Sony VAIO Mini W Series review

£399
Price when reviewed

So, the last big name has fallen. HP gave out in April 2008, and both Dell and Toshiba’s resistance crumbled by the autumn. But it’s taken Sony until the middle of 2009 to produce what it confesses to be a netbook, the VAIO Mini W Series. It still argues that the P Series, despite its Atom processor and microscopic dimensions, was nothing of the sort. It certainly wasn’t priced as such, with even the cheapest version selling for over £600 exc VAT, whereas the W Series is expected to retail for £347 exc VAT on its release.

This mini-laptop follows more of the rules of netbook making. The Intel Atom processor has 1GB of RAM for company, Windows XP Home is the operating system of choice, and aside from the sizeable VAIO logo on its lid, the Mini W Series looks like a conventional netbook.

But, Sony being Sony, it couldn’t possibly follow the formula to the tee. Chief among the differences is the screen. Yes, it’s 10.1in diagonally across, but Sony packs in 1,366 x 768 pixels and opts for LED-backlighting, too.

The high resolution means that onscreen text is smaller than other netbooks, but in return spreadsheets, Word documents and web browsing benefit from much more space. If you’ve become accustomed to the cramped, 1,024 x 600 desktop of the average netbook, the Sony feels incredibly spacious by comparison.

Few will complain about the screen’s quality, either. That LED-backlight makes for an impressively bright display, and although it isn’t as vibrant as the best Sony displays, colours are accurate and there’s no odd caste or grain to spoil white backgrounds. Viewing angles are also reasonable; the only possible annoyance is the reflection due to the glossy finish.

Style council

We’re also fans of the styling, though of the three colours Sony offers – brown, white and pink – we feel the brown looks the best. The white is too reminiscent of old-style MacBooks, the pink too obviously designed to appeal to a certain sector of the population. Some within the PC Pro office were less taken by the cross-hatched finish to the touchpad, but in reality its responsive nature and generous size are far more important.

Which leads us to the most contentious point of this netbook: the keyboard. There’s absolutely no disputing its style. It looks great as part of the classy overall package, and lends the W Series an air of a far more costly machine. However, if typing is part of your regular working life then it’s vital you think carefully before parting with your cash, because it’s irritating on a number of levels.

First, the keys have very little travel. It makes typing an odd experience, and even though we used the W Series over the course of several days, we never felt happy typing on it. Our experience wasn’t helped by some odd key placement. Worst of all is the right Shift key, which is so slim we kept hitting the neighbouring backslash key, and the spacebar is also smaller than we’d like.

These sacrifices wouldn’t be necessary if Sony had used the full width of the chassis, but – partly, no doubt, due to economy of scale – it’s plumped for precisely the same keyboard as the P Series.

We also found one other irritation in daily use: the fan. Even if we were typing away in Word, its low monotone kept us company. It’s fine in an office, but if you’re sitting in a quiet room at night you might find the hum annoying.

You do at least get one of Intel’s faster Atom processors as compensation. The N280 is a single-core chip but it runs at 1.66GHz, and that proved enough to push the W Series to 0.43 in our benchmarks, which is among the fastest we’ve seen from a netbook.

Warranty

Warranty1 yr return to base

Physical specifications

Dimensions268 x 180 x 32mm (WDH)
Weight1.190kg

Processor and memory

ProcessorIntel Atom N280
Motherboard chipsetIntel 945GSE Express
RAM capacity1.00GB
Memory typeDDR2
SODIMM sockets free0
SODIMM sockets total1

Screen and video

Screen size10.1in
Resolution screen horizontal1,366
Resolution screen vertical768
Resolution1366 x 768
Graphics chipsetIntel GMA 950
Graphics card RAM128MB
VGA (D-SUB) outputs1
HDMI outputs0
S-Video outputs0
DVI-I outputs0
DVI-D outputs0
DisplayPort outputs0

Drives

Capacity160GB
Hard disk usable capacity145GB
Spindle speed5,400RPM
Internal disk interfaceSATA
Hard diskToshiba MK1655GSX
Optical disc technologyN/A
Optical driveNone
Battery capacity2,100mAh
Replacement battery price inc VAT£0

Networking

Wired adapter speed100Mbits/sec
802.11a supportno
802.11b supportyes
802.11g supportyes
802.11 draft-n supportyes
Integrated 3G adapterno
Bluetooth supportyes

Other Features

Wireless hardware on/off switchyes
Wireless key-combination switchno
Modemno
ExpressCard34 slots0
ExpressCard54 slots0
PC Card slots0
USB ports (downstream)2
PS/2 mouse portno
9-pin serial ports0
Parallel ports0
Optical S/PDIF audio output ports0
Electrical S/PDIF audio ports0
3.5mm audio jacks2
SD card readeryes
Memory Stick readeryes
MMC (multimedia card) readeryes
Smart Media readerno
Compact Flash readerno
xD-card readerno
Pointing device typeTouchpad
Audio chipsetRealtek HD Audio
Speaker locationBottom
Hardware volume control?no
Integrated microphone?no
Integrated webcam?yes
Camera megapixel rating0.3mp
TPMno
Fingerprint readerno
Smartcard readerno
Carry caseno

Battery and performance tests

Battery life, light use4hr 19min
Battery life, heavy use2hr 11min
Overall application benchmark score0.43
Office application benchmark score0.54
2D graphics application benchmark score0.34
Encoding application benchmark score0.40
Multitasking application benchmark score0.44
3D performance (crysis) low settingsFail
3D performance settingLow

Operating system and software

Operating systemWindow XP Home
OS familyWindows XP
Recovery methodRecovery partition
Software suppliedArcSoft WebCam Companion 2, Roxio Easy Media Creator 10 LJ

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