by Andrew Baxter
The Sony VAIO N series is a bit of a new page in the playbook for Sony. The VAIO N is a 15.4” widescreen notebook that can actually be called a budget level notebook, in the past we haven’t seen Sony go after cost conscious customers. The VAIO N is squarely targeted at consumers that want a stylish and suitably powerful laptop just for around the home. This review will investigate whether that goal is achieved.
The model being reviewed here is specifically the Sony VAIO VGN-N130G/B and the following specs:
- Processor: 1.6 GHz Intel Core Duo T2050
- Screen: 15.4-inch WXGA (1280 x 800) LCD with XBRITE-ECO technology (glossy display)
- Hard Drive: 80 GB hard drive, 5400 RPM
- Color: Grey and Black
- Memory: 1 GB RAM (2 GB max) 533MHz
- Graphics: Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950 (128 MB of shared RAM)
- Optical Drive: multi-format/dual-layer DVD/CD burner
- Wireless: Intel 3945abg card (802.11a/b/g), 10/100 Ethernet
- OS: Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005–Windows Vista capable and Windows Vista Premium ready
- Size: 10.5 inches x 14.4 inches x 1.6 inches (L x W x H)
- Weight: 6.8 pounds
- Two USB 2.0 ports
- FireWire (also known as IEEE 1394 or i.Link)
- ExpressCard/34 slot
- VGA monitor out
- S-Video out
- Stereo headphones/speakers/line-out
- Memory Stick reader (compatible with Memory Stick PRO and PRO DUO with MagicGate functionality)
- SD Card reader slot
The Sony VAIO N, livin’ on the edge (view large image)
This VAIO N130 is available in a number of stores, both online and on the street. I went with purchase via Amazon.com because it was on sale for $899 after rebate and with my Amazon Prime account 2-day shipping is free and reliable. Furthermore taxes are avoided with an online purchase as I don’t reside in the state where Amazon.com ships from.
Packaging and Inside
The VAIO N box (view large image)
The packaging for the VAIO N is pretty basic but fits the bill. The box is sized only as big as it needs to be, it’s very easy to carry and sturdy. Inside the package everything has been wrapped properly to ensure safe shipping from production to the owner’s waiting hands. The contents of the package are pretty basic as well. You get the laptop, battery, power adapter and cord, a couple of discs (alas, no recovery discs) and a small getting started guide.
Everything from in the box (view large image)
Build and Design
The most striking thing about the VAIO N130 you’ll notice in terms of design is how spartan the overall look is. In a time where we see curvaceous laptops with flashing lights that could drive a disco floor, the VAIO N goes to the other extreme. It is square looking and unapologetically plain. For those that like clean looks, this design will please. I can see the laptop fitting nicely in one of those minimalist type designed rooms with large windows and bamboo flooring.
There are a few color offerings with the VAIO N, our particular model is grey and black. The black hood of the lid and grey case and then black keyboard are unexciting, but pleasing in the cleanliness of how they are laid out.
The build of the VAIO N is decent, I was worried that a budget offering from Sony that is dubbed as a PC for around the home would simply skimp on any type of quality casing. And while the case is certainly of plastic construction, not carbon fiber like more expensive Sony’s, it is built reasonably well and there is no flex to the case in most areas. The left hand palm rest is the exception here, if you tap on that area you’ll hear it is hollow and there’s a mild amount of flex to that area. Not enough to be typically noticed though.
The hinge for the screen is particularly good; it’s very rigid and holds the screen in place well with no wobble. On the down side, that means it takes quite a bit of effort to open the screen and two hands are needed. There is no latch to hold the screen down, it relies on the stiffness of the hinges to stay closed. For home use that implementation works just fine.
The protection from the lid is adequate. I detected some rippling of the screen when pushing on the back of the lid, so I wouldn’t stuff this laptop a bag with a ton of books and then throw it around.
One thing I always check for in terms of build quality is whether a company uses flaps or plastic dummies to fill in accessory slots not being used. Flaps are much preferred as they can’t get lost and keep the look clean; thankfully Sony took this route with the ExpressCard accessory slot on the N130. With the Sony VAIO C I recently reviewed they used the el cheapo plastic fillers, so kudos to the VAIO N design team for making a better decision here!
