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

Verdict

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

Review Date: 24 Feb 2009

Reviewed By: Sasha Muller

Price when reviewed: £651 (£749 inc VAT)

Overall Rating
2 stars out of 6

Features & Design
5 stars out of 6

Value for Money
2 stars out of 6

Performance
1 stars out of 6

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.

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User comments

VAIO-P user's view:

Dear PCpro readers.
I am using Sony VAIO-P already for over 6 months. I would like to comment on the article with my own findings.

PCPro Opinion 1: It makes typing feel strangely dead and disconnected.

Indeed when typing gently on occasion a key may not act. In my case it happens mostly with SPACE key


PCPro Opinion 2. complete absence of any wrist rest

The laptop is thinner and much smaller that regular keyboard itself. With my wrist on the table I can easily reach all keys. When I sit in the armchair I rest my elbows on the armchair and I let the laptop rest on the thumbs. I use then the remaining 8 fingers to type. As the keyboard is small, fingers barely need to travel.


PCPro Opinion 3. 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.

That’s not possible. The trackpoint buttons require much more strength to press. And the accompanying clicks are loud enough to wake up lights sleepers.


PCPro Opinion 4. And as for the trackpoint, (…) the tap-to-click function had us regularly clicking items by mistake.

True. When typing you may press trackpoint by accident fortunately, with new trackpoint drivers coming with Widows7 models it is very easy to disable tap-to-click function.


PCPro Opinion 5. Sensitivity is also an issue, and one that left us frequently tweaking the settings.

I have no issues with trackpoint's sensitivity.


PCPro Opinion 6. unless you're glued to the screen it makes reading text very, very difficult

True, you may tweak zoom-settings of the web browser, change font sizes in text editors, but at the end of the day, you will still be glued to the screen. Though its sharpness and clarity will definitely help you a lot.


PCPro Opinion 7. with the Sony's score 0.26 comparing unfavourably to the 0.44 of the Windows XP-powered Samsung NC10.

It is not only Atom/Vista's fault. Sony preloads its VAIO models with lots of bloatware eating all available resources. After I did a clean USB-install of Windows 7, it regained nearly 20GB of disk space (I've also deleted rescue partition as it became useless after I installed Windows7) and significantly lowered processor usage.
Bottom-line: you can watch DVD’s and DIVX/XVID movies with subtitling filters on without stuttering.


PCPro Opinion 8. Sony's own VGN-Z21MN/B, for example, might be significantly larger and twice as heavy, but it combines light weight and stamina with much more sensible levels of processing power.

I would not agree. The VAIO P is the ultimate ultra portable once you realize the benefits of Remote Desktop Connection. Keep VAIO-P setup at its minimum, avoid temptation of littering it with unnecessary software and do all your word processing, number crunching or even software developing, on your application server.

Conclusion:
I have read lot of VAIO-P reviews, and I believe that negative opinions about it are usually expressed by devoted Sony users. This laptop is not a typical Sony product, and as such it should not be tested by Sony enthusiasts.
I am devoted Thinkpad laptop user and I quite much dislike all Sony laptops (reason: no trackpoint) but VAIO-P has simply stolen my heart.

By stasi47 on 21 Apr 2010

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