Sony VAIO VGN-TX3XP review
Beautifully crafted with stunning features and battery life. Only the warranty disappoints
While Sony's new VGN-TX3XP is "merely" an evolution of the TX2 series, it still has the power to wow all who set eyes on it. Few ultraportables can match the TX3 for sheer size and weight. It weighs in at only 1.2kg and measures just 272 x 195 x 29mm - the same as the TX2.
Admittedly, it does sacrifice screen size for this: it has an 11.1in TFT, while most ultraportables opt for a 12.1in, 1,280 x 800 display. But despite the size, the TX3's screen boasts a 1,366 x 768 resolution. This is a 16:9 ratio rather than the typical 16:10 offered by laptops, making it a better candidate for watching the odd movie. And if this appeals, the Sony's X-black screen will happily oblige with an impressive level of brightness and vibrancy (although it is glossy and thus susceptible to reflections). These are characteristics of the white LED backlight, which also helps extend the battery life compared to traditional light sources.
Just below the screen is a row of playback control buttons including an AV Mode button, which lets you watch DVDs or listen to CDs without booting into Windows - again, a feature carried over from the previous model. The important factor, though, is the integrated DVD writer - an almost unbelievable inclusion given the TX3's dimensions.
But there it is, along with a VGA output on the right-hand side. On the opposite side are two USB 2 ports, a Type II PC Card slot and a modem connector. A mini-FireWire interface can be found on the rear with a 10/100 Ethernet port, while card readers for Memory Sticks and SD/MMC cards are on the front. Next to these are headphone and microphone inputs, volume controls and a wireless on/off switch for the 802.11a/b/g and Bluetooth radios.
Where the TX2XP didn't concern itself with security, the new model goes to the other extreme with a fingerprint scanner, a TPM 1.1b encryption chip and a G-Sensor to protect the 80GB hard disk (by parking its heads) in the event of a drop.
It's a wonder Sony has managed to fit all these components into the tiny chassis and, inevitably, there are compromises. One is the sturdiness of the TFT. Although the casing is made from carbon fibre, it's only a few millimetres thick and, like the TX2's, it twists alarmingly with little force. Pressure is distributed evenly enough to prevent the TFT from damage, but you'll still need to look after it with great care.
It's no consolation that you can choose between a black or a slate-blue lid, but at least the rest of the chassis is solid. We like the keyboard too; it uses the full width of the notebook and proved comfortable to type on for long periods. But we still have reservations about the mouse buttons right on the front edge.
The other compromise is power. Although the TX2's Pentium M 753 has been updated to a Core Solo U1400, it still runs at the same 1.2GHz. With 1GB of DDR2 memory, this managed only 0.5 in our benchmarks, making it no faster than the older model. It's a shame Sony didn't opt for the ultra-low-voltage version of the Core Duo, but unless you're pushing the Sony hard by running several applications at the same time the TX3 won't feel too sluggish.
The Core Solo U1400 has its advantages when it comes to power consumption, though, with the TX3 lasting over nine hours if you're only using it lightly. And even if you're working hard, you should still get about five hours of use before needing to recharge - a better effort than the TX2, which could only manage eight and four hours respectively.
But, despite the price, the TX3 only comes with a one-year return-to-base warranty. Extending the warranty for two years will cost you £170, but that's still for return-to-base cover.