Sony VAIO VGN-BX197XP review

£1499
Price when reviewed

Unlike IBM or Dell, Sony has never played the management features game to tempt business users. Relying on brand cachet and sheer style, VAIOs are nonetheless popular choices for corporates. Now, Sony intends to build on that platform, and the BX197XP is our first look at its new business-orientated BX range.

The main qualifications for the role are the impressive security features. The fingerprint reader above the keyboard works with Protector Suite QL (www.upek.com): swipe your finger and you get a menu that can be operated by scrolling the fingerprint reader like a touchpad. You can set up My Safe, an encrypted, fingerprint-protected folder, lock the PC or register password-protected web pages to save time logging in to online banks or email. It’s a much quicker and more secure way of protecting your PC than typed passwords, and we soon found ourselves using it habitually. The integrated Trusted Platform Module makes the BX197XP even more tempting for business users.

Internally, the 2GHz Pentium M specification and 1GB of PC4200 DDR2 RAM shows how serious Sony is about making the BX197XP a notebook to take on all-comers. It certainly breezed through our benchmarks: a final score of 0.80 is highly respectable for a single-core processor, and we wouldn’t be shy about using it for hard-core creative jobs.

The top-end specs continue with the storage: a pair of 80GB Hitachi disks adds up to an impressive 160GB of storage space. 15GB of this is taken by a hidden recovery partition, but there’s still more than enough space even if you’re using this as your only machine. The optical drive is a dual-layer DVD writer that offers compatibility with all writable DVD and CD formats, including DVD-RAM. ATi’s Mobility X700 handles 3D duties (and meets the projected minimum requirements for Windows Vista) and, although it isn’t up to playing the latest games at its native resolution, it will still be able to handle some reasonable after-hours gaming.

The 17in widescreen panel is also well suited to multimedia applications. The huge resolution of 1,920 x 1,200 makes it perfect for large spreadsheets and digital imaging, and our technical tests revealed a panel with an excellent contrast range, so you can be sure that both very light and dark shades will be faithfully reproduced. Viewing angles were slightly disappointing, and we found that brightness decreased almost as soon as we moved away from dead centre, but it’s a minor quibble unless you intend many people to gather round the notebook at any one time. Unlike some glossy panels, the BX197XP’s X-black panel is easy on the eyes, improving the apparent contrast ratio without reflecting excessive background light.

The keyboard is also something to be upbeat about. It doesn’t take full advantage of the wide base, but the keys are all full sized, and feedback is satisfyingly firm. The trackpad is complemented by the trackpoint and button combination nearer the keyboard, which is useful if you’re using the BX197XP in a cramped space.

There’s a useful blend of handy extras and business essentials built into the BX197XP. There’s 802.11b/g wireless and Bluetooth, and a pair of memory card slots (Memory Stick and SD) for removable storage. Sony also includes a Sony Ericsson HBH-608 Bluetooth headset.

One inevitable casualty of this notebook’s huge widescreen and two hard disks is its sheer size and weight: at 4.1kg, you won’t want to carry it around all day. The battery life confirms this lack of portability, lasting for one hour, 23 minutes under light use, and plunging to 48 minutes under intensive use.

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