam sits at the top of the monitor frame, a green light to the left glowing when it's active. The mic sits further to the left, so your Webchatting experience can be complete.

Small speakers are situated about mid-way down on the left and right of the base, and emit the usual tinny notebook sound -- the positioning makes this worse however, since as you type your hands can obscure the speaker area, muffling the sound.

Above the keyboard are a series of buttons that give access to volume/mute functions, a shortcut to Sony's Webcam utility, and a button that exalts "display off" -- but appears to just kill the backlight, the images still visible if you give it more than a passing glance. Presumably this is the modern day "boss key", designed to hide any games or other inappropriate content you may be accessing during work hours.

Speaking of trackpads and erotica, getting the scroll function to work reliably at its default settings was like trying to caress someone with only one nerve. You can stroke all you'll like, but you'll rarely see an effect. Fortunately this can be fixed through the included Synaptics config tool, although the default installation had the quick access icon removed from the system tray, forcing us to dive through menus to find it.

A small light bar sits at the front on the underside, pulsating white with some blue highlights -- although it's unclear exactly what triggers this. Sometimes it glows when charging, it briefly does when turning on and briefly again when you pull the power adaptor out. As to exactly what triggers it is anyone's guess, the effects seemed purely random.

Features
Sony's 13-inch offering manages to avoid offering an HDMI port, which is a surprising omission. The usual VGA port is there as always, which we wish would go away and be replaced by a DVI port and a converter dongle included. Hurrah for legacy devices! S-video is also included.

Two USB ports are on the left, and one on the right which sits next to the Ethernet port. Firewire is there for the video fans, as is an SD card slot, and a Memory Stick slot for your media transfer needs. There's no valid reason we can think of for these being separated other than the usual -- Sony likes to grandstand its own brand. An express card 34 slot is situated underneath the Sony slot.

The back is kept clear for the battery, occupied otherwise by only the modem and power ports.

Sony includes a program called Vaio Update, for all intents and purposes a mimic of Microsoft's Windows Update, except focusing on software concerning your specific notebook model. Unfortunately it's not as mature as Microsoft's model, requiring the user to download and install all updates separately, a licence agreement popping up and needing to be dealt with each time and the machine needing to be restarted after each install, regardless of how minor the update is. Vexing and arduous to say the least.

Specs wise the VGN-CR13G is definitely up to most tasks, although an extra GB of RAM wouldn't go astray if you can afford to bring it up to the maximum 2GB. An ATI Mobility Radeon X2300 is passable for Vista, graphics and DVD decoding, but take in mind this is not a card that's good for gaming. An Intel Core 2 Duo T7100 takes up the processing slack, and should be more than capable for all but the most demanding of consumers.

Performance
For the size, the VAIO scored a decent 3706 in PCMark05, and an abysmal 763 in 3DMark06, thanks to the underpowered X2300. When turning off all power saving features, disconnecting the charger and setting a DVD on loop, the battery lasted 96 minutes, which is around what we'd expect for this kind of notebook.

Sony's CR range is certainly attractive, and we wouldn't mind having this one in particular under our arm, whether for corporate or consumer uses. A few minor niggles hold it back from being an absolute must buy, but pulling this thing out anywhere is likely to turn heads.

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