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Until this year, my mum and dad shared a computer. The arguments about access became too much for my mum and she decided to get her own laptop. As the designated family IT person, I was tasked to find, purchase, and install a laptop (under her supervision, of course!).
Use of the laptop was limited to internet access, watching the occasional DVD, as well as running some relatively undemanding software, so the specification did not need to be too high.
What was important, however, was a large screen with good definition, and sufficient processing power and memory to run Windows Vista without any annoying pauses or delays (my mum has even less patience than myself!).
I was also instructed that the laptop must 'look nice' as it was to be treated as an item of 'furniture' for the living room. With the medium specification required, I knew that I could find a stylish, reasonably powerful laptop for a reasonable amount of money.
I logged on to the internet and came up with a short list of several options. Each had the required specification and, to my eyes 'looked nice'. Mum quickly rejected all but one of my choices: the Sony Vaio NR38S/S.
The Sony caught her eye due to its stylish construction with gentle flowing curves and silver colour. She pronounced that this was the one she wanted. It was the most expensive of the laptop's I'd selected, however, at a cost of £700.
Upon arrival, we could see that, on appearance anyway, she'd made the right choice. Sony is famed for their stylish products and the Vaio is no exception to this. The brand name is engraved in large script on the top, and the silver case is textured to giving a nice feel.
The laptop is quite lightweight, but despite this feels extremely solid; it oozes quality and careful construction.
The laptop has a Core2Duo processor (T5750) running at 2GHz, with 2Gb of RAM (enough to run Vista comfortably). A mobile graphics accelerator is also built in, giving enough power to run some of the less demanding games if required. This has 128Mb of dedicated video RAM (so the machine does not have to use any of its 2Gb of main memory).
The screen is simply superb. It has a resolution of 1280 x 800 with a 15.4 inch diameter and crystal clear definition and is a joy to use. There are no dead pixels, the text is tack sharp and readable, and pictures look glorious in full colour.
A Recordable DVD drive and a hard drive running at 5400 rpm offering a more than generous 250Gb capacity completed the laptop's features.
As with most PC's with Vista installed, final installation of the operating system is left to the new owner. This was completely straightforward, and took around an hour to complete.
Once installation had been finished, a positive impression of the laptop's speed was immediately gained. From switching on to booting up was completed within about 35 seconds, quite fast for a laptop with this specification.
Sony are as guilty as many other PC manufacturers in installing extra software. The laptop was loaded with these 'extras', most (but not all) of which are completely useless: 585Mb of Sony software is installed in total. Unfortunately, many of these are set to run automatically in the background, using up resources, slowing the machine up. A further half an hour was spent removing these irritations ensuring a relatively 'clean' installation.
In use, I found the the Vaio's keyboard to be of a good quality. The keys are flat and do not depress far, but have a positive action. I'm quite fast at typing, and found I could use this keyboard at a fair speed without errors.
The touchpad was also acceptable in use: fast and accurate enough to use on a daily basis. Knowing mum would struggle, however, we'd bought a 'proper' USB mouse instead.
Testing the laptop for several days before handing it over, I did find a flaw with the Vaio. The speakers are very poor quality. Not only are they not very loud, when adjusted to the highest setting, distortion sets in. Watching a DVD on the laptop was not a pleasant experience without external speakers (which can be connected). This is typical of many laptops, however.
There was a slight problem with the DVD drive too, the door mechanism was slightly too sensitive. Upon shutting the door after inserting a disc, the door sometimes opened again; slightly annoying.
With external speakers fitted, watching a DVD became a pleasurable experience. The large, high resolution screen gave an excellent picture and with the screen close to the viewer, was great to watch. There was no sign of jerking or of break up of the picture in use, smooth DVD playback was evident.
As perhaps expected of Sony, the laptop was almost silent in use. When the internal fan started, there was a slight increase in noise, but this was not really noticeable in use. Heat is expelled from the right hand side of the unit, so can be felt if a hand is positioned there, but again it is not too noticeable.
I was really pleased with the performance of the Vaio. Knowing its intended use, I tested it with internet access, anti-virus searches, and some of mum's software. Using Vista was a smooth experience. There were no noticeably long delays with launching or running programs and, when the anti-virus was running, no slowdown was evident (I installed AVG Free, which utilises the second core of a dual core processor, leaving the other core to run the user's software).
The laptop contains all of the expected connection ports including four USB sockets, PC Card slot, external monitor connector, headphone jack, and LAN socket.
Software supplied with the machine is very miserly indeed. A thirty day trial of McAfee Internet Security suite (uninstalled straight away and replaced with AVG Free), a DVD player, and a load of other utilities are all that's provided. A pre-installed version of Microsoft Office is installed, but in order to use this, a licence must be purchased.
The battery life is reported as 2.5 hours and, in use, the battery did seem to last well. My use indicated that, with normal applications, the power could last about two hours. If playing DVD's, the power will last much less than this, however.
After a week, I (reluctantly) handed it over to its new owner. Mum was really pleased with her new purchase (and having her own computer at last). She got straight into using it, accessing the internet, after complaining her favourites weren't there (oops!), and running her software.
Within an hour or so, she was completely comfortable with the laptop and pronounced it 'much better' than dad's PC. The built-in wireless connectivity meant that she is not tied to one place to use her computer; she can base herself in the living room, but move around as required.
She loves the screen, likes the keyboard, and is really happy with the performance. Most of all, she is happy with the style. When not in use, it sits in the corner on a coffee table, looking quite attractive (so does not detract from her 'décor').
The Sony NR38S/S is an attractive, stylish, mid-priced laptop that is ideally suited to internet/email use, watching the occasional DVD, and playing the less demanding games. Anyone in the market for a laptop that has the style to go with performance, could do worse than look at this model.