by Jerry Jackson
This year at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas Sony stunned the world with the introduction of the VAIO P. This ultraportable notebook with an 8-inch screen fits inside your jacket pocket or your purse and packs an amazing amount of technology inside a tiny package. However, potential buyers and the press were also stunned when Sony announced the price would be $900 when slightly larger netbooks with similar specs cost half as much. Is the new Sony VAIO P an overpriced toy or an extraordinary travel laptop that’s worth every penny? Let’s take a closer look.
Our pre-production Sony VAIO P features the following specifications:
- 1.33GHz Z520 Intel Atom Processor
- 2GB DDR2 800MHz (1 DIMM)
- Windows Vista Basic SP1 (32-bit)
- 8-inch 1600 x 768 glossy LED backlit display
- 64GB Solid State Drive
- Intel GMA 500 Integrated Graphics
- 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
- 3G WWAN Verizon card
- SD/SDHC Media card reader
- Memeory Stick card reader
- Sony “Motion Eye” webcam
- 4-Cell Li-ion battery (6-cell extended life battery also available)
- Size: 9.65″ x 4.72″ x 0.78″
- Weight: 1lb 4.8oz (with 4-cell battery), 1lb 12oz (with 4-cell battery and AC adapter), 1lb 8.8oz (with 6-cell battery)
- Starting price: $899.99
- Price as configured: $1,199.99
Build and Design
Despite the use of an Intel Atom processor, the design of the Sony VAIO P is quite unlike any netbook we’ve seen. The exterior is covered in glossy plastics with smooth lines, rounded edges, and a style that looks like it’s trying to strike a balance between luxury and utility. The best way to describe the design is that the VAIO P looks like it’s equal parts computer and fashion accessory. The look is pretty neat; something like a cross between a glossy smart phone and a netbook. Glossy plastic is found on the top of the screen cover as well as around the bottom of the laptop. Matte silver plastic is used around the keyboard and the internal frame uses magnesium alloy for extra support. Overall, the look is quite nice, but the glossy LCD lid is a magnet for fingerprints and makes the new netbook look a little tarnished after just a few minutes of use.
The build quality of the VAIO P is amazingly solid for a subnotebook of this size and weight. The construction is mostly plastic but all of the plastics feel strong enough to handle being tossed around inside a backpack or purse. Even the glossy plastic surfaces resist minor scratches. While we certainly don’t recommend it over a padded laptop bag, the VAIO P is small enough to slide into your back pocket … something you certainly can’t do with any $500 netbook currently on the market.
In terms of upgradeability, the VAIO P is pretty limited. The chassis isn’t designed to be opened and serviced by the owner. A qualified technician can open the VAIO P and repair it, but it won’t be easy for you to open the chassis yourself. Honestly, there isn’t much need to. The 2GB of system RAM is soldered to the motherboard so you cannot replace or upgrade it. Many of the netbooks we’ve seen to date require complex disassembly in order for you to get to the storage drive, system RAM, or wireless cards … so this isn’t anything new.
While it would have been nice for Sony engineers to include socketed RAM inside the VAIO P so you can upgrade it yourself, the reality is that a RAM socket won’t fit inside a laptop this thin along with everything else that’s packed inside. Bottom line, the Sony VAIO P is a marvel of modern engineering.
Operating System and Software
Our pre-production unit came equipped with Windows Vista Basic (32-bit), but its safe to assume Sony plans to offer the VAIO P with Windows 7 later this year. The reason Sony decided to use Windows Vista rather than Windows XP is because Microsoft now has very specific hardware requirements for laptops using Windows XP … and the VAIO has too much RAM and a screen with too much resolution to qualify for a Windows XP license.
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.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Most low-priced, full-size notebooks currently on the market feature poorly built keyboards that show significant flex/bounce when typing pressure is applied. Thankfully, most netbooks have remarkably firm keyboards due to the fact that the chassis is so small there isn’t much empty space inside the notebook for the keyboard to flex or bounce.
The keyboard on the VAIO P is less cramped than what we’ve seen on the 7-inch and 8.9-inch netbooks, but the Sony keyboard is still very compact. Most netbook keyboards are quite frustrating to use because the small footprint and tiny keys require you to use a “hunt and peck” style of typing rather than traditional touch typing methods. This means that passwords get mangled, emails look like gibberish, and playing games that require keyboard commands becomes quite aggravating.
You can still use the “hunt and peck” method of typing with the VAIO P, but since the keys have more spacing in between them it’s a little easier to use standard touch typing methods. Bottom line, you can type long emails or reports without too much discomfort … but you’ll probably want to invest in an external keyboard if you plan to use this as your primary office computer.
The touchpad is, well, completely absent on the VAIO P. Rather than a typical touchpad the VAIO P uses a touchpoint or trackpoint pointing stick similar to what you find on many business-grade notebooks. The trackpoint is quite sensitive and easy to use, and even though I usually prefer to use touchpads I found the trackpoint to be very enjoyable. The left and right touchpoint buttons are located in the correct position beneath the space bar and have a shallow feedback and produce a light “click” when pressed.
