Sony VAIO Mini W Series review
A stylish netbook with a stellar, high-resolution screen, but it all comes at a considerable premium
So, the last big name has fallen. HP gave out in April 2008, and both Dell and Toshiba's resistance crumbled by the autumn. But it's taken Sony until the middle of 2009 to produce what it confesses to be a netbook, the VAIO Mini W Series. It still argues that the P Series, despite its Atom processor and microscopic dimensions, was nothing of the sort. It certainly wasn't priced as such, with even the cheapest version selling for over £600 exc VAT, whereas the W Series is expected to retail for £347 exc VAT on its release.
This mini-laptop follows more of the rules of netbook making. The Intel Atom processor has 1GB of RAM for company, Windows XP Home is the operating system of choice, and aside from the sizeable VAIO logo on its lid, the Mini W Series looks like a conventional netbook.
But, Sony being Sony, it couldn't possibly follow the formula to the tee. Chief among the differences is the screen. Yes, it's 10.1in diagonally across, but Sony packs in 1,366 x 768 pixels and opts for LED-backlighting, too.
The high resolution means that onscreen text is smaller than other netbooks, but in return spreadsheets, Word documents and web browsing benefit from much more space. If you've become accustomed to the cramped, 1,024 x 600 desktop of the average netbook, the Sony feels incredibly spacious by comparison.
Few will complain about the screen's quality, either. That LED-backlight makes for an impressively bright display, and although it isn't as vibrant as the best Sony displays, colours are accurate and there's no odd caste or grain to spoil white backgrounds. Viewing angles are also reasonable; the only possible annoyance is the reflection due to the glossy finish.
We're also fans of the styling, though of the three colours Sony offers - brown, white and pink - we feel the brown looks the best. The white is too reminiscent of old-style MacBooks, the pink too obviously designed to appeal to a certain sector of the population. Some within the PC Pro office were less taken by the cross-hatched finish to the touchpad, but in reality its responsive nature and generous size are far more important.
Which leads us to the most contentious point of this netbook: the keyboard. There's absolutely no disputing its style. It looks great as part of the classy overall package, and lends the W Series an air of a far more costly machine. However, if typing is part of your regular working life then it's vital you think carefully before parting with your cash, because it's irritating on a number of levels.
First, the keys have very little travel. It makes typing an odd experience, and even though we used the W Series over the course of several days, we never felt happy typing on it. Our experience wasn't helped by some odd key placement. Worst of all is the right Shift key, which is so slim we kept hitting the neighbouring backslash key, and the spacebar is also smaller than we'd like.
These sacrifices wouldn't be necessary if Sony had used the full width of the chassis, but - partly, no doubt, due to economy of scale - it's plumped for precisely the same keyboard as the P Series.
We also found one other irritation in daily use: the fan. Even if we were typing away in Word, its low monotone kept us company. It's fine in an office, but if you're sitting in a quiet room at night you might find the hum annoying.
You do at least get one of Intel's faster Atom processors as compensation. The N280 is a single-core chip but it runs at 1.66GHz, and that proved enough to push the W Series to 0.43 in our benchmarks, which is among the fastest we've seen from a netbook.
|Price ex VAT||£347|
|Price inc VAT||£399|
|Features & Design||5|
|Value for Money||4|
|Warranty||1 yr return to base|
|Dimensions||268 x 180 x 32mm (WDH)|
Processor and memory
|Processor||Intel Atom N280|
|Motherboard chipset||Intel 945GSE Express|
|SODIMM sockets free||0|
|SODIMM sockets total||1|
Screen and video
|Resolution screen horizontal||1,366|
|Resolution screen vertical||768|
|Resolution||1366 x 768|
|Graphics chipset||Intel GMA 950|
|Graphics card RAM||128MB|
|VGA (D-SUB) outputs||1|
|Hard disk usable capacity||145GB|
|Internal disk interface||SATA|
|Hard disk||Toshiba MK1655GSX|
|Optical disc technology||N/A|
|Replacement battery price inc VAT||£0|
|Wired adapter speed||100Mbits/sec|
|802.11 draft-n support||yes|
|Integrated 3G adapter||no|
|Wireless hardware on/off switch||yes|
|Wireless key-combination switch||no|
|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||yes|
|Memory Stick reader||yes|
|MMC (multimedia card) reader||yes|
|Smart Media reader||no|
|Compact Flash reader||no|
|Pointing device type||Touchpad|
|Audio chipset||Realtek HD Audio|
|Hardware volume control?||no|
|Camera megapixel rating||0.3mp|
Battery and performance tests
|Battery life, light use||4hr 19min|
|Battery life, heavy use||2hr 11min|
|Overall application benchmark score||0.43|
|Office application benchmark score||0.54|
|2D graphics application benchmark score||0.34|
|Encoding application benchmark score||0.40|
|Multitasking application benchmark score||0.44|
|3D performance (crysis) low settings||Fail|
|3D performance setting||Low|
Operating system and software
|Operating system||Window XP Home|
|OS family||Windows XP|
|Recovery method||Recovery partition|
|Software supplied||ArcSoft WebCam Companion 2, Roxio Easy Media Creator 10 LJ|