Sony VAIO VGC-V2S review

Price when reviewed

Combination devices – or all-in-ones – are often impressive to look at, and together with Sony’s inimitable styling the VGC-V2S is more imposing than most. Added to that, it has an X-black screen complementing the panel’s particularly bright image and rich colours. These characteristics are ideal for displaying TV or a DVD, although it can also give strong reflections. You have to carefully control room and window lighting if you want to watch dark scenes without distraction.

Sony VAIO VGC-V2S review

The 1,280 x 768 widescreen resolution is low for a 20in format, but then a compromise needs to be struck to make it usable from across the room. This leaves text a little too large and chunky for close-up use as a PC, although the wireless keyboard and optical wheel-mouse free you to move further away. The keyboard’s hinged cover folds back to become a wrist rest with integrated touchpad and mouse buttons, letting you use it comfortably on your lap – there’s somewhere to rest your hands and you don’t need a mouse. Unfortunately, the touchpad is frustratingly imprecise, but at least the notebook-style keyboard is firm and comfortable to type on.

In a similar manner to Windows XP Media Center Edition, you can control the entertainment side of the V2S using the remote control and Sony’s VAIO Zone interface. TV, photos and music are just a few buttons away. The built-in speakers are competent performers on their own, but if you want the best sound possible there’s also an optical sound output, in addition to the standard headphone jack.

As a PC, the V2S certainly suffers no compromise, packing a 3.2GHz Pentium 4 CPU and 512MB of PC3200 DDR SDRAM into the bodywork behind the display. Our application benchmarks caused the V2S no trouble either, reaching 1.63 overall. The internals are actually closer to a notebook, and the only thing you can upgrade is memory. Through a small access panel on the back, you can add a stick of memory in the spare slot, up to a system total of 1GB. There’s a sizeable 250GB 7,200rpm hard drive to record hardware-encoded MPEG2 TV files on, and you can back up to DVD using the dual-layer multiformat DVD writer.

It’s a nice touch when an all-in-one entertainment machine can offer some gaming potential, and the 128MB nVidia GeForce Go 5700 graphics adaptor, despite being ostensibly a notebook component, offers some hope. With no external monitor output, we couldn’t run our 3D benchmarks at the normal resolution, but Unreal Tournament 2004 still tripped along at 42 frames per second at 1,280 x 768.

With wireless input devices and 802.11b/g (in a mini-PCI slot), the V2S is easy to use on a day-to-day basis – until you try to connect any hardware. Due to the large screen, the plugs and slots on the right-hand side are behind the bezel and difficult to reach. You’ll need to clamber behind it to access the mini-FireWire or two USB ports, the headphone and microphone jacks, the Type II PC Card slot, or even to insert a Memory Stick or DVD. The V2S does swivel on its base though, provided there’s room to move it and some slack in the cables at the back. The USB ports are recessed in a narrow slot, annoyingly precluding using older, bulky memory keys too.

Things get even more difficult accessing the connectors at the back. Hidden in little alcoves behind a sliding cover are two more USB ports, another mini-FireWire, 10/100 Ethernet, V.92 modem, optical audio out, and an analog 3.5mm line-in. There’s also S-Video, composite and co-axial aerial in. We found it easier to power-off the machine, tip it flat on the screen and get a proper look at them, making it very much an install-once-and-forget operation. That’s fine with the antenna and Ethernet, but it makes connecting a video source or a third USB device extremely awkward.

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