* Prices may differ from that shown
Some people in this life are lucky and some aren't and, unfortunately, I fall in to the latter category. I have never once won anything of any significance so I'm sure you can imagine my joy when I won a Sony VAIO in the last week of CIAO's end of summer bonus programme. I had never had any previous experience of Sony VAIOs and after a quick internet search I discovered there were loads available ranging from a small notebook all the way through to an all singing, all dancing top of the range multimedia laptop.
The winners' email didn't confirm what VAIO I had won and I had to wait and see what arrived. After a three week wait, and it was a long three weeks I can tell you, I got the package and eagerly ripped it open to see what was inside. The VAIO I had won was the VPCW11S1E notebook.
Having owned this VAIO for a few weeks now and having rigorously put it through its paces and used it for many hours, I thought I had better review it. After all, it was a review site that brought the Sony VAIO VPCW11S1E together so it would be rude not to.......
****In the box****
In the box is the VAIO, a power supply, the battery (which obviously needs inserting in to the VAIO) and a thin cloth bag in which to store the VAIO.
There are no software driver discs as everything is pre-installed when you buy it, besides the VAIO doesn't have an internal disc drive. On one hand having no discs is great since you never have the "Now where did I put that disc?" moment but if you have to go through a total restore then there could be a few problems.
There are no instructions since these are also accessed via the VAIO itself. Personally, I prefer an instruction booklet as I find clicking on thumb nails and scrolling through loads of pages cumbersome and tedious. In addition, the search facilities are generally quite useless.
***Size and dimensions****
The notebook is tiny and measures 179.6mm x 267.8mm x 32.4mm, and weighs a mere 1.19kg complete with battery. At these dimensions the notebook is clearly portable, but then that is what they are designed for.
The keyboard is very small which is to be expected. The VAIO's keyboard buttons are very flat and after having a look around a local Currys at other notebooks (including Dell, ACER, HP and the like) this seems to be quite unique since all the other notebooks I looked at contained keys the same depth as normal laptops and desktop keyboards. I suppose it is the flatter keys that allow this VAIO to be so thin, hence making it even more portable.
When I first starting using the notebook, I found my typing took a definite turn for the worse. I found that with such flat keys you have to be deadly accurate and get rid of any "fat finger" syndrome very quickly as my word documents became riddled with typos and errors. With lots of perseverance and using the VAIO the errors and typos are soon eradicated but it was a long and arduous task and there were times when I was close to giving up.
According to the box the screen is a "x-black LCD with LED technology" whatever that means. The screen is tiny, as you'd expect and measures 10.1 inches from diagonal to diagonal. The resolution is 1366 x 768 and it is 16:9, i.e. a wide screen. I have to confess that the screen is absolutely spot on and very clear and on par with my Dell Inspiron 6400 multimedia laptop, which is quite impressive.
The picture quality when watching video clips and movies is clear and sharp and much better than many portable DVD players I have seen. Despite the screen being clear and of excellent quality it is just too small and I frequently find myself squinting and frowning at it, which is definitely not good, and as I am short sighted in the first place I don't really want to make the condition any worse. I can foresee prolonged use of this notebook is likely to turn me in to Mr Magoo.
The small screen displays exactly the same information that would appear if a larger screen was used, it is just much smaller. For example, if I was looking at the Ebay homepage on the Inspiron and the VAIO at the same time both screens would look identical with the same information displayed. It's just that I would easily see the Inspiron, whereas on the VAIO I would be squinting. Personally, I think it would be better if the writing on the VAIO was larger (and more readable) and I had to scroll the screen down more to see everything.
Some sites, the ones where the information is in the middle of the screen and there are advertisements and menus all around the borders, such as IGN or IMBD, are a nightmare as it generally involves bringing the screen right up to my face to stop squinting and this is definitely not good for me.
****Operating system and included software****
This VAIO comes complete with Windows XP Home, and whilst this is not the most modern and up-to-date operating system it is, in my opinion, the best one (although I have yet to try the new Windows 7) so I was more than happy when I first fired the notebook up. I was half expecting Vista, which I absolutely hate, and needing to go and change it to XP so I was glad.
