Sony VAIO B Review (pics, specs)

by Reads (38,897)

Sony does make good laptops.  The Sony VAIO B is not one of those.  Following is a full review of my not so hot experience with the purchase of the Sony VAIO B100 14.1″ screen thin-and-light business laptop.

Sony VAIO B 14.1″ Screen Notebook

Specs

  • 1.7 Intel Pentium M (Dothan) with 2MB FSB cache
  • 512MB with chips integrated on the motherboard (You can’t remove the RAM that is, but there is one free slot on the bottom of the computer to add more.  You can go up to 1.5GB total, I still think a removable 512MB DIMM would be a little better)
  • 60GB 4200RPM hard drive
  • Pioneer 8x DVDR
  • 14.1″ 1400 x 1050 TFT screen
  • On board integrated Intel graphics processor
  • Sony memory stick Pro Slot (I would prefer SD, but Sony has to sell its camera format I guess!)
  • 2 USB 2.0 Ports (not good, if you have an external mouse and USB disk then you have no ports left)
  • Firewire port
  • VGA out port
  • 100mbit Network LAN port
  • 56Kbps modem
  • Wireless 802.11 b/g and Bluetooth

Purchase

I ordered from the Sony VAIO B series notebook via the internet, I live in Greece and the online store was a Greek internet shop. It took 2 days to get here and the total cost came to 1587 euros ($1700+) including 18% VAT (value added tax).

The VAIO B system I purchased came from Greece, but it comes with a UK keyboard and UK Operating System. I actually prefer the English version OS for Windows XP but many users would want proper localization and keyboard even in small countries like Greece.  Other manufacturers do this.  HP and Acer at least provide a localized Greek OS and keyboard layout for machines sold here.  A non-localized keyboard and OS unfortunately reduces the resale value of the machine.

In the Box

Upon receiving the Sony VAIO B100 I was disappointed to see there were many things missing from the box that I would expect and liked to have been included.  There are NO Windows setup disks, no driver disks, no application disks, no documentation disks, and no recovery disks. Shame on sony for such a policy.  There is a recovery system included , but they place this on the hard drive and call it a “feature”.

Hard Drive and System Software Setup

The VAIO B hard drive is setup in an insane way. There exists one hidden unreadable partition, one application partition and one data partition. The drive is filled with Sony media players and the usual junk such as AOL.  There are also many setup folders on the drive that take up space.  This includes setup programs for Microsoft Works, Windows XP SP1 (the installed OS is SP2 though), driver folders and so on.  With all this included stuff on the hard drive the system takes ages to boot, the slow disk speed of 4200RPM doesn’t help that boot time either. By taking this approach Sony is saving maybe 1 Euro by not providing any application CD/DVDs or Recovery DVDs but then makes a mess of the hard drive and takes up valuable space.  Not good.

I had a Travelstar 7200RPM/60GB hard drive ordered separately and installed that in this laptop instead.

Design and Build

The VAIO B is very light, which is good, but the build looks and feels like plastic so it’s not very solid.  In comparison to this notebook an Acer, HP or IBM notebook feels like a rock. This Sony VAIO B notebook is very flexible and you can easily push the palmrest to bend 2-3mm with a single finger and minimal force. It also does not feel convincingly built when the lid is closed. The lid is just not firm enough and it does not seem like it would protect the screen given even a small drop. I wouldn’t even put the VAIO B upside down on a hard surface to get access to the bottom of the notebook, I just don’t feel the lid is strong enough to prevent from being pushed against the screen. This laptop should have a “Handle with Care” sticker on the palmrest.

The machine has a slope, it is higher on the back and lower on the front. When a high capacity battery is used it elevates the back and causes an even greater slope. So the slimness of this notebook is kind of negated by this slope.  It is thin at the front, where it is about 3cm from resting surface to top of the noteboook, but at the back this goes up to about 5cm of height (measurements taken with the lid closed).  The notebook also has a weight distribution problem. Using two notebook cases I have, neither would stand upright with the Sony inside. So if you have put a bag down with this laptop inside you’ll need to lean the bag against a wall or let it drop to the floor, annoying!  The same bags work OK for being able to stand up with the laptop inside when using HP, IBM and Acer laptops I’ve had in the past.

Power and Battery

The Sony comes with a two prong adapter with a nice thin cable. This is great for transport. But there is one problem, there is no grounding of any kind. Opening the CD and touching a metal part proved that. You can feel current. The power in my area is not very good and the grounding in most houses isn’t good either, so I have some safety concerns.

The notebook end of the power cable is a joke. It bends left and right and has terrible fit.  It easily unplugs itself if you pull the cable a bit.

Battery life is ok. I got about 4hours under light usage and 2:10 when viewing DVDs at medium volume and medium screen brightness setting.  A high capacity battery is  available 450 Euros.

Keyboard

The keyboard has a rubbery feel and a very small key travel distance. It’s easy to miss keystrokes and there is minimum feedback from a key to let you know it has actually been pushed.  It honestly is the worst keyboard I have ever encountered. At least the keyboard is full size and they didn’t reduce the size of any keys to fit them all on.  But then again, even some 12-inch laptops manage to squeeze in a full size keyboard so there’s no major achievement here. The keyboard is at an angle which feels nice for typing compared to other laptops.

The Pg Up and Pg Dn keys are done with Fn button combination strokes, I find this process slow and irritating. Other manufacturers with notebooks of this size often include normal Pg Up and Pg Dn keys and even standard placed Home and End keys sometimes. 

