Sony VAIO VGN-G11VN/TC review

Price when reviewed

Sony takes its ultraportables seriously. Every potential weight saving is pursued with tigerish fervour, and the result is this: a 1.13kg notebook that not only includes a DVD writer, but also lasted for an astonishing 8hrs 30mins in our battery tests.

Sony VAIO VGN-G11VN/TC review

We managed to get hold of not just the standard XN version, but also the “premium” G11VN/TC reviewed here. Only available from Sony Style, it includes 2GB of RAM, a robust brown cover (which wraps around the notebook) and a surprisingly attractive brown finish. The streamlined chassis and 4mm-thick screen, made of carbon-fibre laminate, are stunning on both models, but the TC’s distinctive colour gives it an edge in a market full of dull-but-functional systems.

There’s even an Apple-like design touch to the optical drive’s eject button, which finds its home at the top-right- hand side of the chassis (fear not, there’s also a more traditionally placed button on the drive itself). The DVD writer itself is compatible with all kinds of media, including DVD-RAM.

We were also impressed to see a 100GB hard disk inside. The 1.8in Toshiba disk uses perpendicular recording to pack in such a high capacity, and Toshiba claims the drive consumes just 1.1W while seeking.

A good thing, because when it comes to power consumption, every little helps – it’s no good having a mere slip of a laptop if you can’t rely on the battery. The G11’s press release claims an optimistic-sounding nine hours, which we scoffed at until our intensive-use battery test produced a result of 4hrs 2mins. And it’s worth repeating that our light-use test ran for an amazing 8hrs 30mins. Even with uncompromising use, the G11 will comfortably see you through a day’s work without needing to go near a wall socket.

The extraordinary battery life and light weight wouldn’t be possible without Intel’s Core Solo U1500. Generating a maximum of just 5.5W of heat, the CPU doesn’t need heavy or power-consuming cooling fans to keep the system stable. The amount of computing power available inevitably suffers: the 1.33GHz CPU struggled in our benchmark tests, with a low overall score of 0.55. But this doesn’t tell the whole story – our benchmarks push a machine to its absolute limits, and the G11 isn’t designed to run for hours on end encoding video. When it comes to everyday tasks, such as word processing, internet access and spreadsheets, the G11 works perfectly. It’s compatible with Vista’s Aero effects too thanks to Intel’s GMA 950 graphics. Intel also provides the wireless chip with 802.11a/b/g support. Finally, the security-minded will appreciate a TPM chip and fingerprint reader.

So almost everything about the G11 points towards a solid recommendation, but we do have a couple of criticisms. We’d have liked to see a longer and more comprehensive warranty than one-year return-to-base – most notably, the Dell Latitude D420 comes with three years of on-site cover.

Also, the pre-production model we saw had a problem with its screen quality. White backgrounds were discoloured by a series of faint pink and green vertical strands. Colour accuracy was also poor, to the point that even watching DVDs made it obvious. This problem could well be solved when the G11 goes into mass production – we’ll keep you informed of any improvements.

What won’t change is the size of the screen and its resolution: this is a 12.1in LED-backlit screen, and it runs at a basic 1,024 x 768. The lid feels alarmingly flimsy too – solid enough when the laptop is closed, but we’d hesitate to mistreat it too much while open. Sony assures us that it’s still robust thanks in part to its flexibility, but we’d still treat with care.

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