When Sony told me they had a Vaio P ready to send out to me, I was more excited about it than any other device I’ve tested in a while. Having converted to the netbook faithful with an HP Mini 1000 a few months ago, I was looking forward to trying out Sony’s attempt.
The design really does trump every other netbook on the market, and is extremely reminiscent of their PictureBook series of ultraultraportables from a few years ago. It is thinner than my Mini 1000, not to mention less wide and deep. It doesn’t even make it to 700g! This thing is seriously light, and seriously portable. Have you seen the ads of the girl with the P in her back pocket? It really is that slim. I tried it, and it works (though admittedly, looks better on the girl in the ad :P)
Open up the display and you’re greeted by a very-widescreen and a keyboard that isn’t as small as you were expecting.
The display is only 8” wide, but packs a whopping 1600×768 display, easily besting every netbook on the market, including the HP 2133/2140. The display is stunning, and with that high-resoltuion it is extremely sharp too. Windows comes set at 144dpi by default (normal PC’s are set at 96dpi), and after dropping it back to 96dpi, I was ready to go blind. 144dpi makes things a little too big (and screen real estate a bit too small), and have ended up setting it on 120dpi.
The problem with a display this wide is that most activities don’t need a screen with such a crazy horizontal to vertical ratio. Word documents have great borders around them, as do websites and photos. Only anamorphic widescreen movies can take advantage of this width, and admittedly they do look damned good!
In my opinion, the keyboard on a netbook really makes or breaks it, since portable websurfing and document creation is really what these units are all about. Fortunately, the P doesn’t disappoint, including a fabulous keyboard that makes use of even square millimetre of the available space. While the keys aren’t full sized, they are tic-tacs either, and I haven’t had any trouble typing up documents (including this one) on it. The keys have a solid feel and good feedback, and for the most part are where you expect them to be.
To give the keyboard the most room possible, there is no touchpad. Instead, Sony have returned to the faithful old track-stick in between the G, H and B keys. Back when I had a Toshiba laptop (many years ago now) I was a fan of the track-stick, but when I bought my first Dell and transitioned to the touchpad I switched sides. Using the track-stick feels a bit weird, but after a few days of use I’ve gotten the hang of it again, just takes practise. I think it is a worthy trade-off, since it keeps the size down considerably.
Port selection is sparse, almost to the level of the MacBook Air! On the left is an AC plug, USB port and 3.5mm headphone jack, on the right is another USB port and a dock connector, and on the front is an SD slot, MS slot, a wireless on/off switch and the power switch.
One of the coolest things about the P is the looks that it gets when you pull it out just about anywhere (whether it be in your back pocket on in a bag). As I sit here in the coffee shop writing this, I can hear the couple at the table next to me chatting with each other about how cool and tiny it looks. It’s not the first time either. I’ve only had this thing for 4 days and everytime I’ve pulled it out (be it at uni, at the coffee shop or at a friends place) I’ve been asked about it at least once, and had people pass the table staring at it. The only other unit that elicited such interest was the HTC Shift.
So the hardware is cool, as you can see from the photos, but how does it perform? Well the P has been inflicted with an OS that was never designed to run on consumer-grade hardware, the flop known as Vista. To be honest, Vista isn’t that bad when running on good hardware with plenty of RAM, but the P doesn’t have a Core 2 Duo, it’s stuck with Atom. Whilst Atom runs Windows XP and 7 brilliantly, it just isn’t up to the task of offering a smooth Vista experience. I recently had the opportunity to test Sony’s $5000 top-of-the-line beast, the Z27, which had a Core 2 Duo 2.53Ghz Processor, 4GB RAM and Windows Vista 64-bit edition and it was silky smooth.
It is the opposite on the P. It is slow to switch between windows, flash and picture-laden sites take a long time to load (and are sluggish to use) even on a good connection, and it takes a long time to cold-boot or resume from hibernate (I’ve since disabled hibernation). It’s 64GB SSD and 2GB just can’t help it. Somehow it gets a WEI (Windows Experience Index) of 3.0, shows how reliable of an indicator that is…
Since Sony include a recovery partition on their notebooks, I decided to wipe Vista and give Windows 7 a try. It took under 30mins to install off a USB drive, and everything except the graphics card and one unknown device was recognised. The graphics card was easily fixed using Windows Update, but the unknown device remains, and I’m not 100% sure what it is since nothing seems to be missing from the system.
Performance of Windows 7 is leaps and bounds ahead of Vista. Programs open quickly and smoothly, changing windows works well, and I was even able to play the 1080p Star Trek trailer I downloaded without any hickups whatsoever (see for yourself in the video above)! If you buy a Vaio P, load Windows 7, it is just better.
I think the battery life suffers due to Vista as well, as I’ve noticed a marked improvement in battery performance on notebooks loaded with Vista that I’ve loaded with Windows 7 Rc1 (7100). Vista just suckles on the CPU to run, chewing the power, and as such the P’s battery life on the stock battery isn’t much over 2hrs. I haven’t had Windows 7 on it long enough to test it’s battery performance, but based on experience it will probably at 30-50% more runtime.
I’ve been leaving the issue of price till last, since I feel it’s the only other issue the P faces. Here in Australia the RRP is around $1400 (edit: see below), which is twice the price of other netbooks (such as the Mini 1000 I bought), and I’m not going to argue whether it is overpriced or not. Personally, I’d be willing to swallow the price, since it is so small and light, runs Windows 7 like a dream, has the best screen of any netbook, and simply looks so damned cool!!
I’ve only had the P for 4 days, but I am facing a serious dilemma: do I buy one? The more I use it, the more I’m moving to the answer: yes.
Specifications of the unit I tested (the VGN-P15G) can be found here to avoid any confusion: http://www.sony.com.au/product/vgn-p15g
Edit 2009-05-25: I just realised I made an error above regarding the price. $1400 is the RRP of the base 1.33Ghz model with 60GB drive. The model I have is the 1.6Ghz SSD model, which has a whopping price tag of $2100!! In short, it’s too much.