Sony – Vaio C1MHP Picturebook review

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£1,499 + VAT

The original Sony Picturebook concept is about to enter its fourth year. The latest C1MHP model is the most ambitious iteration of the C1 form factor, which is characterised by a wide-screen 8.9-inch display and a rotating digital camera built in to the screen bezel.

An upgrade of the C1MGP model introduced in the spring, the Vaio C1MHP gets an increase in speed for its Transmeta Crusoe processor to 867MHz, plus an extra 128MB of system memory to take the total to 256MB. Half of this is higher speed DDR RAM to maximise the performance-critical function of the Crusoe processor’s ‘code morphing’ engine, which claims 20MB. The single changeable 128MB micro-DIMM can be swapped for a 256MB unit, making a total of 384MB.

Microsoft Windows XP Professional is now standard, as is a 30GB hard disk. Sony’s slimline external PCGA-CRWD2 i.Link (FireWire IEEE1394) combo 8X DVD player and 24x24x10 CDRW burner is part of the package. At half a kilo, the drive complements the 1kg C1MHP well and no external power supply is required. A sideways mount detachable base is also supplied, but no floppy drive is included.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the C1MHP is its UW-SXGA screen, sporting an amazing horizontal 1,280 pixel count, with 600 vertically. That’s a remarkable 160 dots per inch physical resolution – around four times as many pixels per square inch compared with most conventional 14 or 15-inch notebook displays. The viewing angle range is excellent and despite the screen’s size it’s not too difficult to read.

DVDs play well on the Vaio C1MHP. An ATI Radeon mobile 7500 video sub-system, addressing 8MB of video memory, makes the C1MHP capable of running 3D games tolerably, if not speedily. Dual monitor support is also included.

Another notable feature of the Vaio C1MHP is its hardware MPEG2 encoder/decoder. This theoretically makes the Vaio C1MHP a make-shift digital video recorder, though you can only record composite video signals using the supplied port replicator. This also provides a single 10/100 network socket, a second USB1.1 port and a 15-way D-sub monitor port. You can also record low resolution still images, plus video, using the built-in ‘Motion Eye’ camera. Basic digital video editing and capture software is bundled.

Bluetooth 1.1 wireless connectivity is integrated and the quoted range is up to 100 metres. The accompanying Bluespace control software is very snazzy, complete with radar animations and sound effects. Wi-fi is not built in and would have to occupy the sole Type I/II PCMCIA slot. Wired network support is only provided by the port replicator. There is one Sony Memory Stick slot.

The keyboard is tightly packed and it’s all too easy to miss the miniscule right hand shift key and annoyingly hit the up arrow key instead. Even so, the keys have good feel and touch-typing is not a problem after a short period of adaptation. There is no room for a touch pad, but the track-point style nipple is quite serviceable.

A single lightweight lithium-ion battery pack is built into the cylindrical spindle that separates the screen from the keyboard. It’s good for about 2.5 hours of word processing, but only about an hour and ten minutes when watching a DVD. Double and quad capacity packs are available, but they are disappointingly expensive.

After prolonged use of the Vaio C1MHP, undoubtedly its biggest problem is its lack of sheer grunt. We found that an ageing Pentium III 450 desktop can sometimes out-run the 867MHz Crusoe-powered C1MHP. Our C1MHP failed to record video from the Motion Eye camera smoothly. The hard disk sub-system keeps very busy, indicating that memory resources are tested. The upgrade to 384MB is, it seems, a vital one. A potential intermediate solution is to prune the many Sony applets that load by default, while removing the 2MB desktop background helped a bit.

Company: Sony

Contact: 0990 424424


Verdict
Overall, the Sony Vaio PCG-C1MHP Picturebook is a very portable, cool-looking and innovative notebook. But its performance could be a serious concern, and it remains to be seen whether the extra memory will make a dramatic difference.