Sony – Vaio PCG-SRX41P review

ultra-portable sub-notebook
Photo of Sony – Vaio PCG-SRX41P
£1,430 + VAT

The Vaio PCG-SRX41P is not quite the smallest notebook PC from the Sony stable. That accolade belongs to the tiny, wide-screen C-series, but the SRX41P is considerably smaller and lighter than most rival manufacturers’ notebook offerings. It tips the scales at just 1.26kg and its dimensions are 25.6 x 19.4 x 2.8cm. A development of its distinctive SR21 and SR31 predecessors, the SRX41P is smaller, lighter and has been subtly restyled to look more conventional, yet just as sleek and stylish.

Under the bonnet beats a low-voltage 800MHz Mobile Intel Pentium III CPU, mated to 256MB of PC100 memory. When running on batteries, the CPU automatically throttles back to a 500MHz maximum clock rate. Intel’s next-generation ‘deep-sleep’ SpeedStep power-saving technology is used to good effect and we achieved just over four hours of continuous use. A larger battery is available that can almost double the up-time.

As standard you get Sony’s implementation of Bluetooth, plus an integrated WLAN 802.11b wireless networking port. Sony’s i.Link version of FireWire IEEE1394 is also provided (with proprietary power out connector), plus a single USB1.1 port. There are 3.5mm stereo headphone and mic sockets plus stereo speakers.

The SRX41P is legacy-free, so there are no conventional serial or parallel ports, no infra red and not even PS/2 mouse/keyboard ports or a conventional external monitor port. Instead there is a mini connector that accommodates a monitor adapter lead.

There is one Type I/II CardBus PCMCIA slot and a Sony Magic Gate Memory Stick slot. You will also find neat, if rather flimsy, doors protecting a PSTN RJ11 modem port and a 10/100 Ethernet RJ45 port.

A 10.4-inch TFT panel hosts an SVGA resolution (1024 x 768) screen. With barely more than half the area of a 14.1-inch screen, anyone with uncorrected sight will have problems, though this bespectacled reviewer found the screen adequate, especially as it has a wide viewing angle. One complaint is that when running on batteries the screen backlight is automatically dimmed considerably, making the screen difficult to read in anything but shady conditions. And 3D games don’t run well on the SRX41P’s simple video hardware.

The SRX41P keyboard takes some getting used to. It’s a couple of centimetres narrower than a typical desktop replacement laptop keyboard, but the biggest problem is the arrangement of the right hand shift and arrow keys. As the arrow key cluster has not been relocated to make room for the shift key, it’s only a single keytop width and it’s too easy to hit the up arrow key instead. Home, Page Up/Down and End functions are doubled up on the arrow keys. There is no trackpoint control, but if you like touch pads, the SRX41P is a good example. It also features an integrated jog/dial style control which links to a Sony utility.

The only drive you’ll find inside the SRX41P is its 30GB hard disk. The thin case means its clicking and clunking can be surprisingly loud when the surroundings are quiet. The screen backlight also buzzes noticeably. A neat 16-speed PCMCIA interfaced external CD ROM drive is available but only as a £188 + VAT option, as is an external floppy unit for £59+VAT. You can also opt for a £335 + VAT DVD/CD i.Link combo unit, which is also available bundled with a slightly different version of this computer, called the SRX51P.

While a 800MHz Pentium III is no longer considered racy, it’s adequate for most typical office and productivity applications. Sony supplies the SRX41P loaded with Windows XP Professional, but there is no additional software bundle apart from a collection of Sony multimedia and digital music apps. Some of these apps can remotely control some Sony camcorders via i.Link.

Company: Sony

Contact: 0990 424424


Verdict
Despite the screen size, legacy freedom constraints and keyboard compromises, the SRX41P is actually a marvellous little beast. Its lightness and battery thrift are a delight and overall performance is more than adequate. On top of that, the SRX41P is stylish and practical. For anyone who needs to travel with a laptop frequently, the SRX41P has to be considered, despite its relatively high cost.