The glossy LED backlit display on the VAIO P is nice and vibrant with rich colors and excellent contrast. 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.
Horizontal viewing angles are good, so you and a friend won’t have trouble watching a movie on the 8-inch screen at the same time. Vertical viewing angles are acceptable, but colors do tend to wash out from above and become inverted when viewed from below.
Ports and Features
Port selection was something of a surprise with this Sony, since some netbooks that are slightly larger have fewer ports than what the VAIO P offers. You get two USB ports, two memory card readers, a headphone jack, and a dedicated expansion port used to connect a dongle that provides Ethernet/LAN and VGA out. The dongle connects to the AC power adapter so you can either keep it with the power adapter or carry it separately. There isn’t much to complain about here, although there might have been enough space in the chassis design to support an additional USB port or Firewire. Here is a quick tour of what you get:
Front: SD/SDHC card slot, Memory Stick card slot.
Left: Power jack, USB port, and headphone jack
Right: Security lock slot, USB, and expansion port
Here’s a quick look at the AC adapter and expansion dongle:
Regardless of how cool the Sony VAIO P looks there are many potential buyers who only care about one thing: performance. This is one area where the VAIO P might be a tough sell for some. In order to keep temperatures and power consumption as low as possible in this little notebook, Sony decided to use a 1.33GHz Intel Atom processor rather than the 1.6GHz Atom processor used in larger netbooks. While this helps keep the VAIO P from overheating and promotes better battery life, the bottom line is the VAIO P has a pretty weak processor.
Like most Atom-based netbooks, the VAIO P has enough processor performance for basic tasks like web browsing or working in Microsoft Office, but don’t expect to use this as a multimedia entertainment notebook. Since Sony includes Windows Vista with the VAIO P we also decided to test the new Windows 7 beta during our benchmark tests. Thankfully, Windows 7 seems to improve the overall performance of the VAIO P and makes this mobile computer a much more useful laptop. Windows Vista is okay, but Windows 7 makes the VAIO P much, much better.
wPrime processor comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):
|Notebook / CPU||wPrime 32M time|
|Sony VAIO P (Intel Atom Z520 @ 1.33GHz, Windows Vista)||172.425 seconds|
|Sony VAIO P (Intel Atom Z520 @ 1.33GHz, Windows 7 beta)||154.768 seconds|
|HP Mini 2140 (Intel Atom N270 @ 1.60GHz)||138.812 seconds|
|LG X110 (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz)||124.609 seconds|
|ASUS N10 (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz)||126.047 seconds|
|ASUS Eee PC 1000HA (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz)||117.577 seconds|
|Lenovo IdeaPad S10 (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz)||127.172 seconds|
|Acer Aspire One (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz)||125.812 seconds|
|ASUS Eee PC 901 (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz)||123.437 seconds|
|MSI Wind (Intel Atom @ 1.60GHz)||124.656 seconds|
|ASUS Eee PC 900 (Intel Celeron M ULV @ 900MHz)||203.734 seconds|
|HP 2133 Mini-Note (Via CV7-M ULV @ 1.6GHz)||168.697 seconds|
|ASUS Eee PC 4G (Intel Celeron M ULV @ 630MHz)||289.156 seconds|
|ASUS Eee PC 4G (Intel Celeron M ULV @ 900MHz)||200.968 seconds|
|Everex CloudBook (VIA C7-M ULV @ 1.2GHz)||248.705 seconds|
|Fujitsu U810 Tablet PC (Intel A110 @ 800MHz)||209.980 seconds|
|Sony VAIO VGN-G11XN/B (Core Solo U1500 @ 1.33GHz)||124.581 seconds|
|Sony VAIO TZ (Core 2 Duo U7600 @ 1.2GHz)||76.240 seconds|
|Dell Inspiron 2650 (Pentium 4 Mobile @ 1.6GHz)||231.714 seconds|
PCMark05 measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):
|Sony VAIO P (1.33GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 500, Windows Vista)||972 PCMarks|
|Sony VAIO P (1.33GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 500, Windows 7 beta)||1,175 PCMarks|
|HP Mini 2140 (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950)||1,489 PCMarks|
|LG X110 (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950)||1,463 PCMarks|
|ASUS N10 (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950)||1,531 PCMarks|
|ASUS N10 (1.60GHz Intel Atom, NVIDIA 9300M 256MB)||1,851 PCMarks|
|ASUS Eee PC 1000HA (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950)||1,527 PCMarks|
|Lenovo IdeaPad S10 (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950)||1,446 PCMarks|
|Acer Aspire One (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950)||1,555 PCMarks|
|ASUS Eee PC 901 (1.60GHz Intel Atom)||746 PCMarks|
|MSI Wind (1.60GHz Intel Atom)||N/A|
|ASUS Eee PC 900 (900MHz Intel Celeron M ULV)||1,172 PCMarks|
|HP 2133 Mini-Note (1.6GHz VIA C7-M ULV)||801 PCMarks|
|HTC Shift (800MHz Intel A110)||891 PCMarks|
