Sony's VAIO range is one of the world's best known laptop brands and covers nearly every sector of the market.
While the VAIO VGN-CR31S/W (£730 inc. VAT) is not as well specified as some rivals, it compensates with impressive performance and usability.
The glossy white and silver chassis looks great, but may not suit all tastes. It also attracts ﬁngerprints and dirt easily. Its 2.5kg weight suits moderate travel use, and the 211-minute battery life is impressive.
A key strength is the Sony's excellent keyboard. All the keys protrude through individually cut holes in the chassis. This creates more space between keys and adds to the comfort when typing. The entire board is ﬁrmly ﬁxed and responsive with a smooth action.
The 14.1-inch screen uses Sony's glossy X-Black coating, also known as Super-TFT, to deliver stunning colour and contrast. Images look great, whether viewing photos or browsing the internet. Brightness is lower than we'd have liked, but more than adequate for both outdoor and indoor use.
3D performance is average, and powerful enough for frequent multimedia use and even basic gaming. Unlike the Hi-Grade, the ATi graphics card is not designed for regular high-deﬁnition (HD) use, but HD content can still be played and edited in relative comfort.
Home and ofﬁce performance is equally strong, but mildly bettered by many rivals. The dual-core Intel processor and 2048MB of memory are unexceptional on paper, but deliver impressive speed and reliability.
The 160GB hard drive is less than we'd like, but again easily suits most home use. The dual-layer DVD rewriter writes to all DVD and CD formats. Flash storage support is limited to the SD Card format, however, so bear this in mind if your camera uses a different format.
Connectivity is also slightly limited. The VGA and S-Video ports let you connect to external analogue displays, but this is one of only two laptops in this group to not carry an HDMI-out port for connecting to high-deﬁnition screens and TVs.
Easy to recommend
Far more pleasing is the excellent software package that Sony includes in the price. Microsoft Works provides basic ofﬁce tools, and market-leading entry-level photo editing, CD/DVD creation and DVD playback applications are all included.
Despite its minor limitations, there's still plenty to recommend in the Sony VAIO VGN-CR31S/W. Strong performance, great usability, vibrant screen and a comprehensive software package make it ideal for a wide range of consumers and it is well worth a look.