The recently introduced Sony VAIO C Series laptop sports an Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 13.3" widescreen display, features sleek styling with a selection of colors and starts at about $1,099. That description sounds suspiciously like the Apple MacBook, and there's no doubt Sony is trying to take a bite out of Apple's recent success in the portable notebook market space with the VAIO C.
The Sony VAIO VGN-C140 13.3" widescreen laptop (view large image)
The Sony VAIO C comes in a number of configurations and colors. You can configure a VAIO C online at SonyStyle.com or buy a stock configuration from various retailers. When you configure the VAIO VGN-C190 at SonyStyle.com you have a dizzying array of colors to choose from (Green storm, Pink swirl, Angel, Red storm, Blue streaks, Urban Gray, Spring Green, Blush Pink, Espresso Black, Sea Shell White). Sony also offers a free 60 character engraving in the top left side of the screen -- I don't recommend this if you want to protect resale value of your notebook though.
Sony offers a free 2-line 30 character per line engraving on your VAIO C190 notebook if you configure online (view large image)
Processor wise you can choose either a cheapy Intel Celeron processor for the VAIO C or select from the full range of Core 2 Duo processors (from the Intel T5500 1.66GHz Core 2 Duo up to the T7600 2.33GHz Core 2 Duo). The only screen offering is the 13.3" WXGA and the base amount of RAM is 1GB, since this notebook is being touted as "Vista Compatible" Sony made a wise decision here. Built-in wireless 802.11 a/b/g is standard. Finally you can choose from a range of 40GB - 120GB hard drives and have the choice between a DVD burner (dual-layer) or a more basic CD Burner / DVD optical drive.
For this review we're taking a look at the Sony VAIO VGN-C140G/B that was purchased for $1,179.99 before rebate from Amazon.com, but after a mail-in rebate of $100 that price gets knocked down to $1,079.99. Following are the specs for the notebook under review:
The VAIO C packaging box (view large image)
Contents inside the box (view large image)
Contents unwrapped (view large image)
Screenshot of VAIO C desktop at first bootup (view large image)
Build and Design
You have to hand it to Sony, they've done a nice job with the styling of the VAIO C and the selection of colors and designs is unprecedented. The Espresso Black with copper accents that comes with the C140 is sleek, cool and professional looking. The slightly dimpled finish on the keyboard and palm rests area is effective in making the notebook look more spritely. The pinhole sized LED indicator lights at the front of the notebook are attractive looking, albeit hard to read what they actually mean. The translucent power button is easy to find and also effective in making the VAIO C look more suave -- I'm a sucker for nice looking power buttons.
Nice lights (view large image)
The lid of the VAIO C also has a nice look, the silver VAIO badge is pleasong and the look is very clean.
VAIO C140 lid, the Sony logo is the front of the notebook -- from this view it is upside down but when the lid is open it appears right-side up to onlookers (view large image)
Build-wise the VAIO C is classified by Sony as a thin-and-light notebook. At 1.5" of thickness it's not exactly skinny, but it's not as thick as one of those 2-inch thick 17" screen notebook monsters. Honestly, I would have liked to have seen this notebook at 1.2" of thickness. If you're looking for a true thin and light weight 13.3" screen notebook the Sony VAIO SZ is a better option, but much more expensive.
At 1.5" of thickness the VAIO C isn't exactly super model thin, it's as thick as an 800 page paper back computer programming book
Notice that the VAIO C is quite a bit thicker than the larger screen but thinner 14.1" ThinkPad T43 (view large image)
The case of the VAIO C case is composed of plastic while the lid is some type of magnesium-alloy to offer better protection of the screen area. I was bracing myself for a dissapointingly cheap plastic case with a lot of flex to it, but to my pleasant surprise that's not what I found. The VAIO C offers a very sturdy and relatively thick plastic casing. While the VAIO SZ offers a high-end carbon fiber build case that makes the SZ lighter, I don't think it's a ton better in terms of sturdiness than the C. I stood in a Best Buy with a VAIO C next to a VAIO SZ and did my standard push and flex tests all over each notebook and found them to be about equal.
13.3" Sony VAIO C on the left next to a 14.1" screen ThinkPad T43 on the right (view large image)
The VAIO C lid does not have a latch to hold it closed, which is a little disappointing to me, but once closed the lid does stay firmly down. The trick is opening it, you really have to use two hands and get one finger under the lid to lift it open. The hinge for the screen is very good, it is firm and holds the screen in place well -- I even found the VAIO C to have a more convincing hinge mechanism than the somewhat wobbly VAIO SZ hinge.
One knock against the VAIO C is that for the ExpressCard 34 slot Sony gives you a plastic dummy to fill the slot when it's not in use, having a spring based flap would be preferable, removable plastic pieces are easily lost.
