As previously announced at CES, the new Sony VAIO P is an Atom-based ultraportable notebook with a high-resolution 8-inch screen, a gorgeous design and a starting price of $900. We got our hands on a fully-equipped, pre-release version of the VAIO P and after spending a few hours using it on the road we’re ready to tell you what we think.
Sony is no newcomer in the ultraportable PC market. When they released the VAIO UX Micro PC in 2006, the idea of an extremely compact (almost pocketable) computer was revolutionary and warranted a high price tag … an $1,800 MSRP at the time of launch.
Fast forward to 2009 and the notebook industry has been turned on its head. The introduction of “netbooks” in late 2007 with the ASUS Eee PC completely changed the price point of ultraportable computers. Now, consumers can get a mobile notebook for less than $500. So when Sony announced the VAIO P this week with a price tag of $900 it was only natural for many members of the press to wonder, “What is Sony thinking?”
Well, we’ll answer that question for you in just a little bit.
First, let’s talk about the technical specs of the new VAIO P notebook. The VAIO P is powered by the Intel Atom Z processor which is clocked at 1.33GHz with 512KB Cache. It features an amazing 8-inch glossy display with an impressive resolution of 1600 x 768. Compare that to most 8.9-inch netbooks with a resolution of only 1024 x 600 and you can start to understand how much extra resolution this screen offers. The super-thin chassis weighs a modest 1.8lbs, making it one of the lightest ultraportables on the market. This super compact notebook uses a 60GB hard drive for storage and has 2GB of built-in RAM that is soldered to the motherboard, so you won’t be opening up the tiny case to upgrade this little guy. On the plus side there are two flush-mount memory card slots on the front, one for SDHC memory cards and one for Sony Memory Stick cards, so you can use one or two memory cards to expand your storage options or take advantage of Windows Vista ReadyBoost to improve performance. You can also connect external hard drives to either of the two USB ports located on the left and right sides of the VAIO P.
Sony offers the VAIO P in four colors: Onyx Black, Emerald Green, Garnet Red, Crystal White. Our review unit has the Emerald Green chassis and I have to admit the fit and finish of this little notebook exceeds my expectations. We’ve seen a lot of low-cost netbooks in our office, and none of them have a paint finish that looks quite like this. It’s more like a quality automotive paint job than just cheap colored plastics. Sony will also offer the VAIO P with both standard 4-cell and extended-life 6-cell batteries.
As stated, although the screen is small at just eight inches, it offers the unbelievable 1600 x 768 resolution. This does have the side effect of making small text difficult to read, but Sony was smart enough to design a very functional “magnify” tool that allows you to increase the size of what you’re reading without changing the screen’s resolution setting. Just press function (FN) and F10 keys and small text instantly becomes readable. The screen is a glossy XBRITE-ECO variety so expect some reflection under strong indoor lighting or direct sunlight.
If you’re wondering what that weird application is that you see on the screen in the image above, that’s the new Sony XRoss instant-on interface designed for the VAIO P. Although the VAIO P runs Windows Vista, Sony recognized that many business users and travelers would want to be able to access things like email, the Firefox web browser, a photo gallery, or instant messaging applications as quickly as possible. So, if you need to use your VAIO P as quickly as possible you can press a small button located next to the power button and you’ll be ready to get online in roughly 20 seconds or less. Unlike most “instant on” operating systems we’ve seen over the last year, the Linux-based Sony XRoss interface feels genuinely snappy and might be a viable alternative to Windows Vista when you need to get online, share photos, or listen to some music quickly while on the road.
The VAIO P is crammed with wireless options, including Wi-Fi 802.11n, BlueTooth and Verizon WWAN (subscription required). Our review unit came equipped with an activated Verizon WWAN card and the reception was quite good, allowing us to stay connected to the internet even in places where WiFi wasn’t available.
As many news agencies have mentioned, Sony doesn’t want to call the VAIO P a “netbook.” While the size would suggest this device fits into the netbook category, their may be some valid reasons why consumers shouldn’t lump the VAIO P in with your average $400 netbook. First, despite the 8-inch screen, the VAIO P is significantly more compact than most netbooks with 8.9-inch or even 7-inch screens. However, despite the small size the keyboard is remarkably easy to use and comfortable enough for hours of typing. Rather than using a generic touchpad, the VAIO P uses a trackpoint or pointing stick similar to what you find on many high-priced business notebooks. Below are a few photos comparing the size of the VAIO P against an Acer Aspire One netbook and a Dell Latitude D630.
The VAIO P has such a small footprint and is so thin that you can actually fits in the inside jacket pocket of my suit jacket. That’s a fantastic feature for business travelers because it means you don’t have to worry about another piece of carry-on luggage … as long as you’re wearing a suit jacket.
The $900 Question
Let’s face some hard facts. Although the VAIO P is pretty amazing, it’s going to be sold on store shelves sitting right next to netbooks that have some of the same features and that cost less than half as much. You’re probably asking yourself, “Why would anyone spend $900 for this today?” After spending a full day using the Sony VAIO P I feel like I can safely answer that question:
Because the Sony VAIO P is not your average netbook.
There’s a reason why so many Americans drive Toyota Camrys and Honda Civics … because we want products that give us as many features as possible for as little money as possible. Americans appreciate a good value. At the same time, not everybody wants to drive a boring beige Camry. A few of us want to drive something that’s small, feature-packed, and sexy … and they’re willing to pay just “a little more” for something that’s unique.
The Sony VAIO P is like a Mini Cooper in a world full of Camrys and Civics. Sure, it costs a little more, it’s not the biggest, and certainly doesn’t offer the absolute best performance, but it offers premium features you won’t find in the competition, sexy looks, and helps you stand out in a crowd full of boring look-a-likes.
More To Come
We’ll have a full review of the Sony VAIO P with performance benchmarks and more details very, very soon. Stay tuned to NotebookReview.com for more on this innovative little machine.