First look: Sony's VAIO netbook, the Mini W Series

9 Jul 2009
Sony VAIO netbook: the Mini W Series
Sony VAIO netbook: the Mini W Series

The long wait is over: finally, we have in our hands a Sony VAIO netbook. The Mini W Series is here, and we got our chance to try it out at a briefing in central London this afternoon.

Note: click here to read our full review of the Sony VAIO Mini W Series netbook

Its big selling point is undoubtedly the screen, with 1,366 x 768 pixels on show. It's bright, and on first inspection it also looks sharp. Although at 10.1in it feels cramped compared to a full-size laptop, we'd be happy to work with this screen all day.

Sony has also made plenty of effort to give this netbook an element of luxury. It's available in "berry pink, sugar white and cocoa brown", and the model we had to hand was the sugar white version (white to everyone else in the world).

It won't take your breath away with its style, but there's no doubt the bold VAIO logo on the lid gives this netbook some immediate kudos. The chassis itself is plastic, but Sony gives it an element of styling with a mottled finish.

It's also chosen, a little predictably, to go for the Scrabble-style keyboard - the same one, in fact, as the Sony P Series. I have mixed feelings about this. Hunt-and-peck typists will be able to hit keys without worrying about accidentally bumping the wrong one, but touch typists will find their pace restricted.

Compared to the keyboard on a top-quality netbook like the Samsung N110, it's only average in terms of using it. Style-wise, though, it undoubtedly looks good.

And there's no doubting that Sony packs the Mini W Series with all the technological goodies you might expect. There's draft-n wireless (a hardware switch is conveniently located at the front), Bluetooth and Intel's faster N280 processor.

Accompanied by 1GB of RAM, this 1.66GHz single-core chip will bring enough speed to cope with undemanding tasks: web browsing, word processing and even streaming iPlayer content worked reasonably well.

Don't expect beautiful, smooth video though: with Intel's GMA 950 graphics chip in place, there's no great aid in place for video playback and we found it stuttered. Digital camera enthusiasts will appreciate the presence of an SD card slot (note, though, this doesn't appear to support SDHC cards) as well as Sony's traditional Memory Stick Duo slot.

Battery life isn't great as standard. Sony is initially bundling the Mini W Series with a three-cell battery, and it officially quotes a life of around three hours. An extended battery will be made available "soon", but there's no price for this yet.

And price could yet prove to be the Mini W Series' biggest stumbling point. We've been told that it will sell for around £399 inc VAT from Sony outlets, and probably less elsewhere, which puts it squarely against the very best netbooks on the market.

That competition is tough. The Mini W Series big selling factor is undoubtedly that screen, and the Sony VAIO brand name, but we'll have to put it through our barrage of performance, battery and quality tests before giving our definitive verdict.

Nevertheless, this is a fine first stab at a netbook by Sony, and a promising sign of things to come.

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