Shrunken Sony, Shocking Price

By SmallBusinessComputing Staff | Posted December 16, 2005

Building a sub-notebook that weighs less than its predecessor yet sports a larger screen may seem contradictory, but Sony's engineers have pulled it off: The carbon-fiber-cased Vaio TX series boasts an 11.1-inch-diagonal widescreen display, while tipping the scales at just 2.8 pounds — yes, including a DVD±RW drive as well as a 60GB hard disk. If you resisted the combination of ultra-portable convenience and no-hotspot-required Web and e-mail access before, the TX makes resistance even harder — if, that is, you don't balk at the premium price.

Flying First Class
That price starts at $2,000 for a model with 512MB of memory and a DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive and climbs to $2,600 for our TX670P test unit with 1GB of memory and the DVD±RW burner. The latter features comes with what seems to be the world's smallest eject button: So tiny that you press it with just the tip of a fingernail, it takes some groping and poking along the right edge of the laptop whenever you want to load or remove a disc.

The display screen reflects equally strenuous slimming; Sony claims it's no thicker than a stack of four credit cards, yet more than twice as sturdy or crack-resistant than its predecessor. With an overall system size of 7.7 by 10.7 by 1.1-inches, the Vaio fits easily on an airline tray table, even with the screen tilted back, even with the clod in front of you reclined at a dentist's-chair angle.

Featuring Sony's XBrite glossy black rather than gray finish, the LCD is bright and sharp enough for everyday text, splashy color images and crisp DVD movies alike, though its 1,366 by 768 resolution leaves text and icons a bit on the small side.

The TX670P wears one of Intel's Centrino stickers, testifying to its combination of the chipmaker's Pentium M 753 processor, 915GMS integrated-graphics chipset, and Pro/Wireless 2200BG 802.11b/g wireless network adapter.

The TX670P touts what Sony calls SmartWi technology, starring a software utility that helps you switch between 802.11b/g WiFi and Cingular's slower but much more widespread EDGE data network, as well as making Bluetooth connections. Once you finish Cingular's free 30-day trial, the carrier charges $80 a month for unlimited surfing and e-mailing (a two-year, $60/month special for Cingular voice customers is available through December 31, 2005).

The new Vaio also touts an A/V or instant mode — a second power button, accompanied by CD/DVD play/pause, next, previous, stop and eject buttons, that fires up without waiting for Windows to boot when you're in the mood for movies or music. However, the TX's miniscule stereo speakers are too weak for high-quality audio.

On the front edge of the laptop, you'll find a Secure Digital memory-card slot, Sony's house-brand Memory Stick slot, as well as headphone and microphone jacks, volume controls and a power switch for the wireless components. (In even more precise power-savings, a dialog box at startup lets you choose to turn off the optical drive for a bit more battery life.)

The super-svelte DVD burner is on the system's right side, along with a VGA connector. Two USB 2.0 ports, a V.92 modem jack, and one Type II PC Card slot are on the left side, with 10/100Mbps Ethernet and IEEE 1394 ports at the rear.

Slightly Cramped Style
he TX670P wins points for answering both of our laptop-keyboard prayers: The Ctrl key is in its proper place at the bottom left corner, not pushed aside by the Fn or special shift key, while the Delete key is ideally situated in the top right corner. The Fn key pairs with the cursor arrows in the usual substitute for dedicated Home, End, PgUp, and PgDn keys.

The Vaio's keyboard is about 90 percent the size of a desktop unit, with 17mm pitch or spacing between keys. That's quite accommodating, but it still takes a bit of practice and adjustment before you can type comfortably, especially because the keyboard feels flat, with a shallower stroke or keypress movement than a desktop's.

After a while, however, we were typing at almost our usual speed on the little Vaio, as well as enjoying the smooth, good-sized touchpad with large left and right mouse buttons on the system's front edge.

The computer plus its AC adapter add up to all of 3.5 pounds of carry-on luggage, and you won't be reaching for the adapter too often: Even in fairly disk-intensive software-installing as well as word processing and spreadsheet work sessions, we averaged four hours and 40 minutes and once touched the five-hour mark on a battery charge.

Along with Windows XP Professional SP2, Sony preloads its usual generous bundle of software including its Click to DVD mastering, DVgate Plus video editing, and SonicStage digital music programs. Microsoft Works 8.0 is joined by a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office 2003 Small Business Edition (the one with a beefed-up contact manager added to Outlook), while InterVideo's WinDVD and starter editions of Intuit's Quicken and Adobe's Photoshop Album round out the package.

As you can tell, we like the Vaio TX670P a lot; it's a terrific productivity solution for swank, jet-setting execs. That said, it gets another four- instead of our rare five-star review score mainly because of the swank factor: The notebook plus your first year's Cingular data subscription equals $3,480, which is painfully pricey in this age of affordable laptops (i.e., more than enough to buy a slightly heavier portable plus a powerful desktop PC). But that's not the heroic Sony engineers' fault.

Pros:

  • A widescreen notebook with DVD burner? Hard to believe it's only a two-and-three-quarter-pounder
  • Roaming EDGE wireless as well as Wi-Fi; impressive battery life

Cons:

  • Smallish keyboard; largish price

Adapted from hardwarecentral.com.

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