The software with the package includes Windows Media Player (for audio, video and TV, and photo), VAIO media plus for home networking and Adobe reader 9. There is also the VAIO recovery utility - HDD recovery, should the messy stuff really hit the fan.
Media player is not my software of choice as I believe there are better alternatives out there, but that said it is one of the better complete and all in one packages available and since I will not be using the VAIO for multimedia entertainment I am not going to bother putting additional software on it, besides the lack of a disc drive makes adding software a chore.
The VAIO also comes with McAfee Internet Security Suite with 60 days free virus update. When I purchased the Inspiron I received three years virus protection from McAfee, and even current computer purchases include a year or two, so I consider the 60 day trial to be a bit tight. The VAIO is not a cheap piece of kit so I thought Sony would have been a bit more generous with the virus protection included in the package.
The VAIO has an Intel Atom processor N280 with enhanced Intel speedstep technology. Not being a real techno geek I am not entirely sure what this means, but the bit I do understand, i.e. the 1.66 GHz processor, means that this VAIO is quite a powerful little beast and fairly fast. I say fairly fast because it doesn't seem to run as quick as my laptop which also has a 1.66GHz processor, which surprises me a bit.
I guess I am being a bit harsh in the above as I find the processing speed of the VAIO more than adequate for what I ask it to do.
****Memory and data transfer****
This VAIO has a 160GB hard drive, which I consider quite impressive. However, I am struggling to see why a notebook requires such a large memory. In my opinion this VAIO is really an executive tool for creating/editing/reviewing documents on the train or plane, or an item that people on the move would use for internet browsing since it is basically a powerful pocket surfer, although a much more expensive alternative.
On the front of this VAIO there are various card slots that enable you to transfer data to and from the VAIO. The single SD card slot means that you can obviously use SD cards, but with the use of an adaptor you can also use micro SD cards, micro SDHC cards, XD cards and all other cards that are compatible with an SD card adaptor. In addition there is also a single slot for the memory stick duo and memory stick pro duo for high speed data transfer. For those of you that prefer the tried and tested USB style pen drives and flash drives there are two USB ports (the higher speed USB 2.0) on the right hand side of the VAIO, which can also be used for other USB type peripherals.
I must admit that I am very impressed with the amount of different memory cards this VAIO is compatible with as there is something to cater for all needs. However, the amount of cards that can be used does not make up for the lack of a disc drive in my opinion.
****Connectivity and internet use****
This VAIO has an integrated wireless LAN with a range of 100m. This means you can wirelessly connect to any network and use the VAIO almost anywhere in the house, unless you live in a mansion that is.
Once connected to the internet I find the speed whilst internet browsing is very good and on par with my Inspiron, with no noticeable time delay or undue waiting whilst internet pages are loading up. Downloading small Freeware software, on the other hand, is much slower, which surprised me somewhat. How can this VAIO be so fast when internet browsing and suddenly become so slow when downloading? It just doesn't make any sense to me, but given I only use the VAIO for typing up reviews and browsing on the move this doesn't really affect me that much.
The VAIO has built in blue tooth allowing it to be paired up with a whole host of blue tooth enabled peripherals such as head phones and microphones, mobile phones, blue tooth enabled printers and my Polaroid Pogo. Pairing the notebook to a device is exceptionally easy and very quick, via the 'usual' pairing process. The blue tooth range is 10m, which does not appear that good but I find it more than adequate. The only problems I have with this is printing to my blue tooth enabled printer, which is in a room more than 10m from the lounge (where I usually use the VAIO) but as the notebook is so light and portable it is no real hassle taking the VAIO to the printer.
For those of you that do not have a wireless enabled network, or prefer to use an ether-net cable there is an ether-net port on the right hand side of the VAIO.
For those of you who like to use webcams the VAIO has a built in digital camera with the motion eye and motion picture features. The camera gives a maximum resolution of 640 x 480 (VGA) and is 0.3 megapixels and can capture a maximum of 30 frames per second.
