Sony VAIO P-Series (VGN-P19VN/Q) review

24 Feb 2009

Minute and perfectly formed, but sluggish performance and high price limit the Sony P-Series appeal

Price when reviewed 
749
2

Sony swore it would never join 'the race to the bottom' - a phrase one Sony executive very unkindly levelled at the burgeoning netbook market - and going by its latest addition to its portfolio, the P-Series, it has certainly held true to its word.

Indeed, utter the word 'netbook' within earshot of the P-Series and you half expect a Sony marketing executive to leap out of the USB port and box your ears for daring to utter such blasphemy. But if Sony was worried that a passing consumer, journalist or curious dad-of-four might just possibly mistake the P-Series for a netbook, they needn't have worried.

For one, if you haven't done so already, take a look at the price at the top of the page. The model we reviewed, the VGN-P19VN/Q, is the most luxurious of all the P-Series and costs a spine-tingling £1,190. Oh, and lest we forget, that's excluding the VAT.

Suited and booted

Sony is well aware of how unique the P-Series is and at launch one of its favourite party tricks was getting its marketing representatives to pull one from a suit jacket pocket.

That's pushing things a little too far - it's still too bulky to stow away in most normal jacket pockets - but the P-Series is one seriously light laptop. At just 618g with the standard battery and 708g with the extended one it's less than half the weight of Samsung's NC10 and significantly lighter than the average ultraportable. The P-Series is quite literally in a league of its own.

Gloss finishes wrap around above and below, and the whole affair simply oozes style and solidity. Its 245 x 120 x 21mm dimensions are quite unlike anything that's come before it, except perhaps one of those tall, slender Michelin travel guides. It doesn't matter what you compare it to, though, this is by far the most portable laptop we've ever seen.

And as befits the VAIO's portability, wireless networking is beyond reproach. Draft-n, Bluetooth and an unlocked 3G modem are all squeezed inside. The tiny chassis doesn't leave much room for physical ports and connectors, though, but you still get a generous selection - two USB ports is more than you get on a MacBook Air, plus there's a card reader and a headphone socket. Meanwhile, VGA and Ethernet find themselves offloaded onto a tiny, 54g breakout box which neatly clips onto the compact PSU and connects to a proprietary socket on the Sony's right-hand side.

Full of surprises

Tilt back the wide, squat lid and, amazingly for such a tiny laptop, you'll find a reasonably spacious-looking keyboard staring back at you. To make room for such a sight Sony has entirely done away with the trackpad, replacing it with a trackpoint and squeezing in the two buttons along the P-Series' front edge. It's a neat solution and makes the most of the available space, but it's far from perfect. The Scrabble-style keys, for example, don't have a great deal of travel or any definitive action to speak of, and it makes typing feel strangely dead and disconnected. Factor in the complete absence of any wrist rest and finding a comfortable typing position can be decidedly tricky.

There are other annoyances. We're naturally used to tapping the spacebar with our thumb, but as the trackpoint buttons along the front edge are raised we often found ourselves pressing them by mistake. And as for the trackpoint, well, it's not the best we've encountered. The rough finish might be grippy, but gives a less than pleasant feel under the finger and the tap-to-click function had us regularly clicking items by mistake. Sensitivity is also an issue, and one that left us frequently tweaking the settings.

Details

Price ex VAT £651
Price inc VAT £749
Overall rating 2
Features & Design 5
Value for Money 2
Performance 1

Warranty

Warranty 1 yr return to base

Physical specifications

Dimensions 245 x 120 x 20mm (WDH)
Weight 618g
Travelling weight 880g

Processor and memory

Processor Intel Atom Z520
RAM capacity 2.00GB
Memory type DDR2
SODIMM sockets free 0
SODIMM sockets total 1

Screen and video

Screen size 9.0in
Resolution screen horizontal 1,600
Resolution screen vertical 768
Resolution 1600 x 768
Graphics chipset Intel GMA 500
VGA (D-SUB) outputs 1
HDMI outputs 0
S-Video outputs 0
DVI-I outputs 0
DVI-D outputs 0
DisplayPort outputs 0

Drives

Capacity 60GB
Hard disk usable capacity 55GB
Spindle speed 4,200RPM
Internal disk interface SATA
Optical disc technology N/A
Optical drive N/A
Battery capacity 2,100mAh
Replacement battery price ex VAT £79
Replacement battery price inc VAT £91

Networking

Wired adapter speed 1,000Mbits/sec
802.11a support no
802.11b support yes
802.11g support yes
802.11 draft-n support yes
Integrated 3G adapter yes

Other Features

Wireless hardware on/off switch yes
Wireless key-combination switch yes
Modem no
ExpressCard34 slots 0
ExpressCard54 slots 0
PC Card slots 0
USB ports (downstream) 2
PS/2 mouse port no
9-pin serial ports 0
Parallel ports 0
Optical S/PDIF audio output ports 0
Electrical S/PDIF audio ports 0
3.5mm audio jacks 2
SD card reader no
Memory Stick reader yes
MMC (multimedia card) reader no
Smart Media reader no
Compact Flash reader no
xD-card reader no
Pointing device type Trackpoint
Integrated microphone? yes
Integrated webcam? yes
Camera megapixel rating 0.3mp
TPM no
Fingerprint reader no
Smartcard reader no
Carry case no

Battery and performance tests

Battery life, light use 3hr 11min
Overall application benchmark score 0.16

Operating system and software

Operating system Windows Vista Home Premium
OS family Windows Vista
Software supplied VAIO Recovery Utility