Sony VAIO P-Series (VGN-P19VN/Q) review
Minute and perfectly formed, but sluggish performance and high price limit the Sony P-Series appeal
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.
|Price ex VAT||£651|
|Price inc VAT||£749|
|Features & Design||5|
|Value for Money||2|
|Warranty||1 yr return to base|
|Dimensions||245 x 120 x 20mm (WDH)|
Processor and memory
|Processor||Intel Atom Z520|
|SODIMM sockets free||0|
|SODIMM sockets total||1|
Screen and video
|Resolution screen horizontal||1,600|
|Resolution screen vertical||768|
|Resolution||1600 x 768|
|Graphics chipset||Intel GMA 500|
|VGA (D-SUB) outputs||1|
|Hard disk usable capacity||55GB|
|Internal disk interface||SATA|
|Optical disc technology||N/A|
|Replacement battery price ex VAT||£79|
|Replacement battery price inc VAT||£91|
|Wired adapter speed||1,000Mbits/sec|
|802.11 draft-n support||yes|
|Integrated 3G adapter||yes|
|Wireless hardware on/off switch||yes|
|Wireless key-combination switch||yes|
|PC Card slots||0|
|USB ports (downstream)||2|
|PS/2 mouse port||no|
|9-pin serial 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|
|Pointing device type||Trackpoint|
|Camera megapixel rating||0.3mp|
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|