Product Type: Sony Netbook
Newest Review: ... there is no optical drive, making the creation of recovery and back-up discs tricky. I could have accepted this if Sony had seen fit... more
Portable to the extreme
Sony Vaio M Series VPC-M13M1E/W
Member Name: sandemp
Sony Vaio M Series VPC-M13M1E/W
Advantages: Looks good, very portable, wi - fi and bluetooth built in
Disadvantages: Gets hot, cannot cope with too many open windows or programs
The Sony Viao VPCM13M1E/W (henceforth known as the netbook) arrived securely packed a cardboard box along with the battery, power adapter, quick start guide, troubleshooting guide and safety guide. I was more than a little surprised that there wasn't an actual paper manual, there's something about a paper manual that makes it so much easier to glean information from than a digital copy. It probably wouldn't have been quite so bad if the quick start guide had been a tiny bit more detailed, but as someone who is quite technologically minded, I'm ashamed to say I struggled to work out how to insert the battery.
Looks-wise the netbook certainly appears more expensive than many of it's competitors. The top cover is a lovely glossy white, with the Viao label embossed in silver. The lid opens smoothly on two very sturdy hinges and I particularly like the way that instead of standing proud the screen sits behind the keyboard. The main body of the netbook is a matte silver, with the keys being painted silver. While the finish of the actual body looks stylish, I'm not so impressed with the finish on the keys. Although they look pretty good at this point I can't help but feel that the paint on the keys is a weak point and will begin to chip and flake sooner than I would hope.
The 10.1" (diagonal) backlit screen is bright and crystal clear, but it certainly does take a while to get used to the smaller size, especially as my main laptop has a 17" screen. What really surprised me was the size of the icons once the computer had switched on and booted up. I guess I was expecting the icons to be scaled down, but they're not, meaning that the desktop quickly becomes cluttered. Being in the wide-screen format with a resolution of 1024x600 watching films on the netbook is a delight, or would be if the built-in speakers had a little more oomph. Even at top volume audio is very low and a little flat, this can of course be improved by using either speakers of headphones, but is still a little disappointing from what I would consider a premium brand.
As with any new computer there was a set-up procedure that needed going through on the first switch on, which took about the same amount of time as it normally does, with several automatic reboots. Talking of switching on, I'm not that impressed with the power switch, rather than just being a case of pushing a button, you need to slide and hold the switch. While this does mean that the chances of accidentally catching the power button and switching it on are very much reduced, it's not really that intuitive. I also find it a little difficult to perform a "hard" reset on those few occasions when the netbook has locked up, as it's really not that comfortable holding the switch in place.
There is an important part of the set-up process that is actually quite difficult as with all netbooks there is no optical drive, making the creation of recovery and back-up discs tricky. I could have accepted this if Sony had seen fit to create a recovery partition that was available from boot up, but they don't, although apparently you can create your own or purchase recovery discs separately. I solved this problem by purchasing a portable external DVD writer for about the same price as the recovery discs would have cost, and the recovery disc creation process took just over an hour (including verifying the discs). I haven't yet needed to use these discs, so cannot comment on whether they work or how long the recovery process takes.
The one real selling point of this or any netbook is that it's considerably smaller, lighter and easier to carry than a conventional laptop. While this netbook is indeed small, measuring in at 28cm x 18cm, it's not quite as light as I was expecting. Weighing it at 1.4kg it really does feel a little more substantial than some of the cheaper netbooks I've had the pleasure of handling. This small size and and relatively low weight means that it's far easier to transport than more laptop, it can easily fit into a large handbag or even baby changing bag.
I've read reviews claiming that the start-up on this netbook is under a minute from switching on to being able use it, well in my experience it takes a lot longer than this. Before removing some of the bloated, processor hungry trial software start-up was taking anything up to six minutes, and even after editing the start-up to prevent these programs from loading start-up is somewhere between three and four minutes. The netbook comes with the operating systems Windows 7 Starter as standard, which is basically a cut down version of Windows 7 with some of the functions disabled. For example you cannot change either your wallpaper or screen saver and Microsoft Works is not included. You are given the opportunity to upgrade to standard Windows 7 Home, but this is for an extortionate premium, and so I haven't bothered.
Sony has seen fit to push several different programs on us by pre-installing trial software, including McAfee anti-virus in the form of a 60 day free update and Norton Online Backup (trial). Personally my anti-virus of choice is AVG, so I have deactivated McAfee and there's no way I would go near Norton with a barge pole so this has also been removed from the Start-up. Microsoft Office starter is also installed, which includes cut-down versions of Word and Excel, with extra advertising and the opportunity to upgrade at a cost. Once more I haven't actually bothered with these, instead downloading and installing OpenOffice, a free office suite that gives us the full functionality of Microsoft Office without having to pay their extortionate prices. But the most annoying aspect of the netbooks pre-installed software is their quick access toolbar. This toolbar is intrusive, takes an age to load as isn't all that useful. It gets in the way when trying to access short cuts and I really, really don't like it. Luckily it is possible to deactivate it, which is what I have done, shaving another minute off start-up time.
