Sony may be better known for its ultraportable laptops, but it has an increasing range of cost-effective desktop alternatives, of which the VAIO VGN-N31M/W (£599 inc. VAT) is the latest addition.
Sony has changed the styling of its entry level laptops to a cool white look with silver highlights that appears to be following the Apple design aesthethic. It's a little boxy, but it's still a stylish look.
The first thing you notice about this machine is how solid and robust it is. The chassis is made from toughened plastic and there is little or no flex. With plenty of extra protection to the lid, there is little risk of this laptop's Super-TFT panel being damaged in transit.
Weighing in at 2.9kg, this is the upper weight you should consider if you're thinking of carrying your laptop around on a regular basis. Using it out and about, we managed to get a little over three hours from the battery, which is adequate for a machine of this size.
Inside the lid you'll find a 15.4-inch screen that is clear and crisp. That said, it proved to be highly reflective when used on the move. We were a little disappointed to find the graphics were an integrated solution. Making matters worse, this is the older GMA 950 chip, so 3D performance is minimal.
Powered by an Intel 1.73GHz Core 2 Duo T5300, this machine may not have the latest specification, but we found it quick and reliable to use. Running Windows Vista Home Premium, you won't be able to use the Aero 3D interface but, on the plus side, you won't need to add more memory to get the most from this system.
The keyboard is of a good size, with the keys being Sony's square-approach. The keys have a decent amount of travel, but we found them to be rather spongy to use for long periods, as they required a solid touch to activate.
With more devices now being digital, Sony has aligned itself with the DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance), which guarantees that devices sporting the logo are compatible with a host of devices for sharing data easily via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. With the last generation of chipset in place, the wireless LAN adapter is the older 802.11b/g chip.
Connectivity is kept to a minimum, but you'll find separate Secure Digital and MemoryStick Pro slots, along with VGA-out and mini-ExpressCard slot.
The Sony VAIO VGN-N31M/W is something of a mixed bag. The build quality is solid and sturdy, but we were disappointed with the keyboard. Performance is more than acceptable for the price, though.