The Sony VAIO X505 never made an appearance in a James Bond movie, although it should have. It's the notebook any decent secret agent or highly image concious person needs. But if you're a normal business person, student or just looking for a good home PC then buying a feather-light, noiseless, gorgeous looking and thin $3,000 notebook (did you think I was going to say supermodel?) just doesn't make sense.
Sony VAIO X505 Overview
The Sony VAIO X505 was released in Japan last year. We assumed it would never make it to the U.S. Demand for this style of notebook is higher in Japan that it is state-side. But a lot of companies that import Japanese tech products and configure them to be able to sell to U.S. buyers, such as iCube (www.icube.us) and Dynamism (www.dynamism.com) found that they were doing good business with the X505. So Sony took heed to this phenomenon and released the X505 in North America in the Spring of 2004.
Sony also realizes it's always good to have a top of the line product to boost a brands image. The X505 certainly solidifies the VAIO brand as being very cutting edge with design and image, and that helps improve the image of even the low-end VAIO products since they can claim to be part of a well-respected brand.
Sony VAIO X505 in all it's thinness and glory (view larger image)
VAIO brand talk aside, let's answer the question as to what kind of laptop the VAIO X505 is and who the notebook is targeted at for it's buying audience. Without a doubt the VAIO x505 belongs in the category of being an ultraportable notebook. It in fact redefines the category. I used to tell people that an ultraportable notebook is any machine that weighs between 2lbs - 4lbs and has some type of low power chip. Well, the VAIO X505 is 1.85lbs so it kind of dips below my definition. Maybe we should make a special exception for the VAIO X505 and put it in the new category of "insanely thin and light ultraportable" notebook. Kind of a mouthful. The target audience? Well, that's the mystery, and the only group I can say right now this notebook makes sense for are business people that travel a whole lot and crave light and thin laptops, have money to spend and want to appear cool. Maybe Hollywood types that just want to look cool would do well with this notebook too.
Sony VAIO X505 Specs
VAIO X505 Design
Sony VAIO X505 Notebook and Paper Notebook (view larger image)
This is the section where anybody who reviews an X505 gloats. If you know anything about this notebook you know that is the thinnest of the thin-and-lights, it's the ultimate in providing ease of mobility and travel. You can put it in your briefcase and not only will it fit as well as any paper notebook, you won't even notice the extra weight it adds.
The body of the X505 is made of a composite nickel-carbon fiber. This material is commonly used in the biking world, Carbon Fiber provides an incredibly strong body at a fraction the weight of other metals; the only catch is this material costs a lot. The nickel-carbon composite gives the system a very rigid and sturdy feel, the material is cold to the touch so it looks and feels like metal. The dark-grey look is sleek on the outside, and then on the inside there is a graphite type of finish that also looks nice. But who are we kidding, you'll be trying to impress onlookers so it's the outside-facing look that counts. To add to this cool outer look the power button is incorporated right into the hinge and glows neon green to indicate when power is on. At first I struggled to find where the power button was on the X505, since with every other laptop I've owned it's placed on the keyboard somewhere. The hinge location just goes to further show that Sony engineers are both innovative and design-aware.
Checkout the cool neon green power light in the hinge (view larger image)
The screen is 10.4-inches. It's the same size as any other ultraportable notebooks screen, such as the Sony VAIO TR series, Fujitsu P7000 series or Sharp Actius MM20. The Sony screen has very good brightness. It is a crisp and clear XGA resolution screen. I'm not a fan of small screens with a relatively low resolution (I prefer SXGA or UXGA, so to me XGA is "low-resolution") so I struggled with being able to fit enough on the screen to satisfy my viewing pleasure. But that's of course the trade off with an ultraportable notebook, you get a really small and really light computer but lose screen size and other features.
VAIO X505 Keyboard and Input
The keyboard is somewhat tough to use on the VAIO. The keyboard is small, with key pitch (key pitch is defined as the distance from the center of one key to the next) only measuring 13mm (19mm is the norm). The key pitch must be 18mm - 20mm to qualify as full-size according to ISO standard. To compensate for small key pitch, Sony adds substantial spacing between the keys. This translates into a keyboard that is 90% full-size (equivalent to 17mm key pitch). This is similar to other mini notebooks such as the Sharp Actius MM20. Aside from the size issue with the keyboard, it is actually quite responsive, as is the pointing stick. Because it's 90% full-size you have to scale down the amount your fingers are used to travelling, but this is the same challenge for any ultraportable notebook.
At a first glance of the X505 you might actually look at the surface area on the keyboard and think, why didn't they extend the keys up a little for all that space that's not used between the keys and the screen? Well, the answer to that is the hard drive, processor and motheboard are all housed just above the keyboard, there's no room for anything else up there! The Sony design innovators pushed all of the internal components back above the keyboard to allow for the thin design.
Sony included a pointing stick instead of a touchpad, obviously to save on space. I love using a pointing-stick over a touch pad, so for me this was a big plus. The pointing stick is small, nothing like the nice sized one I have on my ThinkPad T40, but it is responsive and works well for moving the pointer around the screen so no huge complaints.
At the base of the keyboard are your standard mouse buttons for performing normal right-click and left-click actions. Also included is a middle button that acts as a scroll bar. If you hold this in and move the pointing stick then instead of moving the mouse cursor it will scroll the page you're viewing in the direction you push the stick. This makes for easy viewing of long web pages, and since the screen is small and XGA resolution you'll find that most websites don't fit on one page on the X505. I love this middle button/pointing stick scroll feature, I'm very used to using it on my ThinkPad T40 so its use comes very natural to me.