When it comes to actually using the netbook for typing out reviews, Cvs and letters, it does a reasonable enough job. Personally I find it quite hard to use the cut-size keyboard, although it is logically laid out, I find the keys are just too small and close together for me to be able to touch type. I would imagine that if I were to only use the netbook then I would get used to it, but I find it so frustrating that as soon as I get home I revert to my laptop. There's also something about the keys that leaves the impression that you need to press extra hard for them to work, although I can't quite put my finger on it. As far as the touch-pad goes, it has both it good and bad points. I do like the fact that it has a scroll function and by wiping my finger up and down on the right hand side I can scroll up and down pages. But I don't like the actual feel of the touch-pad, it has a texture to it that I can only describe as bumpy and I don't feel it is nearly as sensitive as it could be. I find the raised texture actually hinders accuracy and double tapping (the equivalent of a double click) doesn't always work as it should, meaning that more often than not I resort to using the two buttons that are equivalent to the left and right buttons on a mouse.
With a processor speed of just 1830Mhz and 1GB of RAM, I knew this wasn't going to be the fastest computer I had ever used, and I was right. While perfectly acceptable at standard tasks such as word processing, surfing the net and even reading and writing DVDs, it's certainly not suitable for anything other than the most basic of gaming and struggles with video processing. To be totally frank, it also struggles if you have multiple programs open or even if you open more than a couple of browser windows, slowing down almost to a stop. There's certainly no way that I could imagine this being the on computer in the house as it simply isn't powerful enough. More of a concern is how hot the netbook gets even with quite basic use, simply having it switched on is enough for it to heat up quite dramatically and it does get hot enough to be uncomfortable.
Where this netbook does excel is in it's connectivity options. It has all the standard connections, microphone, speakers, video out (which is brilliant for watching digital films and internet TV on a compatible TV), 3 USB connections and Ethernet along with both wireless and blue tooth. Some may say that the fact that there are only three USB connections is a disadvantage, but this does seem to be standard and I really like the fact that all three are arranged together along one side. This means that it's easy for me to connect my portable DVD writer which requires two USB connections for power and still leaves another USB port free for a memory stick. The wireless connection and manager is excellent, picking up both my router and home network with no problem. I especially liked the fact that when I first set the netbook up it recognised that I had a home network running and made setting the connection up easy, meaning that I had set up printer and file sharing within seconds. I also love the inclusion of a blue tooth adapter, meaning that files can easily be transferred to or from a phone without the need for an unsightly dongle. I find this connection to be reliable and relatively quick, although the speed of transfer does of course depend on the other device as well as the netbook.
Transferring files from a USB memory stick or any of the supported memory cards (oh yes it has an inbuilt memory card reader as well, which supports a limited number of types including Sony's propriety Duo) is not really that fastest of tasks. It's not that it's slow as such, but with the 250GB hard drive only running at 5400rpm rather than the more standard 7200rpm it's slower than I'm used to. The 250GB hard drive it plenty bit enough for most users, able to hold thousands of photos, music tracks and even some videos. However, as with any computer you don't actually get the full 250GB, partly because of the way the industry tends to classify 1GB as 1000MB rather than 1024MB and partly because the operating system takes up a percentage of that space. You do however get a good 200GB+ to fill with your files and unlike many manufacturer's Sony does allow you to create a partition if you should so wish.
Another nice touch is the inclusion of a built-in web cam, which is basic with very low resolution (we're talking 640x480 or VGA). In good light it does a pretty reasonable job for video calling, the picture is a little blocky and the built in monaural microphone is a little fuzzy, but all in all you are recognisable and can be heard. You can also use it to take some poor quality photos and there are a number of "fun" frames and effects that you can use to jazz your photo up.
Although I'm a little disappointed with the battery life, it is still far superior to anything my laptop has ever been capable of. With the wireless and blue tooth switched on and screen at standard brightness, a full battery will last anything up to four hours between charges when word processing and surfing the web. Performing more processor hungry tasks or continually accessing the hard drive will reduce this to just over three hours, which is still pretty good, while turning the wireless and blue tooth off and adjusting the power settings will extend this to just over six hours. It's also relatively quick to charge, filling the battery from empty in just over an hour. One thing I do like that saves battery life is that it is very easy to switch the wireless on and off via a switch on the front rather than having to press a combination of keys on the keyboard.
As with any computer this will not survive being abused by being thrown around the room and so we have been careful with it. We have, however, moved it from room to room, taken it out with us and it has on one occasion been investigated by one very inquisitive toddler. I must say that it held up to that investigation very well, obviously there were a few fingerprints but they were easily cleaned off the screen. I particularly like that the white exterior doesn't seem to attract either dirt or dust and is easy to keep clean. So far so good with the screen too, I haven't noticed any dead pixels and even though I did have concerns about the coating on the keys flaking it hasn't happened in the month we've owned it.
This is a reasonable netbook that we purchased for a reasonable price and in the main I am very happy with it. It does, however, have a few problems, including the fact that the touch pad is not as sensitive as I would like and getting hot even without processor intensive use. But I will say that as long as you are not expecting the speed and functionality of a standard PC or laptop then you really can't go far wrong. It looks smart, has a reasonable battery-life, is great for listening to music or watching films on the go (with the addition of headphones/speakers), highly portable and with a little tweaking perfect for browsing the web. We're even planning to take it on holiday with us so that we can watch digital films when our toddler has gone to bed.
And so I'm giving the Sony Viao VPCM13M1E/W four stars out of five, and recommend it as a second computer for those looking for something highly portable to perform basic computer tasks on the go. Only I would also recommend purchasing a portable DVD writer to go with it, if only for the fact that it's almost as cheap as buying the recovery discs.
Summary: Not a bad netbook at all.
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