Sony VAIO M11 review

25 Mar 2010

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

Price when reviewed: 
299(£299 inc VAT)
3

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.

Details

Price ex VAT £254
Price inc VAT £299
Overall rating 3
Features & Design 3
Value for Money 3
Performance 2

Warranty

Warranty 1 yr return to base

Physical specifications

Dimensions 268 x 182 x 33mm (WDH)
Weight 1.350kg
Travelling weight 1.6kg

Processor and memory

Processor Intel Atom N450
Motherboard chipset Intel NM10 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 1,024
Resolution screen vertical 600
Resolution 1024 x 600
Graphics chipset Intel GMA 3150
Graphics card RAM 256MB
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 250GB
Hard disk usable capacity 226GB
Spindle speed 5,400RPM
Internal disk interface SATA/300
Hard disk Samsung HM250HI
Optical disc technology N/A
Optical drive None
Battery capacity 3,600mAh
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) 3
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 no
Smart Media reader no
Compact Flash reader no
xD-card reader no
Pointing device type Touchpad
Audio chipset Realtek HD Audio
Speaker location Above keyboard
Hardware volume control? no
Integrated microphone? yes
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 50min
Battery life, heavy use 2hr 48min
Overall application benchmark score 0.30
Office application benchmark score 0.31
2D graphics application benchmark score 0.30
Encoding application benchmark score 0.29
Multitasking application benchmark score 0.26
3D performance (crysis) low settings N/A
3D performance setting N/A

Operating system and software

Operating system Windows 7 Starter 32-bit
OS family Windows 7
Recovery method Recovery partition