I wish Sony provided some way to turn the touchpad on or off via a hardware button on the keyboard or by the touchpad.  My previous HP machine had a hardware key right on the touchpad to allow me to disable it.  For this laptop I have to go through a built-in Sony software application to enable or disable the touchpad, and this takes a lot of time.  I often need to disable the touchpad when typing so that I don’t accidentally brush the touchpad area and move the cursor so having an easy way to toggle the touchpad on/off is important to me.

Noise and Heat

The VAIO B makes little noise. It is also very configurable compared to other laptops with a nice util by Sony. You can really optimize noise/performance/tft brightness etc on this machine. The vent on the right serves as a nice hand warmer during those winter nights, but the machine does not get hot, even under heavy use. There is a lot of noise coming from the Travelstar 7200RPM disk that I put in this notebook, the noise is worse than I’ve experienced in other notebooks, which leads me to believe the internal construction is very light and thin plastic material that does not muffle sounds. The machine feels great on your lap as it’s about 700 grams less weight than the typical 3 Kg laptop. Since the notebook is not that big with no vents on the bottom, back, and not heat buildup on the bottom under normal use you don’t need to worry about it feeling uncomfortably hot if used in your lap. The vent on the right side was an excellent choice. You can put this laptop on any surface and it will still not get hot.

Speakers

The speakers are small, tinny sounding and positioned really close to each other. They do sound a lot better than any Acer I have used but not as good as some HP or Toshiba business laptops or most desktop replacement style notebooks. There is not much stereo sound since the speakers are too close to each other. The overall volume output is very quiet.  I recommend using headphones or external speakers.  I tried testing the sould through my Dynaudio BM15A (2,000 euros street price) active studio speakers and the sound generated, to my ears at least, was as good as what comes from pro audio sound cards.The soundmax circuit on this machine does a good job and is well supported by the motherboard electronics.

DVD

The DVDR is excellent. The included drive is made by Pioneer who makes a great 8X unit.  I think it is the best DVDR I ever encountered on a laptop. The Sony VAIO B cheap construction shows though as the case rattles when the DVD-R accesses data. This doesn’t occur for DVD videos, just on data discs and when putting the DVD into the drive. Holding the DVD cover actually stops the noise! Sony should take care of this problem.

The DVD is on the right side, I find this kind of annoying when is not much space and you use a mouse over on the right-side too. The drive also falls too low when opening. It has literally scratched the surface of my desk and sticks to the surface if using it on a softer surface.

Graphics.

The integrated Intel graphics performed surprisingly well in empiric 2D tests such as. Adobe Illustrator redraws. But it is very slow for 3D as we know. This is not a gamer’s notebook.

TFT Screen

This is the worst TFT I have ever seen. Viewing angles are minimal. 14.1 screens usually have about half the vertical viewing angle compared to 15.4 wide but this one gets the unusability (no such word, I know) prize! I would say the vertical viewing angle is NEGATIVE. That means that in the perfect position the top of the monitor is like 40% darker than the bottom. Bottom too light. Top too dark. You have to tilt the TFT in the opposite direction to fix these problems and that’s what I mean by negative viewing angle. The CCFL that lights the tube is the same as any other in laptops made today, but it is also very badly positioned. It is too close to the screen border. When viewing a black screen you see bleed that reaches the center of the screen. I have never seen such a bad case as this. On other notebooks it is just 1-2cm. I confirmed this with another laptop of the same model. My laptop screen also proved to be problematic in uniformity. The right 1/3 of the TFT did not light up properly. This resulted in red whites and darkness in this area and text was a lot harder to read also. This showed fully in a grey background.

Even in simple apps like Word, using the laptop was hard since the bottom to top difference in lighting made things hard to read. Moving my head 2cm vertically would completely change the screen image. And even the perfect angle was still terrible. A friend of mine who fixes TFTs for a living says that this screen has a very bad design. They tried to minimize the size of the TFT cover and this made them put the CCFL too close to screen. So it bleeds 10x compared to the usual 15.4 screen and also has viewing angle problems since the filters that diffuse the lights from the CCFL do not work optimally. From a normal user point of view, viewing a DVD on this Sony series is a joke. The typical 4 year old kid will ask what that white thing is on the bottom! And if you do graphics, ha! My guess is that depending on where the color is (height on screen) it will appear +-20% in brightness. Unusable.

Horizontal angle is very bad also. Viewing a DVD with somebody else such as your girlfriend or boyfriend is a very bad experience. You would have to put your heads really close and still have a bad picture because the 10cm off center you would both be would spoil the image even more..I guess it would make it a more intimate experience! Combine that with the CCFL bleed on the bottom and the terrible black of this TFT and you’re in for one painful viewing experience. One good note is that the TFT had no dead pixels, but I wouldn’t mind those compared to the left side uniformity (specific unit) problem and the general uniformity/viewing angle (all sony b1-xps) problem.

Conclusion

Sony does make good laptops.  The VAIO B is not one of those.  I returned the laptop pretty much so immediately due to the monitor issues.  If you like Sony I recommend looking at other models such as the FS, S, A or T series of notebooks which don’t seem to have the same major problems as the VAIO B does.

Pros

  • Good battery life
  • Light weight
  • Fast DVD drive

Cons

  • Bad build, flimsy design
  • Terrible LCD display
  • Lots of software installed you won’t want
  • Slow standard hard drive
  • Bad keyboard

Pricing and Availability


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