The TX27 is quite possibly the most well-designed, aesthetically pleasing notebook we've come across. For starters, it's absolutely tiny -- measuring 272x195.1x28.5mm and weighing just 1.25kg. This ranks it among the lightest notebooks we've tested and, take our word for it; you'll hardly notice it in your backpack.
One trade-off inherent in ultra-portable notebooks is the necessity to integrate a smaller screen, and the TX27 is no exception. It's got a small 11.1-inch widescreen display, but fortunately the quality of this display is second to none. The extremely high resolution of 1366x768 provides loads of desktop space, while text and images are suitably sharp. It's also a pleasure to look at for long periods of time, thanks to high brightness and contrast levels.
Frequent travellers will be pleased to learn that, due to its small size, the notebook can easily sit on an economy-class tray table with the lid fully open -- a feat only boasted by the smallest of notebooks.
Build construction on the TX27 is also top-notch. The chassis is built using carbon fibre, which not only adds to its sturdiness but its aesthetics as well. It's available in three colours -- copper, black and white -- and we managed to get hold of the copper version for this review. The TX27 has a distinctly high-tech look about it, and the metallic VAIO branding on the lid adds a complementary touch of class.
One qualm we've had with previous ultra-portable notebooks such as the Acer TravelMate 3010 is that they tend to come with a clunky, external optical drive. Amazingly, Sony has managed to integrate a DVD writer into the TX27's tiny chassis, and there's a software option to disable this in order to conserve battery life. Our only qualm with the drive is that the eject button is minute and before long becomes tedious to use.
Naturally, the keyboard and track pad buttons are fairly small, which makes heavy typing difficult at first. Thankfully, it doesn't take long before you're bashing out lengthy documents with nary an error.
In order to keep battery life high and heat output low, Sony has decided to equip the TX27 with a fairly modest selection of components. It's got a low-voltage Pentium M 1.2GHz processor, 1GB of DDR2 memory and a 60GB hard drive, as well as an integrated Intel graphics chip.
Connectivity options are extensive, and include 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.0, 10/100 Ethernet LAN and a regular dial-up modem connection. There's also a memory card reader that supports Sony's proprietary Memory Stick format as well as the SD format. We found this interesting, as Sony usually tends to exclusively support its own format.
As far as ports go, there are two USB 2.0 ports, one Firewire connection, a VGA output for hooking up an external monitor and a PC Card slot to allow for expansion cards.
The audio/video features offered by the TX27 noteably impressed us. There's an "Instant On" button, which enables you to access photos, videos and music within twelve seconds, without waiting for the operating system to load. Enhancing this function is a set of AV buttons, which includes Play, Pause, Stop, Next, Previous and Eject. On the front panel there's also headphone/microphone jacks and volume controls, and these can be accessed even when the notebook's lid is shut.
In addition to multimedia hardware features, the notebook also comes pre-installed with a number of complementary software products. These include Click to DVD 2.5, PictureGear Studio 2.0, DVgate Plus 2.2, SonicStage 3.3, SonicStage Mastering Studio 2.1 and VAIO Zone 1.4.
Given the notebook's modest technical specifications, we weren't expecting much as far as raw performance is concerned. In MobileMark2005's office productivity tests we recorded a score of just 98, which is curiously low when compared to other ultra-portable notebooks such as the Acer TravelMate 3010, which produced a score of 227.
BAPCo MobileMark2005 performance rating
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
In qualitative tests, however, we found that the TX27 was fast enough for most of the tasks we needed to accomplish, such as document editing and DVD playback. Performance quickly deteriorates once you begin to multi-task, but if you're predominantly using one or two applications at a time, you won't be too fussed about the notebook's lack of raw power.
Conversely, the TX27's battery life score is the best we've seen yet; it survived for a whopping 329 minutes (5.5 hours) during our MobileMark2005 tests. To put this result into perspective, the TravelMate 3010, which includes two batteries (a six-cell and a three-cell), managed a combined battery life score of 284 minutes. It's still an impressive score, but the TX27 is much more attractive when you consider that it lasts longer without forcing the user to carry around a second battery.
BAPCo MobileMark2005 battery life rating
(Longer bars indicate more battery-life minutes)
Given our qualitative performance testing and the fact that the rest of the notebook is virtually impossible to fault, we're willing to overlook its low MobileMark2005 performance rating. The Sony VAIO VGN-TX27GP is officially our new favourite ultra-portable.