Processor and Performance
The VAIO N was not made for gaming or tearing through 3D rendering work and so it is not using the most current Intel Core 2 Duo processor or a dedicated graphics card. Rather, it is using Intel integrated graphics and the Intel Core Duo processor that was released earlier in 2006. For the laptops purpose, this is just fine. The VAIO N is meant as a machine to have around the house, likely for keeping a check on email, looking up some recipes on the web or checking the local weather forecast and goings on with news. And for these tasks the Core Duo processor is more than enough.
We use the program Super Pi to test the processor speed, the times below show how long it took the VAIO N130 to calculate Pi to 2 million digits of accuracy compared to other notebooks:
|Sony VAIO N130 (1.60 GHz Core Duo, Intel GMA 950)||1m 29s|
|HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T2400)||59s|
|Asus V6J (2.16GHz Core 2 Duo)||53s|
|Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo)||1m 02s|
|Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 18s|
|Toshiba A100 (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 18s|
|Sony VAIO FS680 (1.86GHz Pentium M)||1m 53s|
|IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86GHz Pentium M)||1m 45s|
|HP dv5000z (2.0GHz Sempron 3300+)||2m 02s|
PCMark05 tests the overall performance of a system. You can see here the VAIO N130 is behind the scores of notebooks with dedicated graphics processors, and that’s to be expected.
|Sony VAIO N130 (1.60 GHz Core Duo, Intel GMA 950)||2,446 PCMarks|
|HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400)||4,234 PCMarks|
|Fujitsu LifeBook A6010 (1.66GHz Core 2 Duo, Intel GMA 950)||2,994 PCMarks|
|Fujitsu N6410 (1.66GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400)||3,487 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)||3,427 PCMarks|
HDTune gives a report on the health and speed of the notebooks hard drive:
Everest gives a rundown of what’s inside the guts of a PC, here’s a link to that report for the VAIO N130.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Keyboard view of Sony VAIO N (view large image)
There’s not much to write home about this keyboard. It works fine, but it’s certainly in the middle of the pack in terms of usability. There’s a bit of flex if you’re a heavy typist like myself, I tend to pound a keyboard when typing, but most won’t notice this flex. The key travel could be better and the keys do seem like they’d be easy to accidentally pop off if you caught a fingernail under one. I’m just so spoiled by the ThinkPad keyboard I regularly use so I’m quick to complain in this department. Overall the keyboard is fine, just not great.
The touchpad works as any touchpad does, what’s disappointing are the mouse buttons. They’re cheap feeling and annoyingly loud with their click. I’m sure you’d get stared at if using this in the library when using a lot of button click action. I’d really recommend an external mouse with this laptop, just to get rid of having to use the integrated mouse buttons.
The VAIO N has a nice and bright screen (view large image)
My experience with screens on Sony laptops has invariably been good, and that continues here. The VAIO has an XBrite screen, meaning it is a glossy type, so colors are bold and vibrant but you do get reflection off of the screen when the background is dark and you have overhead lights. As an example of this, check out the video I shot of a James Bond 007 Casino Royale movie trailer. You’ll see that as the screen changes from colorful backgrounds to black the person shooting the video (me) will show up on the screen as a reflection.
The LCD is also nice and bright, which is excellent for ease of viewing. Some might even find the screen to be too bright when cranked all the way up, but you can adjust this on a level of 0 to 8.
The horizontal viewing angles of the screen are really quite good while the vertical angles of viewing are not so good, which is typical of any laptop.
Horizontal viewing angles are good (view large image)
Input and Output Ports
The VAIO N keeps its clean looks by arranging all the ports to the right side of the notebook and keeping what’s offered to about a minimum. I think for home users with basic needs this laptop offers the essential ports though. Having just two USB 2.0 ports is pretty stingy, but I guess if you want a clean looking laptop you won’t want a bunch of stuff attached to it either?
Let’s take a tour around the notebook to see what we get.
Right side view of Sony VAIO N (view large image)
On the right side is where all the action takes place. From front to back we have a wireless on/off switch, headphone out port and microphone in port, two USB 2.0 ports, ExpressCard slot, fan and vent area, monitor out port and then a FireWire port.