Webcams aren't something I regularly use however, after having a play with the one in the VAIO I may actually start as I am quite impressed with the motion eye and picture feature. By using the Archsoft camera software (pre-installed) I managed to get myself up on screen to test the camera and how it works. At 0.3 megapixels the picture quality, clarity and sharpness isn't that clear but given the camera isn't designed to take good quality still pictures this isn't such a problem, besides I could clearly make out it was me. There was a time delay in my movements being transferred to the screen but this happens with all webcams so it is not that unexpected. The time delay wasn't actually that long and I was quite impressed. Rapid movements create a blurred image on the screen, but again I understand this is a common flaw in all webcams .
Sound is adjusted by pressing the Fn key plus F3 to decrease the volume and F4 to increase the volume. The volume range is small and goes from exceptionally quiet to quiet. The quality is also poor and there is the "white noise hum" throughout the range, which is not really acceptable when the product cost so much money. Even with headphones in the notebook the sound quality and volume is poor, regardless of the headphones used.
I must confess I was surprised by the poor sound. Given the excellent screen and the massive internal memory I would have thought that this VAIO would be ideal to store a load of MP3s and movies for respectively listening to and watching for those on the go, therefore I thought the volume and quality of the sound would be near the top of the priorities, but I am obviously way of the mark here.
The VAIO uses an internal lithium-ion battery as you'd expect. The box states that from a full charge the user should expect 160 minutes of continuous use, obviously depending on what you are using the VAIO for. If writing word documents or constructing spreadsheets you will obviously get longer use than if you were watching a movie or listening to music.
In my opinion the battery life is rubbish as it is just too short. Think about it. How long do you spend in an airport waiting for a flight? How long do you spend on a bus or train? Living in Norwich and taking the train to London takes 90 minutes (if on the faster train with few stops) or 110 minutes (if you are on the train that stops at almost every station) and these times are providing the train is running on time, which most of the time it is not. The 90 minute battery life means I can use the VAIO for the journey to the city but for just an hour on the way back, unless I can charge it up whilst in the city, which is not usually possible. Besides, the whole rationale behind these items is that they are portable and easily carried around so if you need to take a power pack that concept kind of goes out of the window if you ask me.
****Price and availability****
As you are aware this VAIO was gratis, free, nada and I owe CIAO a big thank you for this. However, for those of you who are not as fortunate as myself I thought I would have a quick look on the internet to see just how any pennies consumers are going to need to part with to get their hands on one.
At the time of writing the VAIO VPCW11S1E can be bought for as little as £268.33 from PriceLover.com and as much as £344.00 from MISCO UK. This is a huge price differential and I would strongly suggest shopping around for the best deal.
The PriceLover.com price seems too good to be true in my opinion (although I have never had any dealings with this organisation) and the best price from a source I implicitly trust is £299.99 from Amazon.co.uk.
As far as notebooks go the VAIO is a nice product and appears to be highly rated compared to other notebooks on the market, however does it really have everything the average computer user needs? Like everything there are many positives and negatives to the VAIO and in my opinion these include;
i) Small, compact, light weight and easily transportable
ii) Looks sleek, stylish and the part
iii) Compatible with loads of different types of media card
iv) Great quality, high resolution wide screen
v) The option of wireless internet or ether-net connection
vii) It's fast and is great for browsing the internet
viii) Has a blue tooth feature and easy to pair up with other devices
ix) Good built in webcam with appropriate motion features
i) The flat buttons take a bit of getting used to
ii) The screen is just too small and encourages squinting
iii) The battery life is far too short
iv) No disc drive means installing programmes etc is a chore
v) Very poor sound
Would I recommend this VAIO? That is a difficult one and it really depends on what your own requirements are. If you want a computer to do some work, course work or something like that on the train, bus, in a coffee shop etc. Then this is the ideal product since it is light and portable. In addition, you really will look the part since it is a sleek and stylish looking machine. However, you must remember that the physical dimensions of this product does require some compromises, and that includes a very small screen and relatively "flat" buttoned keyboard, although some may see this as a small price to pay.
If you prefer using a laptop at home purely for the reasons of mobility around the house and the option to take it away with you should you wish, then I would not recommend this VAIO as an upgrade.
(This review has been posted on other sites under the name of yackers1)