X505 Processor Performance
The X505 uses a Pentium M 1.10GHz ultra low voltage Pentium M processor. So it's not the fastest chip on (or off) the block, but the name of the game is to sacrifice a little bit of processor speed for improved battery life. When a notebook is as small as the X505 the battery is going to be a significant percent of the weight, the only way to help with this issue is downsize the battery and then use a processor that sips power and runs more slowly. Having said this, don't think that the X505 is going to trundle along. The performance, given the fact 512MB of RAM is included, is not bad for using your everyday applications such as Word, Excel or Internet Explorer for web browsing. But if you throw any games at the VAIO X505 it'll choke. The integrated graphics processor and low voltage chip can't handle shading and complicated polygon rendering. Just stick to the bread and butter applications and you'll be okay though.
We often use the program Super Pi to measure a notebooks processor performance. This program allows you to calculate Pi to a chosen number of digits, we always calculate it to 2 million for our processor performance test. View the following thread in the NotebookReview.com forums to post your own notebook calculation of Pi speed and see how other notebooks performed: http://www.notebookreview.com/forums/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=2657
Using Super Pi to calculate Pi to 2 million decimal places of accuracy with the X505 achieved the following results.
VAIO X505 1.1GHz PM
IBM T41 1.6GHz PM
Fujitsu P5020 1.0GHz PM Plugged In
3 mins 53 sec
2 mins 23 sec
3 mins 50 sec With battery *:
5 mins 5 sec
4 mins 50 sec
5 mins 29 sec
As you can see, the VAIO X505 gives comparable results to the Fujitsu P5020 1.0 GHz Pentium M based notebook, but is outpaced quite handily by the more powerful IBM T41 1.6GHz Pentium M processor.
* The Intel Pentium M is designed to scale back on power and performance in order to save battery life when the notebook is running on battery power
VAIO X505 Features
The VAIO X505 does not have internal wireless, but Sony does provide you with a wireless card (802.11 a/b/g) that is easy to slot into the one available Type II PC card slot that resides on the right-side of the X505. Sony also provides a Type II PC card slot memory card reader this provides the ability to read Secure Digital, Compact Flash and of course Memory Stick cards.
The included FireWire port and Two USB 2.0 ports allows you to add devices to the X505 that are missing. The missing devices I refer to is that being any type of optical drive. If you want to load software onto the VAIO X505 you'll have to network it and get the install from another machine, download the install program, or splurge and buy an external DVD/CD optical drive that attaches via a USB connection.
VAIO X505 Sound
The speakers on the VAIO X505 are horrible. They're absolutely the quietest speakers I've heard on any notebook to date. I'm sure it was a design decision to use tiny low power speakers to keep weight down. So you'll want headphones to get any decent sound from the X505.
VAIO X505 Noise
Aren't noise and sound the same thing you might be wondering? Well, yes, but in the sense I'm speaking, noise is undesirable. It is the sounds produced by a notebook such as fans blowing, a hard drive clicking or optical drive spinning loudly that I refer to as "noise". The good news is the VAIO X505 is as silent as a whisper. It has no fans, and it has no optical drive to spin. This thing could be used on a submarine in which they're highly concerned about making as little noise as possible (since sonar is used to detect submarines, the less moving parts and the quieter the submarine and onboard equipment is, the better for staying hidden). The X505 is for sure the most whisper quite notebook I've ever used.
VAIO X505 Battery
In my battery drain test of charging the notebook up all the way and then forcing the screen to stay at full-brightness while Windows Media looped through an MP3 set of music the VAIO X505 went into hibernation at 5% charge remaining after 2 hours and 57 minutes.
The VAIO X505 battery isn't too much bigger than a pen!
VAIO X505 Conclusion
There's no telling what inspired Sony engineers to successfully create this notebook and design it the way they did -- it's simply an amazing product design-wise. Likely it was another case of Sony Product Developers coming up with specs for a product and then barking orders to the wilful engineers to just meet the specs they set forth. According to Sony folktale, in 1994 Sony manager Shizuo Takashino when told by his staff that Sony's new videocamera couldn't get any smaller because there was no more space inside to eliminate, he challenged them to dunk it in a bucket of water. If bubbles come out of the camera, there's still room to trim he argued. The engineers went on to create a camcorder the size of a Japanese passport. It's likely that some product manager did the same thing to the group of engineers responsible for producing the VAIO X505.
VAIO X505 Recommendation
The two Sony VAIO ultraportables -- the TR series on the left, the X505 on the right
So to get to the point, do I recommend that anybody spend $3,000 for this notebook and is it practical? Well, honestly the answer to that is no. You absolutely have to be a geek and somebody in love with technology gadgets and innovative products to need this notebook. It would also never make sense to buy unless you need the ultimate in portability for travelling. And furthermore, you could get the Sony VAIO TR5 for the exact same cost as the X505 and it has built-in wireless, a built-in DVD Burner, built-in camera and 1GB of RAM and weighs just under 1-lb more -- although granted the TR5 is much thicker than the X505. In my final opinion, I have to say there's no practical reason for buying the X505 unless there's $3000 burning a hole in your pocket (if you're so lucky) and you're a sucker for the latest in design and technology.
Sony VAIO X505 Pricing and Availability
Tip Jar and Word From the Author
I hope you enjoyed and found this review of the VAIO X505 informative and helpful. I'm a freelance writer and programmer based in New York. If you did find this review helpful and have a $1.00 to spare as a tip or contribution to the "Baxter Fund for Buying More Tech Gadget Junk" it would be greatly appreciated, just click the button below to donate via PayPal.
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