Left side of Sony VAIO N (view large image)
On the left side of the laptop is the optical drive, a slot for a lock – and that’s it folks.
Front side of Sony VAIO N (view large image)
On the front side we have an SD card reader slot and Memory Stick slot. I’m not sure why Sony wouldn’t have just used one multi-card reader and kept the look even cleaner, but I won’t complain because I’m happy that Sony is offering SD compatibility along with its own Memory Stick format.
Back side of Sony VAIO N (view large image)
On the back side of the laptop are the Ethernet and modem ports. One day we’ll see modem ports disappear, but they’re still there for now.
I don’t consider battery life too big of a deal with a laptop for the home, but it’s nice to get more than 2 hours if you can. The VAIO N130 pulled through in offering a shade over 3 hours of battery life when used with wireless off, screen brightness on the third setting and overall light usage. Not bad. The battery is really quite small in size so I was expecting less. Having said this, if you play a DVD on the N130 and have brightness all the way up, expect just under 2 hours of battery life.
The battery for the VAIO N is rather small but offers up to 3 hours of life with light usage (view large image)
The VAIO N includes the Intel 3945abg wireless chipset, which translates to meaning you can connect to 802.11 a/b/g wireless access points. The Intel 3945 worked as well as it does in other notebooks in my usage, meaning it offers a reliable and strong wireless connection from up to 200 feet away. There is no integrated Bluetooth option for the VAIO N.
The VAIO N offers two speakers for stereo sound. The volume is pretty good on the VAIO N, the sound quality is just okay though. You’ll get a bit of a tinny sound as you do from many notebook speakers. I’d say they’re about average and if you want crisp and loud sound use a pair of external speakers or headphones.
Sony includes some useful and a lot of not so useful software with the VAIO C. Here’s a rundown of what you get
- Click to DVD – Sony DVD Creation software
- DVgate Plus – Sony Digital Video editing software
- Trial Versions of Sony popular games (Bewitched, Jeopardy!, Da Vinci Code, Wheel of Fortune)
- DISCover My Games application
- Microsoft Works 8.5
- 60-Day Trial Version of MicrosoftOffice 2003
- Norton Internet Security 60-Day Trial
- TrendMicro Anti-Spyware 30-Day Trial
- A bunch of AOL Software (AOL Explorer Browser, AOL High Speed trial, AOL 5GB storage , AIM, AOL Video, AOL Desktop Search, AOL Music)
All I can say is Sony has broken a record for the amount of AOL trial software on one notebook. What a shame, you even get a garbage AOL toolbar showing up by default on your Internet Explorer browser. All the useless software is unappreciated, it slows down the system and takes up hard drive space.
Sony backs the VAIO N with a one-year parts-and-labor warranty. The company offers several warranty extensions; a two-year plan with onsite service costs $150. The company’s Web site provides a knowledge base, driver downloads and e-mail support. Sony does not have the best reputation on customer support for notebooks, but they’re not the worst either.
The price of under $1,000 for the VAIO N is great for a mainstream laptop from Sony. The VAIO N offers a really nice screen and an appealing, albeit basic, design. The build quality is decent and the power you get from the Core Duo processor enough for Office related tasks and even games like the Sims 2. The VAIO N can’t be configured with a Core 2 Duo processor or dedicated graphics, so it’s obviously not a notebook intended for power users, but for a laptop to be used around the home it fits the bill. I wouldn’t recommend it as a portable notebook to carry around a ton though, it’s not built well enough for that and at almost 7 lbs is a tad heavy.
- Nice XBrite screen with vivid colors
- You can find this laptop for around $900 after rebates, a great price for a VAIO
- Appealing and clean design, somewhat like a MacBook Pro in it’s look if you get the grey and white coloring
- Offered in multiple colors so you can choose the color that fits your home
- Decent build quality
- Offers SD card reader and Memory Stick card reader
- Core Duo processor offers good performance for the intended tasks of this notebook
- Keyboard could be better
- Mouse buttons are pretty awful and feel cheap, an external mouse is recommended
- Only two USB ports is less than the standard for a 15.4" screen notebook
- Too much bloatware loaded onto the system initially, slows the system down
- Screen is hard to open, you have to use two hands, a latch would have been better