Sony VAIO Mini W Series review

15 Jul 2009

A stylish netbook with a stellar, high-resolution screen, but it all comes at a considerable premium

Price when reviewed 
399
4

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.

Style council

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.

Details

Price ex VAT £347
Price inc VAT £399
Overall rating 4
Features & Design 5
Value for Money 4
Performance 4

Warranty

Warranty 1 yr return to base

Physical specifications

Dimensions 268 x 180 x 32mm (WDH)
Weight 1.190kg

Processor and memory

Processor Intel Atom N280
Motherboard chipset Intel 945GSE Express
RAM capacity 1.00GB
Memory type DDR2
SODIMM sockets free 0
SODIMM sockets total 1

Screen and video

Screen size 10.1in
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
HDMI outputs 0
S-Video outputs 0
DVI-I outputs 0
DVI-D outputs 0
DisplayPort outputs 0

Drives

Capacity 160GB
Hard disk usable capacity 145GB
Spindle speed 5,400RPM
Internal disk interface SATA
Hard disk Toshiba MK1655GSX
Optical disc technology N/A
Optical drive None
Battery capacity 2,100mAh
Replacement battery price inc VAT £0

Networking

Wired adapter speed 100Mbits/sec
802.11a support no
802.11b support yes
802.11g support yes
802.11 draft-n support yes
Integrated 3G adapter no
Bluetooth support yes

Other Features

Wireless hardware on/off switch yes
Wireless key-combination switch no
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 yes
Memory Stick reader yes
MMC (multimedia card) reader yes
Smart Media reader no
Compact Flash reader no
xD-card reader no
Pointing device type Touchpad
Audio chipset Realtek HD Audio
Speaker location Bottom
Hardware volume control? no
Integrated microphone? no
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 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