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March 06, 2009

Sony Vaio P Review

A lot has been said about Sony’s own version of the ultraportable, the Vaio P. In the last week that I’ve been carrying it around, I’ve now realized why Sony wanted to shift the attention away from the usual netbook craze. Check out my review of the Sony Vaio P after the jump.

Carrying around a Sony Vaio P for a week has caught a lot of people’s attention. In this day and age of netbooks, it’s hard to grab attention to a “me too” product. This could be  one of the reasons why Sony didn’t want to call the Vaio P a netbook. It also goes without saying that it also allowed them to make the price point totally off from what usual netbook buyers would expect.

What’s in the box? Intel Atom Z530 1.6GHz, 2GB DDR2 533MHz RAM, 64GB Samsung SSD, 8″ display screen @ 1600×768 pixels, WiFi 802.11n, Bluetooth, 2 USB, SD card slot, Memory Stick Duo slot,  1.3MP webcam, integrated Intel GMA500 graphics card (max shared memory: 768MB), Microsoft Windows Vista Home.

sony vaio p
Screen Real Estate. The biggest screen resolution I’ve ever seen on a netbook, the Vaio P’s 1600×768 pixel resolution is unmatched by anyone (most common is 1024×600 pixels). The display is sharp and crisp; the colors are vivid as well and it’s no surprise since Sony is already a top player in LCD technology. I think this is one of the premium Sony fans will be paying for when they buy a Vaio P (same as when you get a Bravia TV).

The drawback though is that the aspect ratio is not standard — which  means, if you scale down the resolution to 1024×768, 800×600 or 640×480, the screen is already distorted. Users are stuck at the highest resolution and for some people this could be a disadvantage since icons, text and buttons are also much smaller. I noticed that I often move the device closer to my eyes than usual (of course, you can manually adjust icon magnification and text sizes but that’s a hassle) that I tend to slouch forward every time I type.
sony vaio p

Size and Form Factor. The Vaio P’s size and form factor is its biggest advantage among the rest. It’s 9.6″ in length, 4.7″ in width and just 0.78″ thin — that’s almost as thin as the 0.76″ Macbook Air. Its weight is also almost half that of regular netbooks at 1.4lbs (0.635kg). No other netbook currently in the market can match that, not even the earlier 7″ Eee PC.

The approach with the form factor was simple — drop the section for the palm rest and bring the pointing device up, smack at the center of the keyboard. The size of the keyboard itself is enough and the chicklet-style keys are very well spaced to make typing fairly easy and comfortable. The peripheral keys are slightly smaller though.

sony vaio p
Pointing Device
. The Vaio P features a trackpoint (a nipple mouse or pointing stick) instead of the usual trackpad which is similar to the ones commonly used in IBM ThinkPads. The pointing stick also accepts single and double click mouse actions. IMO, this is its biggest drawback. It’s too sensitive and hard to manage. I wonder, what happens if that soft pointer wears out? Can owners easily get a replacement? It would have been better if they went with a small solid-steel trackball in there.

The mouse buttons are a little thin and placed at the edge of the keyboard (where they usually are) but because I’m very used to the trackpad placement/position, I often mistake the space bar as the left  button. Because of this new orientation, it takes some time to get used to.

sony vaio p

Performance. The unit I reviewed is a prototype but it’s powered by an Intel Atom Z530 with 2GB of RAM and 64GB drive. It’s a bit slow compared to the other netbooks I’ve reviewed before although that could be attributed to the fact that the Vaio P is running Windows Vista Home and not XP. The graphics chip is an Intel GMA500 and plays videos just fine, even in full screen.

My concern is more with the heat dissipation. The core temp sits around 49 degrees centigrade on CPU idle but goes as high as 64 degrees at full CPU usage.  The Vaio P doesn’t have any exhaust fan inside (Intel Atom Z5xx are generally for embedded systems that don’t require them) but there’s a small ventillation grill on the left side, where most of the heat is coming from. {Check out the difference between an Atom Z530 and the N270}

sony vaio p

Battery Life. Sony claims 4 hours on standard battery and 8 hours on the extended one. The standard battery on the unit I have doesn’t even break 3 hours on constant WiFi use. Better than most but fell short of the promise (either that or the 4-hour claim doesn’t involve using WiFi). Sony installed a couple of apps so users can tweak and improve battery performance.

