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Sony VAIO M11 review

Verdict

Standard components, uninspired design and poor battery life make this a VAIO to avoid

Review Date: 25 Mar 2010

Reviewed By: David Bayon

Price when reviewed: £254 (£299 inc VAT)

Overall Rating
3 stars out of 6

Features & Design
3 stars out of 6

Value for Money
3 stars out of 6

Performance
2 stars out of 6

Sony's reason for steering clear of netbooks in the early days was that its products just didn't fit the cheap and cheerful template. Instead, the aim was to keep its premium prices and try something different, but the quite baffling P-Series pocket laptop didn't exactly make waves. Neither did the company's first true netbook, the Sony VAIO Mini W Series, which came with an unrealistic £340 exc VAT price tag.

Now, at last, we have the netbook Sony should have made a year ago: the VAIO M11. Its £254 price fits in with the most popular netbooks around today, and it shares all the usual specifications, but if you're expecting Sony's design and class to scale down to this low level you'll be disappointed. When we say it's the netbook Sony should have made a year ago, we really mean it: it looks and feels like a year-old piece of kit.

The black plastic chassis has no real heft to it, and comes with none of the standard VAIO touches to differentiate it. Sony's Scrabble-tile keyboard is left out in favour of a standard netbook design, with woolly key travel and a layout and finish that could have come from any number of rivals. The touchpad is tiny and had erratic moments during our testing, although the buttons were responsive.

The lid is stronger than it looks and protects the display well, but the screen beneath it is uninspiring. It has a matte finish that adds a little grain, and although colours are fairly accurate there's no real punch to images. It's fine when you're typing documents or browsing the web, which is what most netbooks are used for, but we've seen much better.

Around the edges of the chassis sit three USB ports, an SD and MMC card reader and a 10/100 Ethernet port, while a D-SUB output sits on the left side for hooking up an external display. There's an 802.11bgn wireless adapter, with a corresponding wireless slider switch on the front edge, and Sony has also decided to use that sliding design for the power switch: it's unnecessarily fiddly.

Sony VAIO M11 rear shot

Internally, the M11 is a little more up with the times. It uses a single-core 1.66GHz Intel Atom N450 processor and NM10 Express chipset, and comes with a 250GB SATA hard disk – the standard setup you'll find in all the leading netbooks. It does have one limitation, though: the single 1GB stick of DDR2 memory is sealed inside the device with no means of upgrading it. That may not seem a deal-breaker given the M11's likely low-level usage, but it firmly closes the door to future expansion.

A far bigger negative is the M11's battery. The best netbooks available today offer seven, eight and even nine hours away from the mains – a full working day, in other words. With a worryingly low 3,600mAh capacity, the Sony fell ten minutes short of the five-hour mark in our light-use test. Pushed to its limit it gave us 2hrs 48mins, but however you look at it it's disappointing.

Performance is on a par with what you'd expect from an N450-powered netbook. It comes with Windows 7 Starter edition installed, and the N450 only managed a limp 0.3 in our application tests – and it whirred pretty intrusively in the process. The integrated GMA 3150 graphics won't handle HD video playback without a decent third-party codec installed, and they certainly aren't up to the task of gaming.

If we were in 2009 right now the M11 might be worth praising, but considering we've already seen a a more innovative attempt from Sony – last month's W21 Eco Edition, with its 1,366 x 768 screen – it's hard to find much to like.

The internals are identical to every other modern netbook, the chassis feels basic, and the underpowered battery leaves it dead when others have four or more hours of life left. We concede it's not easy to innovate in the netbook sphere any more but the M11 doesn't even bother trying, and by Sony's high standards that’s disappointing.

Author: David Bayon

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User comments

Typical for sony either too late or not too good (generally both)

One the 'cream of the cream' with Vaio series Sony continues to fail not only in cinema, music but also in hardware I think. I still think that designer in Sony are good however when they do something really good they generally provide a price tag that even doubles Apple! I personally stick with ASUS for the price + perfomance + design !!

By HopeLESS on 28 Mar 2010

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