|ASUS Eee PC 4G (630MHz Intel Celeron M ULV)||908 PCMarks|
|ASUS Eee PC 4G (900MHz Intel Celeron M ULV)||1,132 PCMarks|
|Everex CloudBook (1.2GHz VIA C7-M ULV)||612 PCMarks|
|Sony VAIO TZ (1.20GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U7600)||2,446 PCMarks|
|Fujitsu LifeBook P7230 (1.2GHz Intel Core Solo U1400)||1,152 PCMarks|
|Sony VAIO VGN-G11XN/B (1.33GHz Core Solo U1500)||1,554 PCMarks|
|Toshiba Portege R500 (1.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U7600)||1,839 PCMarks|
3DMark06 measures video and gaming performance (higher scores indicate better performance):
|Sony VAIO P (1.33GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 500, Windows Vista)||88 3DMarks|
|Sony VAIO P (1.33GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 500, Windows 7 beta)||71 3DMarks|
|HP Mini 2140 (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950)||118 3DMarks|
|LG X110 (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950)||81 3DMarks|
|ASUS N10 (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950)||73 3DMarks|
|ASUS N10 (1.60GHz Intel Atom, NVIDIA 9300M 256MB)||1,417 3DMarks|
|ASUS Eee PC 1000HA (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950)||95 3DMarks|
|Lenovo IdeaPad S10 (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950)||N/A
|Acer Aspire One (1.60GHz Intel Atom, Intel GMA 950)||122 3DMarks|
|Sony VAIO TZ (1.20GHz Core 2 Duo U7600, Intel GMA 950)||122 3DMarks|
|HP dv2500t (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB)||1,055 3DMarks|
|Sony VAIO FZ (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100)||532 3DMarks|
|HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400)||827 3DMarks|
Speakers and Audio
The speakers on the VAIO P are painfully weak. The built-in speakers on the VAIO P produce sound similar to what you hear coming from a cell phone set to the speaker phone option. The speakers are perfectly capable of playing short video clips or system sounds, but don’t bother trying to use the built-in speakers for listening to your music library.
The headphone jack on the VAIO P works well with the two different brands of earphones I used during the test. External speakers or headphones are obviously the way to go if you plan to use your VAIO P as a media player.
Heat and Noise
As we continue to see in our labs, nearly all of the Intel Atom-based netbooks produce a reasonable amount of heat while running. The Sony VAIO P is no exception to this rule. Under normal conditions such as surfing the web, typing a document, or downloading email attachments, exterior temperatures remained at acceptable levels. The external temperature readings below (listed in degrees Fahrenheit) were recorded while browsing the Web and watching an AVI movie file for approximately 25 minutes:
In terms of noise, our pre-production VAIO P was absolutely silent thanks to passive cooling. If you purchase the base configuration with a standard hard drive you can expect some very minor noise from the hard drive, but if you select the SSD option you will have a perfectly silent laptop.
Under normal use, backlight at 80 percent and using wireless for web browsing and typing documents in Microsoft Word without allowing the computer to go into sleep mode, the VAIO P managed to deliver two hours and 39 minutes of battery life with the standard 4-cell battery. The extended life 6-cell battery delivered 4 hours and 8 minutes of battery life using the same settings. Lowering the screen brightness and turning off the wireless card should provide even more time away from a power outlet.
The 6-cell battery is a little larger than the 4-cell battery, but the VAIO P is still amazingly compact even with the larger battery inside.
Sony wants you to believe the VAIO P is a “Lifestyle PC” and not a netbook. Whether or not consumers will see it that way remains to be seen. As we said in our first look review, “the Sony VAIO P is not your average netbook.” In fact, the VAIO P probably comes as close as possible to being a “luxury netbook.”
Is it worth $900 when you can get a similar laptop for less money? That depends on what matters to you. The VAIO P has a revolutionary design, an extremely high-resolution display, and a few features you won’t find in a $500 netbook. That said, it still uses a relatively weak processor and isn’t designed to be a primary computer. If you plan to use the VAIO P as your primary family PC and multimedia center then you will probably be disappointed. If you plan to purchase the VAIO P as a lightweight travel laptop it might just be the perfect laptop on the market.
Smallest and lightest in class
Excellent build quality
Fantastic keyboard despite the small size
Responsive, business-grade touchpoint
Available with built-in 3G WWAN
No noisy cooling fan
Expensive for an Atom-based laptop
Gets a little hot
Glossy plastic lid is a magnet for fingerprints
Weak speakers, even for something this small