Dripping with seductive charm, the Sony VAIO X505 is the laptop equivalent of the ancient siren, said to have lured sailors to their deaths with her bewitching song. The VAIO X505 is quite pretty and will be difficult to put down in the store, but its beauty will cost you in both features and performance. At $2,999 (as of September 2004), it's not exactly a bargain, especially considering the small screen and keyboard and the lack of an internal optical drive and modem. Sony's facing some heat from less-expensive competitors, including the Dell Inspiron 700m, the Toshiba Portege R100, the IBM ThinkPad X40, and the Sharp Actius MM20, all of which are slightly larger than the VAIO X505 but about half the price. Nevertheless, the VAIO X505 is about the sexiest laptop on the market. If you don't mind its reduced feature set--none of its holes are deal breakers, after all--you can always pay off that credit card next year.
The charcoal and silver VAIO X505 is ultraportable to say the least--in fact, its supersvelte measurements make it the Calista Flockhart of the laptop world. Measuring 10.1 inches wide and 8.2 inches deep, the VAIO X505 runs a remarkable 0.75 inch thick at its widest point and 0.3 inch at its thinnest--smaller than the tiny Toshiba Portege R100 and Sharp Actius MM20. Tipping the scales at a twiggy 1.85 pounds, the VAIO X505 is also one of the lightest (if not the lightest) laptops available; the chocolate bar-size AC adapter bumps up its travel weight to a negligible 2.4 pounds.
Despite its pint-size form factor, the VAIO X505 incorporates a basic but fairly complete array of essential features. Its 10.4-inch (diagonal) screen, with a 1,024x768 native resolution, is big enough to work on; however, it's a bit dimmer and smaller than the screen on the Portege R100. The VAIO X505's keyboard features small but usable 17mm keys with 1.5mm of depth (19mm and 2.0mm are more typical); it does flex a bit under intense typing. Embedded near the center of the keyboard is the laptop's pointing stick. The three small mouse buttons sit just below the keyboard, quite close to the tiny spacebar, which occasionally results in some cursor chaos when typing. The VAIO X505's internal stereo speakers, positioned somewhere below the keyboard, are totally lame; plan to plug into the single headphone jack for any audio needs.
As a result of its sheer smallness, the VAIO X505 skimps on features; in fact, it barely has the essentials. The system offers two USB 2.0 ports, a four-pin FireWire port, and a PC Card slot for the 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi card that Sony includes with the system. Sony also throws in a dongle that does double duty providing inputs for LAN and VGA monitor connections. The only critical features missing are an optical drive and a dial-up modem, but these are the trade-offs Sony makes for such a beautifully minimal laptop.
The system comes with a decent software package. The highlight is Microsoft Windows XP Professional. You also get Microsoft Office 2003, InterVideo WinDVD for DVD playback, and a number of Sony apps for audio, video, and system recovery needs.
The VAIO X505 comes standard with a smallish 20GB hard drive (you can upgrade to 60GB) and 512MB of 400MHz memory, 65MB of which is shared with the system's Intel 855GM video card. The laptop's low-voltage Pentium M 1.1GHz processor delivers slightly above-average performance compared to other like systems. It barely outpaced the Fujitsu LifeBook B series but trounced the Sharp Actius MM20 running a unique 1GHz Efficeon TM-8600 processor. As the charts show, performance-wise, the VAIO X505 proved competent in our tests with both real-world office and content-creation applications.
However, for such an incredibly portable system, we wish the VAIO X505 offered better battery life. Its 11.1V, 2,000mAh (22WHr) battery isn't terrible, lasting just less than three hours in our drain tests, but it can't compete with the Fujitsu LifeBook B series' 10.8V, 4,400mAh (48WHr) battery, which lasted for nearly five hours. The Sharp Actius MM20, powered by a 11.1V, 1,800mAh (20WHr) battery, lasted only two and a half hours. It's not an altogether grim story, but better battery life would edge the VAIO X505 a bit closer to perfection.
Like other VAIO notebooks, the VAIO X505 comes with a one-year warranty on parts and labor, but you'll need to ship the machine to one of Sony's repair depots (the company pays for shipping). Upping the coverage to three years costs a reasonable $200.
Sony's solid online support has it all: software updates and drivers, downloadable manuals, a thorough and searchable knowledge base, and tips for setting up the computer. The Web site chat section is a great way for technicians and users to resolve detailed problems, and the discussions are accessible to other users, too. Sony provides very good 24/7 toll-free phone support for one year, but it costs $20 each time you use it thereafter. You can e-mail a question or a problem to a technician anytime during the life of the product.
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