Sony VAIO VGN-FJ1S review
A fantastic-looking machine, offering great performance and ergonomics for a low price. There's a generous software bundle too
When you can buy a chic 14in Apple iBook for £899, most mid-range notebooks end up looking rather drab next to them in the shop. Enter the VAIO FJ1S, which offers excellent build quality, top-end components and great looks for under £900.
The comparatively low price doesn't mean the FJ1S is short of power: a 1.73GHz Intel Pentium M is at the heart of the system, and 512MB of RAM means it can cope with most jobs. Our benchmarks produced a healthy score of 0.70; until dual-core mobile CPUs appear in 2006 we won't see much better from a laptop. Intel's 915 chipset links everything together, with GMA 900 graphics providing enough 3D muscle for Windows Vista - though without the fancy effects. Just note that it can't cope with modern games.
There's an 80GB hard disk in the FJ1S, which is a generous inclusion at this price and offers plenty of space for data and applications. Indeed, Microsoft Works 8 comes preinstalled, as does a comprehensive suite of creative software: Adobe Acrobat Elements 7 (which lets you create PDFs, not just read them), Photoshop Elements 3, Premiere Standard and Roxio Digital Media SE. Sony's VAIO Launcher software is noteworthy too. This works in a similar fashion to the dock in Apple's OS X: you can drag program icons to it for single-click launching or to launch Sony's VAIO Zone media-centre multimedia interface.
Another nice touch is the webcam integrated into the bezel above the screen. Image quality isn't stunning, but it's fine for instant messaging purposes.
The 14.1in widescreen panel uses Sony's X-black technology. It's glossy without being overly reflective and increases the apparent contrast range. Darker colours appear as black a little more readily than on the BX197XP, but images and films looked impressive nonetheless. Viewing angles were good too, while the 1,280 x 800 resolution means documents and Internet pages have plenty of space. However, it's slightly constraining for larger-than-average spreadsheets.
One of the VAIO's best features is its portability. Despite the fact it includes a built-in DVD writer, the FJ1S weighs just 2.4kg. Most notebooks this price weigh around 3kg, with the Gateway 8550GB tipping the scales at 3.5kg and HP's Compaq nx6125 2.8kg. It's also very slim: compare its 33mm to the 42mm of the HP. Battery life is respectable rather than amazing, though, with the VAIO lasting for just under three hours in our light-use tests.
Besides the size and weight, the ergonomics of the FJ1S are outstanding. The keyboard was solid and typing for long periods was a pleasure thanks to a sturdy base. We also liked the contour of the wrist-rest, which allows you to relax your hands while typing.
And this notebook's looks are even better, with the photo above not doing the FJ1S justice. The cool metallic-blue finish comfortably falls into the 'designer' category, and this VAIO is also available in an equally striking red finish (both can only be bought from SonyStyle stores). The FJ1S is also more widely available in Sony's standard silver finish.
The catchless lid isn't the most practical design, as stray objects could end up between the screen and keyboard, but we do like the 'floating' hinges, which break up the bulk of the machine when open.
The one area where this notebook falls down is the lack of extra features. For this price, it's possible to buy a notebook with discrete graphics such as nVidia's Go 6600, as seen in the AJP Z71V, while £50 more buys the Gateway with its Mobility X700. The lack of memory card compatibility beyond Memory Sticks is also a letdown - you'll need a USB memory card reader if you have a digital camera made by anyone other than Sony. A further complaint, albeit not unexpected at this price, is the one-year return-to-base warranty.