Editors' note: This review is part of our Back-to-school 2009 Retail Laptop Roundup, covering specific new configurations of popular laptops that can be found in retail stores.
It won't be the lightest laptop on campus this fall, and it may not fit into every knapsack or laptop bag, but if you're willing and able to tote around a little extra weight, the Sony Vaio VGN-NW125J/T holds great appeal for its big, cinematic display and roomy keyboard. The software bundle is a winner, too, with a full version of Microsoft Office and 12 months of Norton Internet Security. (Make sure you get the discs at purchase; on our test system, only the trials of Office and Norton were preinstalled and no CDs were in the box. We've heard various customers report similar occurrences.)
Sadly, Sony equips the Vaio NW125 with a standard six-cell battery, which delivers less than 3 hours running time on a single charge. Given the size of the laptop, there would appear to be room for an extended-cell battery. Two 14-inch laptops, the Dell Studio S1440-022B and the Toshiba Satellite E105-S1602, each manage to squeeze in a longer-running eight-cell battery that still sits flush with the system.
We greatly prefer the Vaio NW125 to the similarly sized but single-core that's also on store shelves this summer. Not only does the Sony offer superior performance, thanks to its Intel Core 2 Duo processor, but we like its overall design better. In the end, a laptop with an extra-wide 15.5-inch display isn't the best choice for everyone, but the Vaio VGN-NW125J/T brings enough to the table to justify the added heft for many mainstream laptop users.
|Processor||2.1GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6500|
|Memory||4GB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz|
|Hard drive||320GB at 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Intel GMA 4500MHD|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WDH)||14.6x9.8x1.2 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.5 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||5.7 / 6.4 pounds|
Sony is arguably second only to Apple in terms of the emphasis it places on laptop design, so the Vaio NW125's unique look shouldn't come as a surprise. The plastic chassis is, according to Sony, a "walnut brown" and is textured. The grooved pattern looks like a fine wood grain, almost bamboo-like in appearance. The textured plastic covers the lid as well as the keyboard deck.
The touch pad, too, is textured, but in its case, it's a grid of raised dots. The feel is an acquired taste. For the first hour we had the NW125, the touch pad felt too rough, as if we were moving the cursor by dragging a finger over a piece of sandpaper. After a short time, we began to like the feel it provides--the polar opposite of the overly glossy touch pads found on HP Pavilions--and found it to be very responsive. The touch pad also features wide vertical and horizontal scroll regions along its right and bottom edges, respectively. The mouse buttons border on being clacky, but they're far from egregious offenders in this regard.
The keyboard is stellar. Where Asus crams in a separate number pad on its 15.6-inch UX50V laptop, Sony wisely leaves it off on the Vaio NW125. As a result, the keyboard is centered beneath the display and feels very roomy. The Chiclet-style keys don't offer the supple feel of the Dell Studio S1440, but they offer good travel with nary a key shortened. Despite its obvious entertainment appeal, the Vaio NW125 doesn't feature a strip of media control keys; you'll need to use the F keys to pause, fast forward, rewind, and control the volume. In addition to the power button, only three other buttons reside above the keyboard: a mute button, a handy Web button opens your default browser, and a third that turns the display off and on.
The 15.5-inch screen features a cinematic 16:9 aspect ratio and a 1,366x768-pixel native resolution, making it a perfect fit for HD video (although it's not a full 1080p display). The screen has a glossy coating to spiff up the appearance of movies and photos, and while it does help make colors pop and movement look smoother, it might be the least-glossy glossy screen we've seen, so glare and reflections are not a problem. Also not a problem: the integrated speakers, which reach a respectable level and max volume.
|Sony Vaio VGN-NW125J/T||Average for category [mainstream]|
|Video||VGA, HDMI||VGA, HDMI|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, eSATA, mini-FireWire, mulitformat memory card reader||4 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
You'll find a useful assortment of ports and connections on the NW125. HDMI is featured, for outputting video to an HDTV, as is VGA for connecting to older computer monitors. FireWire (i.Link in Sony's parlance) makes the cut, joining a trio of USB 2.0 ports and an eSATA port.
As a member of Best Buy's Next Class program, the Sony Vaio VGN-NW125J/T (a configuration exclusive to the retail store) goes beyond just software trials and actually offers a useful software bundle. Or so claims Best Buy on its Web site. Next Class systems we recently reviewed--the Dell Studio S1440-022B and the HP Pavilion dv4-1465dx--included CDs (with activation codes) of Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007 and Norton Internet Security 2009. Our Vaio NS125 test system included neither. We would have chalked this up to us receiving an early production system, but multiple customer comments on Best Buy's Web site report missing CDs. Be sure to look in the box for both Office and Norton CDs should you decide to purchase the Vaio NW125J/T.
On CNET Labs application benchmarks, the NW125 kept pace with other systems that feature the same configuration: Intel Core 2 Duo T6500 processor, 4GB of memory, a 5,400rpm hard drive, and integrated Intel GMA 4500MHD graphics. It provides more than enough muscle for general mainstream use, including heavy multitasking, and should be able to handle any nongaming task you throw at it.
|Sony Vaio VGN-NW125J/T|
|Raw (annual kWh)||48.44|
|Energy Star compliant||Yes|
|Annual operating cost (@$0.1135/kWh)||$5.50|
The Vaio NW125 uses a standard six-cell battery and lasted 2 hours, 49 minutes on CNET Labs' demanding battery drain test. In anecdotal testing, with the laptop running under typical usage scenario, we didn't surpass the 3-hour mark. That's fairly disappointing, when you consider smaller laptops at or near the NW125's price use extended-cell batteries, which greatly lengthen the time you can spend away from a wall outlet.