Sony's N-series has been around for a while, starting off as a considerably more expensive range. As a result, the materials and usability of the VAIO VGN-NS20J/ S are representative of a much higher price tag, with costs cut through the use of budget components.

The 15.4-inch screen is vivid, bright and one of the best we have seen for watching movies or editing photos. The 1280 x 800-pixel resolution is average, providing reasonably sharp images. As with all Super-TFT panels, it is reflective in bright conditions, but we didn't find it overly problematic.

The Sony copes fine with everyday use, such as editing photographs, browsing the internet and watching DVDs. You'll have to opt for a laptop with a dedicated graphics card if you want to play games, however, as the Intel GMA 4500 graphics card isn't up to it.

Excellent usability

The keyboard offers excellent usability, although quality is let down slightly by a noisy typing action. The large keys are flat with ridges around the edges, so it's easy to type at speed without hitting the wrong key. Responsive and offering a well-judged key stroke, it's a comfortable machine for typing on over long periods.

The chassis itself features an attractive textured finish. Unlike the glossy plastics favoured by many consumer laptops, it doesn't attract fingerprints and it proves robust enough for daily use. The thick screen also provides ample protection.

Those seeking a powerful machine for multi-tasking should avoid the Sony, as it uses budget components in a bid to keep costs down. The dual-core Intel Pentium processor runs at 2GHz – a similar clock speed to the Core 2 Duo chips – but it really struggles when multi-tasking.

BENCHMARK MACHINE: Samsung Q45

Battery life is one area that the Sony does excel. At 321 minutes, it offers excellent mobility – so, if all you need is a laptop to write documents on the move, it's still definitely worth a look.

The 250GB hard drive offers plenty of storage space for your media files or documents, but fails to match the Samsung R510's 320GB disk. 802.11n Wi-Fi offers the fastest wireless connection speeds currently available, and you will also find Gigabit Ethernet in place.

Files are easily backed-up using the DVD rewriter, and Sony also includes Roxio's Easy Media Creator software, enabling you to create discs straight out of the box.

The quality finish of this machine highlights the fact that the design started life at a higher price point. Low-end components mean it won't be attractive to those needing to multi-task, but if you just need a machine for web browsing or other basic tasks, then it is certainly worth a look.