Sony VAIO X-Series review
A week on one charge
Although we were pleasantly surprised by how usable the X-Series was during a working day, it seems ridiculous to spend this much and have to switch off the graphical effects. Our overall experience would have been a lot more pleasant if the graphics chipset was more powerful, but Intel’s GMA 500 chip is designed for power frugality rather than speed. And this frugality does reap dividends. The X-Series kept going over seven hours when idle, and even when pushed to its limit it kept going for three hours.
Considering this whole laptop weighs a miserly 766g (1.05kg with the power supply), that’s a stunning achievement. And if you’re after true stamina, take note of the extended battery Sony will be selling. This straps onto the bottom of the X-Series, and Sony estimates it will last 20 hours. It’s worth stepping back for a moment here: 20 hours! That’s the average PC Pro writer’s working week.
There are some inevitable niggles we need to address. The first is the cramped keyboard. Sony does its best, with the isolated keys giving greater margins for error when typing, but the tiny right Shift key takes a lot of getting used to, as do all the keys in the bottom-right area: the full stop and cursor keys are a particular challenge. We never looked forward to using this keyboard.
The tiny touchpad is also an issue. It seems odd to include such a tiny touchpad when there’s plentiful space below the keyboard, especially since Sony has included a scrolling area at the bottom and far right of it. At least it’s responsive when you touch it in the right place, and coupled with the relatively small screen we found it usable when travelling.
The display itself again split opinion, though. It has a notable red bias, which affects skintones, and its horizontal and vertical viewing angles are a little limited. You could also argue that its 1,366 x 768 resolution is too high for an 11.1in screen, although if you’re finding it a struggle to read system text you can enlarge it easily via Windows 7.
In terms of features, the X-Series includes pretty much everything you could ask for. There’s Bluetooth, 802.11bgn WLAN, an integrated 3G modem that supports up to 7.2Mbits/sec, and a 0.3-megapixel camera.
Sony backs all this up with a three-year collect-and-return warranty, and we were quite impressed by the build quality of this little machine as well. The screen flexes as you’d expect, but when we gave it a solid bash on the lid there was little sign of it on the screen – if there is, it can indicate a vulnerability. If you look after this device, and note it comes with a carrying pouch and even a lint-free cloth to keep it shiny, it should stay looking classy for a good few years.
Know your market
Despite all this, it’s tricky to see who’s going to buy the X-Series. As we’ve seen, it is possible to use it as a main PC, but will a senior executive really be willing to put up with the occasional waits and niggles? While we understand why Sony opted for an Atom – there’s no room for a cooling system powerful enough to cool even an ultra-low voltage Core 2 processor – it will put too many people off.
So is it just a laptop for your travels? Well, the X-Series is eminently usable on the move and we still can’t get over at just how light it is. Slip it in a briefcase and you simply won’t notice the extra weight; it can even slide into your case’s side pocket, it’s that slim. But you only need to look elsewhere in Sony’s range to see more practical options. The TT-Series and Z-Series offer far greater power in packages that are bigger, but hardly by devastating amounts.
But the real problem for the X-Series is its price. It includes a solid state disk, inevitably adding to the cost, and Sony must try to recoup some of its substantial R&D outlay. Who, though, can lavish £1,130 exc VAT on a vanity laptop such as this? Very few. This exclusivity may well end up adding to the X-Series’ allure, and if you do buy one expect admiring glances from all who see it. Just don’t tell them it’s an Atom inside.
|Warranty||2yr collect and return|
|Dimensions||278 x 186 x 12.2mm (WDH)|
Processor and memory
|Processor||Intel Atom Z540|
|Motherboard chipset||Intel US15W|
|SODIMM sockets free||0|
|SODIMM sockets total||1|
Screen and video
|Resolution screen horizontal||1,366|
|Resolution screen vertical||768|
|Resolution||1366 x 768|
|Graphics chipset||Intel GMA 500|
|Graphics card RAM||N/A|
|VGA (D-SUB) outputs||1|
|Hard disk usable capacity||112GB|
|Internal disk interface||SATA|
|Hard disk||Samsung MMCRE28GFMXP-MVB solid state disk|
|Optical disc technology||None|
|Replacement battery price inc VAT||£0|
|Wired adapter speed||1,000Mbits/sec|
|802.11 draft-n support||yes|
|Integrated 3G adapter||yes|
|Wireless hardware on/off switch||yes|
|Wireless key-combination switch||no|
|PC Card slots||0|
|USB ports (downstream)||2|
|PS/2 mouse port||no|
|9-pin serial ports||0|
|Optical S/PDIF audio output ports||0|
|Electrical S/PDIF audio ports||0|
|3.5mm audio jacks||1|
|SD card reader||yes|
|Memory Stick reader||yes|
|MMC (multimedia card) reader||yes|
|Smart Media reader||no|
|Compact Flash reader||no|
|Pointing device type||Touchpad|
|Audio chipset||Realtek HD Audio|
|Hardware volume control?||no|
Battery and performance tests
|Battery life, light use||7hr 9min|
|Battery life, heavy use||3hr 11min|
|Overall application benchmark score||0.36|
|Office application benchmark score||0.38|
|2D graphics application benchmark score||0.38|
|Encoding application benchmark score||0.33|
|Multitasking application benchmark score||0.34|
|3D performance (crysis) low settings||N/A|
|3D performance setting||N/A|
Operating system and software
|Operating system||Windows 7 Professional 32-bit|
|OS family||Windows 7|
|Recovery method||Recovery partition|
|Software supplied||VAIO Video & Photo Suite|