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Over the last few years, I've had been through quite a few brands of laptop (Sony, Dell, Samsung, Acer) and there's no question: in future, it'd be Sony every time. They're fairly expensive compared to their competitors, but the old cliché "you get what you pay for" has a good deal of truth to it, and the FZ38M is absolutely no exception. In fact, I've been using mine for the past 2-3 years with virtually no problems whatsoever...that means it's lasted around 3 times longer than any other laptop I've used in the past.
First of all, it looks good; the black/silver mix is pretty nice. There's no paint to flake off, and the finish is pretty scratch-resistant (I've been carrying it to/from work for the past couple of years, and it's only got a couple). It's a shame that there are two pretty massive stickers either side of the mouse, but it's hardly a problem (I haven't tried taking them off in case they leave a mark). Despite being plastic, it feels extremely sturdy; in fact, I've dropped it a couple of times (not too far) and it's survived perfectly well. It's fairly average in terms of size & weight: I don't mind carrying it around (again, a few times a week), but if you're planning on travelling a lot it might be an idea to go for a smaller model - it would probably become a bit of a pain.
Setup is very straightforward - just turn it on and let it do it's stuff. The only problem (common to most brands) is that it comes preloaded with A LOT of stuff I really didn't want/need, so I had to spend about 30 mins uninstalling after I got it up and running - you can't really avoid this to be honest.
Performance is excellent. I mainly use mine for office-type work, so I often don't push it as much as some, but I can easily have 5 or so Office documents and 10+ browser windows open, with an antivirus program running in the background, without any noticeable decline in performance. I've never had any problems with memory-intensive graphics programs (admittedly, the few times I've used them). I'm currently running Windows 7 Professional, which it can handle easily.
The screen is better than any laptop I've had in the past. Nice resolution, and once you've experienced a backlit screen (which I think all VAIOs now feature) you'll never be able to go back. Sound quality from the built in speakers is decent; a bit tinny, weak bass, but no worse than any other laptop I've used in the past. The built-in camera is nothing to write home about; it's good enough for infrequent use, but if you're planning on doing a lot of Skype-ing, you'd probably be well-advised to buy a separate webcam. The built-in microphone (which I've barely used) isn't up to much; it's built into the screen, which means that it's quite a long way away so it really doesn't pick up much more than background noise. Again, I've never come across a laptop which copes any better.
It comes with a DVD+RW drive, which writes to DVD pretty slowly, but this is something which I've barely used. It's also Blu-ray compatible, but this isn't something which I've ever used. DVD playback is fine, but the sound of the disk spinning in the drive can get so loud that, if you don't have the volume up very high, it can drown out the sound; if you're going to want to play lots of DVDs, you might be advised to go for a different model. The media controls just above the keyboard are really useful: volume up/down, track forward/backward, pause/play, stop, custom; this works with Windows Media Player and Spotify, but to get it to work for iTunes, you actually have to have the window active when you press - a bit of a pain. The memory card slots at the front are fairly useful, but I don't have much cause to use them.
Unlike most laptops I've had, the FZ38M is extremely quiet. There's a very quiet hum throughout operation, but it doesn't really change with use; it's by far the quietest I've ever used. In fact, I've used it in the British Library reading room and not had any complaints, and they're usually VERY strict about laptop noise. Overheating isn't a problem either (I've noticed that this doesn't seem to be a problem with any Sony models); the base gets warm, but not hot - the main vent is at the side so you'll get no problems using it on your lap. I've only had to send it away to be repaired once: after about 2.5 years of use, the fan had got clogged with dust and it was starting to get a bit too warm - sent it back to Sony (it was still in its extended warranty) and had it back within a couple of days, working perfectly, and with a complementary screen wipe and tactful note hinting that the screen was filthy!
WLAN works perfectly, no problems. Only rarely use Bluetooth, but I've had no trouble with it.
The only problem is the battery. When I first got it, the capacity wasn't great; it would only last about 30 mins of average use. These days, it's down to about 5 mins, if I'm lucky. It's very clear that this is more a stationary laptop: if you want something to use on the go, this REALLY isn't what you're looking for.
All in all, I couldn't really be more happy with it. It easily beats any other laptop I've had in the past. It's lasted more than 3 years, with performance just as good as the day I bought it. It's a bit pricey, but I'm extremely pleased to have spent that much - it was absolutely worth it. I would say, though, that this isn't a laptop for use on the move: it's a bit too big, a bit too heavy, and its battery capacity is atrocious. If, however, you're planning to use it for general, everyday activities (office-type stuff, web browsing, multimedia playback) I couldn't recommend it more!