Sony's VAIO range is one of the world's best known laptop brands, famous for its high quality, stylish designs. The VAIO VGN-FW31E is a well-specified widescreen media centre notebook, but it falls short on performance.

The chassis uses Sony's latest design scheme to great effect, and its curved mock-aluminium finish is as stylish and eye-catching as the HP Pavilion dv7-1107ea. Its 2.9kg weight isn't ideal for travel use, but the excellent 240-minute battery life means you can work on the move when necessary.

Usability is mixed. The keyboard has each key protruding through individual holes in the chassis. This creates more space between keys, making it less likely to strike adjacent keys, and we found it very comfortable to use, but the board tends to rattle quite a lot when typing.

16.4-inch screen

A key feature is the 16.4-inch Super-TFT screen. Its widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio is ideal for watching movies, and for viewing multiple windows side by side. It is also one of the sharpest and most vibrant screens we have seen, making it an ideal choice for regular multimedia use.

The screen's 1600 x 900-pixel resolution is designed to show high-definition (HD) video to its best potential and image quality is fantastic. For the full home cinema experience, you can also connect to an external HDTV or monitor using the HDMI and VGA-out display ports.

Due to driver conflicts, we were unable to benchmark graphics performance. The ATI graphics card is a mid-level variant however, and allows basic gaming and video/photo editing. It's also designed for smooth HD video playback.

Huge storage

The capacious 400GB hard drive aids HD usability and effortlessly holds huge collections of music, photos and videos. The built-in DVD rewriter also lets you create your own audio, video and data DVDs and CDs.

Performance falls far short of expectations. The dual-core Intel processor and 4096MB of memory look outstanding on paper, but real-world power is bettered by quite a few new releases. Basic usability is provided, but you'd best steer clear of the Sony if you require high-powered performance.

The high-speed network connectivity is far more pleasing, however. 802.11a/g/n Wi-Fi allows access to the fastest wireless hotspots wherever you travel, and Gigabit Ethernet lets you connect at high speed to fixed networks.

When used for home entertainment, the VGN-FW31E is a stylish and well-specified laptop. For content creation, however, it's low performance falls short, so consider your needs fully before buying.