Sony may have a reputation for producing expensive kit, but the VGN-N38Z/W is a reasonably priced model with a decent specification and neutral looks.
It may not offer the design touches of some of the other models in the Vaio range, but it's not ugly and with a price tag of £649.97 from LaptopsDirect.co.uk it's not that expensive either.
The N38Z/W sits in the middle ground between portable and desktop replacement. It's rather big for daily commuting, but you could easily take it home at the weekend and back into the office come Monday.
Design-wise it's pretty basic, but more clean than uninspired. The white lid is a little reminiscent of Apple's previous colour fad, but the silver body is more what you'd expect from Sony, although it's a little square and boxy.
Performance is pretty good -- it managed to rack up a score of 3,162 in PCMark05 from its 1.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5500 and 2GB of RAM. It comes with Windows Vista pre-installed and it feels up to the job of running the additional visual novelties that accompany the new operating system.
However, it's with battery life where it really makes its mark, managing to last just over a solid two hours while being pummelled by Battery Eater's intensive test. Switching to the easier reader test it managed to keep going for over an impressive four hours.
Its glossy 15.4-inch, 1,280x800-pixel resolution display is a joy to view colours on, but like all glossy screens it is quite reflective, making glare from lights behind you an issue. The keyboard is large with decent sized keys, although again, design-wise, they look at bit like those found on Apple's MacBook range.
While it can hold its own for office performance, it's no match for 3DMark06 as its integrated Intel GMA 950 graphics chip was only capable of pulling in a miserable score of 246, which is very low, ruling out the possibility of playing the latest games on it.
Despite the amount of physical space available on its body, the N38Z/W is a little lacking when it comes to expansion ports. The left edge only holds the DVD writer while the front has just two slots for Memory Stick and SD cards. Modem and Ethernet adorn the rear with everything else (two USB, 4-pin FireWire, headphone, microphone, VGA and Express Card/34 slot) dotted along the right hand edge.
It doesn't feel particularly hardy and the case flexes a little more than you'd expect, making it feel unsuitable for frequent travelling without additional protection. It's also rather on the heavy side, pushing nearly 3kg so you're unlikely to want to carry it around for too long.
The N38Z/W is big on battery life, with reasonable application performance and a decent display for working on and is reasonably priced. Its design is clean, if a little boxy, but it falls into a slightly awkward middle ground between super portable and desktop replacement. If gaming is your thing then it's probably best avoiding all together.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Jon Squire