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If you've ever seen the adverts for Carphone Warehouse, and sympathised for the poor little mobile who was cast aside and forced to live on the streets when his owner bought a flash new phone, you will probably really feel for my old Dell Inspiron 1100. At the moment, it's tucked away on a shelf in a cabinet, far enough in so that no light falls upon in. It can see out, but it's shrouded in darkness, forlorn and rather grumpy at times. No one has played with it since February and it seems that no one is likely to play with it again, seeing as its A/C power adapter managed to break twice, and at £50 a pop for a new one, it hardly seems worth it.
Most definitely not hiding away in the shadows, is my lovely new Sony Vaio VGN-SZ2HP/B. I say new, but I bought it in August, and the new SZ3HP/B is already available to pre-order from Sony, at roughly the same price. The Sony Vaio range is cutting edge stuff, and keeps evolving to combine technical wizardry with aesthetic appeal. My little Vaio, or "my baby" as I have been heard to call it, is a thing of beauty. If you thought that iBooks and MacBooks were the only pretty laptops that had been invented to date, the newer Vaio series will change your opinion.
My particular machine is made of a lightweight magnesium alloy, which is beautiful to look at and also practical. Before buying this laptop, I did visit one of its siblings in the shops and spent a good ten minutes trying to scratch it, carefully avoiding the wrath of the sales assistant, all in the name of research, and this proved impossible. Granted, if you try something like a sharp blade, you'll probably be able to injure this lovely creature, but in daily usage, you're going to find it hard to scuff or scratch.
The lid, when closed, displays the instantly recognisable Vaio logo. It's in a silver colour, contrasted with the brushed black lid and base. When you open up the laptop, you'll notice that the main part of the laptop housing the keyboard is of a silver colour, and the black and silver combination really is quite stylish.
The lid itself is very thin - about half a centimetre, I'd wager. This doesn't mean that the monitor is rubbish, far from it - using Sony's X-black LCD technology, the screen delivers a sharp, accurate image with spot on lighting and contrast. If you turn the computer to an angle, you can still read what's on the screen - the colour doesn't seem weird and the picture doesn't blur. What this translates to really, is that if you're having a night in watching a DVD with friends, everyone can watch the movie properly. If the picture looks bizarre, then you know it was meant to look that way!
The monitor is 13.3", which equates to a 1280 x 800 resolution. For most people, this is big enough. I would ordinarily prefer a bigger screen area to work with, but for the sheer joy of having a beautiful featherlight machine, I've made that sacrifice. This computer is seriously portable - it comes in at a piddly 1.69kg. I can carry my Vaio everywhere without getting sore arms. Definitely designed for travel.
The keyboard is a regular Qwerty one, with a couple of buttons above it - S1, S2, power settings, wireless switch and power on/off button. S1 and S2 are just spare function keys to which you can assign a command; the power settings have two options, stamina (for longer battery life) and speed (self explanatory); the wireless switch enables or disables the wireless adapter and the on/off button, quite surprisingly, turns the computer on or off. I find that the keyboard is easy to use - I have a typing speed of around 80wpm and using this keyboard has not put any sort of dent in that speed - but you should be aware that it's one of those keyboards that favours flatter keys to the big fat chunky ones. If you're not a brilliant typist, you might prefer the slightly clunkier ones that other models may offer.
On the right side of the computer, there's a dial up point, ethernet point, 2 USB points and a DVD-RW drive. On the left, microphone, earphone, memory stick and card reader slots all feature. I don't personally use the card slots as I don't currently use that sort of media, so can't comment on those. Useful feature for some people though, I'll wager.
The battery life is supposed to last up to 5 hours, and I can just about agree with that. It seems to me that it does take a good while longer to charge the battery to 100% than with other machines, but I suppose that's the trade off for a longer lasting battery.
If you know a thing or two about computers, you might think that a processor speed of 1.66Ghz, 80Gb hard disk and 1Gb RAM don't really tally with the hefty price tag that this model demands, but that's partially because you're buying into the brand. If you decided to ditch Sony and find comparable specs elsewhere, I'd expect you to maybe save a £100 or thereabouts. However, I doubt you'd find something as compact and portable.
To give you an idea of what this laptop can do, I like to watch TV on it, whilst having a million windows open in Paint Shop Pro (a graphics editing program) and surfing the internet using two different browsers (with lots of tabs open in one of them). My little Vaio doesn't complain; it just gets on with the job.
In terms of software, this does vary depending on who you buy the Vaio from. Sony Style tend to give you a better selection, but they're also the most expensive retailer (which is a bit odd, given that they make their own laptops). Mine came with Windows XP preinstalled, some Adobe software, Google programs, a few months free of Norton antivirus and various trial programs. All in all, not a generous offering (and the choice to install Google Earth was a trifle random, I felt) but I did make the choice to save a couple of hundred pounds by going elsewhere.
Another little feature of the SZ2HP/B is the inbuilt webcam, which is just above the monitor. The picture quality is not terribly flattering, but that's to be expected from a webcam! It's a little bonus for those of you who use Skype or similar, to keep in touch with friends and relatives around the world.
Anti-shock technology (G-Sensor HDD Shock Protection) comes with the Vaio, which means that if you handle it a bit too roughly, the hard disk protects itself and you don't lose any data.
If you'd like to get your hands on one of these lovely creatures, I recommend waiting for the SZ3HP/B to come out, as it does come with a few minor improvements (an extra 20gigs of hard disk, amongst others) and the price will be comparable. Wait for Vista if you can - I had to buy my laptop when I did, because I was in desperate need of one, but it's worth timing your purchase to co-incide with the newest technology releases.
I paid roughly £1300 for my Vaio, and I'd do the same again (albeit using a different company - as you can tell from my review of Comet Online, they're not worth using!) as I'm really pleased with it.
"My VAIO is more than just a PC. It's a means to access and interact with the world through the web, DVD, music and video. My VAIO is part of me," claims Gavin from the UK.
"My VAIO is my right hand and left hand. It's my main business tool for which I demand reliability and it's at the same time my most important creative tool," raves Justin.
Just a couple of quotes from Club Vaio, and ones that I can empathise with.
If you want a practical PC laptop that is also portable and stylish, definitely go down the Vaio route and get yourself something from the SZ series. Recommended.