Sony – Vaio P review

Sony updates its Vaio P but repeats the original problems
Photo of Sony – Vaio P
from £800

Sony doesn’t do netbooks, but if it did the Vaio P would be one. It is small and neat. It weighs just 0.6kg and it measures 245 x 120 x 19.8mm. Picture those measurements in your mind and you’ll visualise a wide, thin notebook, which is precisely what the Vaio P is.

Its wide format allows for a large keyboard that is extremely comfy to use, and a wide format screen which might only measure 8-inches across diagonal corners, but which offers 1,600 x 768 pixels.

These criteria, plus the general build quality, which oozes style and pizzazz, are enough to capture the imagination. And there are other things to draw the attention, like a webcam, GPS, 3G support via a SIM and Draft-N wireless support.

There are seven different models currently available, and the least expensive of them will cost you £850. You could get two good netbooks out of that. But of course, Sony doesn’t call the Vaio P a netbook, even though it runs an Intel Atom Z520 processor. OK, then.

While it might look stunning, that screen is actually a serious pain to live with. It simply isn’t an ergonomic format. The width pixel count is great, but in terms of height there are too few. Web browsing was difficult as we had to keep panning up and down. Writing text was irritating as we couldn’t see a great many lines on a page. And there is another problem: the screen resolution means that what you see is rather small. If your eyesight isn’t wonderful, you may find yourself squinting.

The keyboard, though, is a thing of greatness. Sony knows how to do keyboards and the one here, with its isolated keys, was responsive under the fingers. Fast touch-typing was easy. Wisely, Sony didn’t squeeze the keyboard to fit in a touchpad. Instead there is a pointing stick which you can tap for a left mouse click. There are two small mouse buttons beneath the keyboard with a central one for scrolling.

Battery life was disappointing and we found we only got about an hour when using a SIM. We also tried a mobile broadband dongle and the system didn’t seem to like that at all, crashing often enough to be really irritating. In fact, running full Windows Vista might not have been a good choice for Sony. With 2GB of RAM, Vista struggles.

There is a Linux-powered ‘instant-on’ environment for those times when you don’t want to wait for full Windows to boot. That gets you into features like Web surfing, picture and video viewing, and music listening. It’ll cover entertainment needs, but if you want to write much text or be otherwise productive, you are probably going to need the Windows boot.Sony’s Vaio P first appeared about a year ago. It was a very cool looking, ultra small format, portable computer, with huge amounts of pizazz but poor usability and a high price. A year on and there is an update to the P series. Sadly the same general conclusion applies.

The new Vaio P is small format – the same size, in fact, as its predecessor at 120 x 19.8 x 245mm – and it weighs a shade over 600g. Popping the Vaio P into a bag is no bother, as it takes up hardly any more space than a paperback book. It comes in a range of vibrant colours: bright orange, lime green and the most violent of pinks you’ve ever seen. Or white and black if you want something less obtrusive.

It costs around £800 inc. VAT. You can get quite a lot of laptop computer for that money and, importantly, could buy two netbooks and have change.

We make the netbook comparison because under the hood the Vaio P has a lot in common with netbook specifications. The processor is an Intel Atom Z540. The operating system is Windows 7 Professional. There is 2GB RAM and a 64GB SSD flash drive. The SSD is PATA rather than SATA: all you really need to know about this is that PATA is older tech than SATA, used less often, and slower.

Ports and connectors run to two USB slots, an SD card slot, a Memory Stick card slot, VGA-out (which requires an adaptor) and a headphones jack. There is a Web camera, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi with support for 802.11 b, g and n. It is all very much in netbook territory.

Lifting the Vaio P beyond the purely netbook are a GPS and digital compass and support for mobile broadband, with connections allowing downloads to 7.2Mbps.

The screen, too, is way beyond what you’ll find in your average netbook. At 8-inches across diagonal corners and offering 1600 x 768 pixels it delivers a truly widescreen performance. However, at this resolution the rendering of text is very small, so that it is really difficult to see anything you are typing without increasing the font size to something so ridiculously large that you can’t really see enough vertical lines to keep context with what you are writing. There is a button on the keyboard for bringing the resolution down a notch to 1280 x 800, but this renders the display in a slightly fuzzy way and seems to us like a last-minute compromise option.

The keyboard is squeezed into a much smaller area than usual but fortunately the isolated key design makes it harder to miss your target keys than a contiguous key design would. There seems to be a certain fragility to the keys, though, and we’d have liked more quality in the build. We were able to type fairly quickly, but if you have large hands or are a heavy typist you might find the whole keyboard experience less than satisfactory.

There is no room for a touchpad. Instead there is a trackpoint between the G, B and H keys and a pair of mouse buttons on the bottom curve of the keyboard area. There is a small optical touchpad in the bezel on the right of the screen with left and right mouse buttons on the left bezel. This works quite well and is responsive enough.

Finally, it is worth commenting on battery life. The small battery did not manage more than three hours of video playback during testing. We can get more than that from a year-old Samsung netbook.

Company: Sony

Contact: 0845 6000 124

Sony's Vaio P is a stunning looking piece of kit. But we aren't so sure about its capabilities or its value for money. Neither cheap enough to compete with netbooks nor efficient enough to compete with notebooks, it is difficult to see where it really fits in.