For a incredibly long time, if you wanted a tough notebook, you bought a Panasonic Toughbook. Sure, they cost the earth, weighed about half as much and it looked like you were carrying around a Hummer under your armpit, but they were the gold standard for a tough notebook. That gold standard is still true, but with the introduction of the Vaio G series, it looks like Sony's attacking all of the rest of the Toughbook's places in the robust notebook market, while still retaining one of the core characteristics of the Vaio brand -- that is, notebooks that actually look pretty darned spiffy.
The Vaio VGN-G118GN is an ultraportable notebook in a very small form factor -- just 277mm by 23.5-25.5mm by 215mm and 1.15kg with the battery installed, making it a good pick for business types who travel a lot -- or anyone who doesn't want a whole lot of back strain from lugging around a notebook all day. The Vaio VGN-G118GN also comes with a truly minute power adaptor -- for reference purposes it's about a third the size of the Wiimote, which in notebook terms is practically invisible. The keyboard features laser-etched characters on it; Sony claims this should increase the durability of the notebook, as they're less prone to "wearing out", something that we've seen with plenty of notebooks over the years. We were lacking in review time to sit there for three years rubbing a slightly grubby thumb over the keys to see if Sony's claims were true, so we'll have to take that on faith.
For a system with an enticing design and impressive chassis, we were surprised to discover that the components underneath the Vaio VGN-G118GN's body are best described as average. Your $3,699 investment only scores you a 1.2GHz Intel Core Solo U1500 processor and 1GB of memory. That'll run the supplied Windows Vista Business Edition well enough, but not in a spectacular fashion, and for those thinking of adding some grunt, you're also stymied by the Vaio VGN-G118GN's top level of 1.5GB of onboard memory, thanks to a soldered 512MB memory module and a single memory slot to play with. Graphics are provided by the onboard Intel Media Accelerator 950, which will snatch up to 224MB of memory from the memory pool. The display is a 12.1-inch 1024x768 TFT in 4:3 aspect ratio. Networking is handled via a 10/100 Ethernet port, inbuilt 802.11a/b/g and Bluetooth wireless and oddly enough in this day and age, a 56Kbps modem. That's presumably there for the high-flying business type who finds themselves inexplicably stranded in Swan Reach without broadband.
In practical terms, the VGN-G118GN is a notebook for number crunching, not games playing or video editing per se, although Roxio Easy Media Creator is oddly bundled with the Vaio VGN-G118GN. Impressively for a notebook this light and thin, Sony manages to cram in a Supermulti DVD burner on the side, putting it ahead of similar thin and light notebooks such as the. Security concerns are covered by a biometric fingerprint sensor and TPM module, while physical damage concerns are covered by inbuilt HDD shock protection, something that's becoming very standard across high and even middle-range business notebooks.
Sony makes a big claim with the Vaio G in terms of its battery life; up to 11.5 hours is the proposed figure, and that's with the battery supplied in the box, not a supplemental model. At the time of writing, however, none of our standard battery benchmarks will operate under Windows Vista of any flavour, so critically assessing battery life in a repeatable fashion is impossible. Certainly, our ad-hoc testing suggests that Sony's not telling too many porkies, as we comfortably got through a working day with the Vaio VGN-G118GN on a relatively light workload, and it would at least make sense of the inclusion of the ultra-low voltage U1500 processor. From a practical work viewpoint, you've got to put up with the classic problem of ultraportables -- the keyboard's not very big, so fast touch typists will struggle for a while.
As with the battery benchmarks, few of our test suite of applications are currently fully Vista-compatible, although we were able to drag a PC Mark CPU score of 2012 and memory score of 2054 out of the Vaio VGN-G118GN, and a 3DMark score of 155. None of those figures are that surprising; the Vaio VGN-G118GN simply isn't a high-end productivity workhorse given the limited processor, graphics and memory options on board. Having said that, it's also targeting a very specific niche; business users who want a stylish portable machine with plenty of battery life.