Hands on: Sony Vaio W netbook review

TechRadar has spent our first few hours testing out Sony's first netbook, the rather tasty little Sony Vaio W, Sony's first foray into the world of netbooks.

And while Sony is still shy'ing away from using the term 'netbook' (this one is officially referred to as a 'chic mini notebook' on all of Sony's press and marketing bumf) the guys at Sony are the first to admit that it is one.

After all, the Vaio W boasts the familiar feature-list and specification that we have come to know as 'netbook spec' – an Intel Atom Processor N280 (1.66GHz), 1GB RAM, 160GB HDD, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Motion Eye webcam, a couple of USB ports and so on.

Vaio netbook1

Sony is pitching the Vaio W at a new market – those that have perhaps wanted ('aspired ') to own a shiny Vaio before, but have not had the spondoolicks to treat themselves to one. The pricing is not going to be anywhere near the budget-netbook level, but then we would never have expected that from Sony.

If you want a sub-£300 netbook then you can stop reading right now and head over to check TechRadar's recent reviews of some pretty decent offerings from the likes of MSI, Asus, Medion or Acer.

The Sony Vaio W will set you back £399 when it launches later in August (or perhaps even a shade less if you manage to find a retailer offering a decent deal).

Why pay more?

So why should you shell out £100 more than you might on one of those netbooks from the aforementioned brands you can find on your local supermarket shelves? For us, there are two immediate reasons. Or perhaps three, if you are a Vaio fanboy (yes, they exist!).

The first reason you can justify spending the extra money on the Vaio W is the (86 per cent full-size) keyboard. The last time we tested out one of these was on the rather-overpriced (but still very desirable) Sony Vaio P ultra-portable 'notbook'.

The initial impression when using the Vaio W's keyboard is a slight concern that the mini isolated-style keyboard's keys are just a little too small, but after around half an hour of bashing away at the keys your fingers find their way to where your brain wants them to go without bashing their neighbouring keys.

Vaio netbook2

It's a small point, but a vital one. Too many netbooks are still shipping with cheap, bouncy, unresponsive keyboards. Fine, if all you want to use the thing for is to look at your photo library and watch the iPlayer in the bedroom. Not fine if you want to use it for writing, blogging or doing anything that involves typing more than three words!

Secondly, the 10.1-inch high-res (1366 x 768) screen on the Vaio W boasts the same resolution as a lot of 40-inch high definition televisions. And, while we hate having to use the same adjectives as Sony has used on its press release, it really is 'stunning' and 'vibrant' and it is basically one of the best netbook screens we've seen to date.

We have yet to try out watching high-def movies and TV progs on the thing. To be honest, we're yet to be convinced that it will do the movie-viewing thing on an Atom processor with 1GB of RAM, but hey – we'll wait until we do the full test on that front. And on that note, the Sony product manager demo'ing the Vaio W to us today did mention that there should be an option to upgrade to 2GB of RAM, should you want to. (HINT: Yes, we would want to).

In terms of more basic, everyday use – ie looking at the internet – the advantage of the Vaio W's impressive screen resolution is that you don't have to scroll sideways when viewing websites.
Battery-life? Three hours or more. "Some of our competition, shall we say, push the boundaries a little when it comes to battery-life claims," said one of the Sony reps demo'ing the Vaio W. "Sony doesn't do that."

Extra battery-life

And if you need a six or seven hour or more battery-life, Sony is going to offer a six-cell chunky battery as an optional extra.

And finally, talking about optional extras, accessorising is also the order of the day here, with Sony charging you £40 for a nice little wetsuit-style bag and coloured mouse to accompany your new netbook. And while forty quid is a lot of money to spend on a little neoprene bag and a mouse, if you are going to shell out £400 on one of the nicest netbooks yet developed, you may as well shell out a bit more to protect your new toy.


So, to recap, you are paying extra here for one of the best keyboards yet designed for a small form-factor laptop, for the lovely, bright screen and – if it floats your boat – for the aspirational value of the Vaio brand. And while you can probably get a decent full-size laptop deal at your local PC World for £400 right now, if you want one of the best mini-computers on the market you won't go far wrong with one of these when Sony launches them in mid-August.

Oh. And they come in a nice shade of berry pink too, if the only way you can justify shelling out for one is to pull the old trick of buying it 'for the missus'.

Gripes? Not many, really. No HDMI output. No slot for a SIM-card for 3G internet access. But hey, we are being picky! Get yourself a cheap PAYG dongle for those occassions when you are away from Wi-Fi and get yourself a Blu-ray player to watch your movies with. Done.

Adam Hartley