Bonus Points. The Sony Vaio P gets bonus points for the ff:

  • Instant On Mode. The Vaio P uses the same XMB interface (Xross Media Bar similar to the one in PSP) with the instant-on mode which you can use to get quick access to a media player, IM (Pidgen) and a browser (Firefox) without booting into Windows Vista.
  • Sony In-Ear Headphones. An accessory you won’t normally see when buying a laptop.
  • Card slots for Memory Stick Pro and SD/MMC Card; 2 USB ports, I/O port for a separate LAN and VGA adaptor, an a dedicated switch for WiFi/Bluetooth.

What’s missing?

Well, for the price tag of the Sony Vaio P, I would have expected the built-in GPS and 3G modem to go along with it. Apparently, other SKUs of the Vaio P marketed in the US and Europe have these features (locked to Verizon) but not the ones sold in the Philippines. A leather sleeve/pouch would also have been nice to go along with it (Sony is selling these accessories separately).

Conclusion.

What makes the Vaio P different from the other netbooks? Not much, really. The idea is more of a marketing move rather than economics — had Sony made a regular netbook, it would be hard pressed to carve its own niche this late in the game and compete against the dozens of existing players. That, plus the fact that Sony doesn’t want its brand to be labeled as cheap. 

What Sony is targetting is the high-end market — the select few who puts a premium on portability and very particular with style. This segment is still up and coming so there’s more likelihood of success (Asus has also moved into this segment with their stylish  and pricey S101). If they’re able to market and sell an 11.1″ Vaio T for Php119k, I think they can do better with a Php50k ultraportable. This is the same strategy and mentality that separated the under-powered and overpriced Macbook Air from all the rest of the regular 13-inch laptops (and everybody’s copying the MacAir nowadays).

It becomes obvious that the Sony Vaio P wasn’t made for everybody but don’t we all wish they should’ve dropped the price tag a little lower? 

Would I buy a Vaio P?  I actually almost did. Last month, when I was in Singapore for the Nokia event, I was about to buy one at the Suntec City for a discounted cash price of Php42k (subtract 8% GST and that’s down to Php38.5k) but unfortunately the ATM didn’t dispense my cash withdrawal (I have yet to check with my bank if I was credited back from that failed transaction).

Sony Vaio P Official Specs and Photos
Sony Vaio X Ultraportable
Rumored Sony Xperia Z2 photos and release date

34 Responses to “Sony Vaio P Review”

  1. shylde says:

    i really like them, sony vaio laptops. i want to have one, it looks great, cool, beautiful designs (not to mention they’re the kind of laptops you can boast to your friends) suitable for a college student like me. last year (june 1) i asked my pops(dad) to buy me one, i’ve told him i’ll be needing one. we hopped malls and malls to find the exact sony vaio laptop model i really wanted (dreamed of, rather), well, we found a fair few but in high prices, so we keep looking but all are the same, amounting 100k..so i was forced to choose toshiba..but i really want that sony vaio laptop..hope someday i’ll have one.

  2. ashigakari says:

    It only cost roughly 15k php in a Japan Surplus shop in Pasig, near Karangalan gate 5. I just bought mine.

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  4. khondker says:

    Hi

    This is Khondker from Bangladesh. My father bought me a Sony( Vaio -VGN SR43G) from Malaysia. It was working fine for 4 months. But now a problem has appeared. The problem is – When I switch on or power my laptop. It starts. The power indicator light remains green .But my Lcd screen appears black. It doesn’t has brightness or light. I reinstalled my system, but no progress. At the time of booting, my screen shows light for 1 second, after that it remains black. If I plug other external monitor it shows the screen there properly. But my laptop screen remains black.

    I shut down my laptop for 2 months. Last night when I plugged my laptop to the ac power my lcd display was back for above than 20 seconds. So I thought may be it is a problem of software not hardware. Now can you tell me where could I find display or graphics or any power supply driver for my laptop. Details are: Model: VGN-SR43G…. OS: Windows vista (Home Edition) 32bit.
    Processor: Intel

    Khondker (Bangladesh)
    E-mail:ashique14324@gmail.com

  5. GaryS says:

    This close to Xmas, I wonder how firm the prices will remain?

  6. techihunt says:

    Undoubtedly, the actual VAIO P’s long and slim type factor continues to be one of the most unique looking devices in the ether.

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Abe is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of YugaTech. You Can follow him on Twitter @abeolandres.

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