Performance and Benchmarks
The Core 2 Duo that comes with the VAIO C-series is no laggard in terms of performance, even at the 1.66GHz low-end we have configured. Having said that, the VAIO C is not being pushed by Sony as a portable performance machine as it does not offer a dedicated graphics option -- that's the realm of the VAIO SZ series. The 120GB hard drive provided does spin at 5400RPM, so that's pretty decent. The two 512MB memory sticks included are 533MHz variety and Sony doesn't even offer 667MHz memory if you configure a C190, surprising since the FSB on the Core 2 Duo can support speeds of up to 667MHz, so there may be a slight performance bottleneck there.
|Sony VAIO C140 (1.66GHz Core 2 Duo T5500, with 533MHz memory speed)||1m 23s|
|Fujitsu LifeBook A6010 (1.66GHz Core 2 Duo T5500, with 667MHz memory speed)||1m 22s|
|Dell Inspiron e1505 (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 16s|
|Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 18s|
|Toshiba Satellite M100 (2.00GHz Core Duo)||1m 18s|
|Samsung X60 (1.66GHz Core Duo)||1m 29s|
|Dell XPS M140 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 41s|
|Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 53s|
|IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 45s|
PCMark05 Comparison results:
|Sony VAIO C140 (1.66GHz Core 2 Duo T5500, with 533MHz memory speed, Intel GMA 950 graphics)||2,911 PCMarks|
|Fujitsu LifeBook A6010 (1.66GHz Core 2 Duo T5500, with 667MHz memory speed, Intel GMA 950)||2,994 PCMarks|
|Fujitsu N6410 (1.66GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400)||3,487 PCMarks|
|Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60, Nvidia Go 7800GTX)||5,597 PCMarks|
|Sony Vaio SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400)||3,637 PCMarks|
|Toshiba Tecra M6 (1.66GHz Intel T2300E, Intel GMA 950)||2,732 PCMarks|
|Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400, Nvidia Go 7400)||3,646 PCMarks|
|Sony VAIO FE590 (1.83GHz Core Duo, Nvidia Go 7400)||3,427 PCMarks|
Cinebench is a good rendering benchmark tool based on the powerful 3D software, CINEMA 4D. Its rendering tasks can stress up to sixteen multiprocessors on the same computer. It is a free benchmarking tool, and can be found here: http://www.cinebench.com. The basic CPU test provided the following results, you can see the VAIO C failed to match the similarly priced MacBook Core 2 Duo 2.0GHz based notebook but of course did better than an old Pentium M based ThinkPad T43.
|Cinebench 9.5 Benchmark||Sony VAIO C140 (1.66GHz Core 2 Duo)||MacBook Core 2 Duo (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo)||ThinkPad T43 Pentium M 2.0GHz||Lenovo ThinkPad T60 Core 2 Duo 2.0GHz|
|Rendering (Single CPU)||266 CB-CPU||331 CB-CPU||222 CB-CPU||327 CB-CPU|
|Rendering (Multiple CPU)||487 CB-CPU||596 CB-CPU||N/A (not dual core)||592 CB-CPU|
HDTune Benchmark results:
The 120GB hard drive size is nice and certainly appreciated, especially good is that it spins at 5400RPM and not a slower 4200RPM. I wouldn't want a 7200RPM spinning drive in this type of laptop, it drains the battery too much -- bettery to add more RAM for performance.
The 13.3" screen is a WXGA 1280 x 800 job, it's a comfortable size for viewing and in my opinion quite a sweet spot for portability. I like how Sony made it so the display sits down slightly below the base, thereby giving the VAIO C a lower overall profile when in the open position (good for tight quarters such as use on a plane).
The display is nice and fairly bright with even backlighting, it offers 8 levels of brightness. The display is an XBRITE-ECO type, this is not as bright as the plain old "XBRITE" display. Sony claims the XBRITE-ECO to offer better power efficiency, but really it's just a dimmer backlight than what you get in say the VAIO FE or VAIO AR where the display can get as bright as the sun (seemingly). Nonetheless, I found the XBRITE-ECO display to be quite bright enough, and the glossy finish makes the colors vibrant for watching movies.
What I didn't like about the display is the very poor vertical viewing angles. If the display isn't aligned just so with your eyes then screen colors distort really fast. Horizontal viewing angles weren't fantastic, but acceptable.
Viewed at 90-degrees colors are true and good, here is a scene from the 007 Casino Royale trailer in black and white (view large image)
Viewing the screen from a low angle colors become dark (view large image)
View the screen from too high an angle and colors wash out (view large image)
Horizontal viewing angles are okay (view large image)
Keyboard, Touchpad and Other Input Buttons
The keyboard on the VAIO C is quite usable, it's got 86-keys spread out over 6-rows and the keys are full sized. The key travel is decent and the touch is light. If you have long fingernails it's kind of easy to catch the key above the key you're pushing down and pop it up a bit -- so trim those nails or you might be popping off keys (I've seen this happen on the VAIO SZ). The keyboard is really pretty firm too, there's a little bit of flex on the side areas, but nothing horrible and will be unnoticed by most.
The touchpad is very usable and just the right size. The mouse buttons are a good size too, I'd rather they have a bit more travel and springiness to them and were a little less noisy, but they're not horrible and most certainly usable.
With the VAIO C the only dedicated hardware buttons we get are the power button and Wireless on/off button that's located on the front of the notebook. It's dissapointing Sony didn't include more media buttons along the top like they did on the VAIO SZ.
Input and Output Ports
Let's take a quick tour around the port offerings of the VAIO C:
Front side: Wireless on/off slider switch and Memory Stick Pro reader slot (view large image)
Back side: Nothing except the battery (view large image)
Right side: Two USB 2.0 ports, FireWire 400, S-Video, Monitor-Out, heat vent, Kensington lock slot, Power jack and speaker above the power jack (view large image)
Left side: Ehternet and modem port with speaker above, microphone and headphone jacks, ExpressCard 34 slot above the DVD burner optical drive area (view large image)
The port selection is actually quite good, except for the fact we only get two USB 2.0 ports. I'd like to see three, but I can get by with two on a notebook of this size. It's the same number of USB ports as the competing MacBook.
Sony included a reader for the Memory Stick Duo on the front of the notebook and then provided a 5-in-1 memory card adapter that fits in Express Card 34 slot to read SD/xD/MMC/MemoryStick type cards. Why didn't Sony just upgrade that front memory card reader to a 6-in-1 instead of giving us two memory reader slots.
Sony includes a seperate memory card reader that goes into the ExpressCard 34 slot (view large image)
The VAIO C has stereo sound via speakers on the left side and right side. If you check out the pictures of the sides of the notebook you'll see the speakers located on flanking side areas. With the speakers being on the side they don't exactly direct the sound at you and I thought this would be problematic, but the audio is surprisingly good and volume level also quite good. They're actually some of the better speakers I've heard from a notebook of this size. The headphone jack is located on the left side when you want better audio quality or need to avert disturbing others.
Heat and Noise
The VAIO C runs nice and quiet with the 1.66 GHz Core 2 Duo. It would run warmer if say a faster 2.33GHz was configured, but as far as this review unit goes there's nothing to complain about. The bottom right side gets a bit warm, but never so much that it would be uncomfortable on the lap. I ran three benchmarking tools at the same time to stress out the machine and make it work hard, but even then temperatures stayed reasonable and comfortable to the touch. So while I complained about the thickness of this notebook, the amount room inside allows things to stay cool so extra thickness isn't all bad.
The fan is on the back right side and it is quiet when running, you have to put your ear down at desk level to hear it over any other ambient noise in the room. Some people would prefer not to have the fan on the right side as it can push warm air onto your mouse hand, but during these colder months I actually appreciate that.
Battery and Power Adapter
Sony quotes the battery life of the included 6-cell battery at 3.0-4.5 hours of use depending on how you use the notebook. In my test of using the notebook at half screen brightness, wireless off, and idling for 2 hours and then light usage (typing in Word) for 1 hour I got exactly 3 hours of use. So that falls on the low-end of Sony's claim, and if I were doing anything during that 2 hours of idle time you'd get less battery life. You can get a 9-cell battery ($299) for a longer usage time unplugged, but the 9-cell will stick out from the back and add weight to the system.
Picture of underside of VAIO C with battery removed (view large image)
The power adapter for the VAIO C is unnecessarily huge. If you take a look at the pictures of the adapter next to the notebook you'll see what I mean -- this brick adds a full .7 pounds of travel weight to the VAIO C. Dissapointing since Sony is touting it as a travel friendly notebook, why not make the adapter travel friendly too?
Sony includes some useful and a lot of not so useful software with the VAIO C. Here's a rundown of what you get
All I can say is Sony has broken a record for the amount of AOL trial software on one notebook. What a shame, I didn't even know there was an AOL Video or AOL Music application but unfortunately you get them along with a garbage AOL toolbar showing up by default on your Internet Explorer browser.
AOL has its software all over the VAIO C, and your default start page is AOL.com (view large image)
All this software is unappreciated, it slows down the system and takes up hard drive space.
The Sony VAIO C ends up being a decent portable notebook that's very nice looking and is built well. It overlaps a bit with the VAIO SZ, but because it's cheaper and not quite as powerful due to the integrated graphics, there's room for it in the VAIO lineup. It also stacks up well feature for feature against the MacBook. The VAIO C is of course missing the built-in camera, slot loading drive and OS X that the MacBook has. On the flip side, the VAIO C offers a media card reader, Wireless on/off switch, S-Video and an expansion slot in the form of the ExpressCard that the Apple MacBook is missing. If you'd like to be able to use Mac OSX I'd say go with the Apple MacBook, but if you're sure that Windows XP or Vista is your OS of choice I think the VAIO C should win out so long as price is in line between similar configurations of these notebooks (and at the current time they are).
Pretty in Pink
Here's some pictures of the same VAIO C190 in a more feminine pink color
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