Sony’s NR notebooks are designed to be affordable, fashionable, and decent all-around PCs that aren’t bottom of the barrel nor top-of-the-line. Think “midrange notebook” with a fancy shell. They are available in three different colors, have a unique textured surface, and are middle-of-the-road in terms of specs and performance. Though we like the aesthetic the NR’s a bit sluggish and has a ton of bloatware (pre-loaded software that eats up precious resources). Though it would be semi-easy to remedy these two negatives, out of the box the NR is a smidge disappointing.
Features and Design
The most notable feature of the NR series is its sleek design, which features smooth edges, a textured surface and three colors to choose from: Silk (white), Wenge Brown and Granite Silver.
The chassis has an interesting texture to it, and certainly makes it look more elegant than your standard run-of-the-mill notebook. The textured surface is found on the back of the LCD, but not the front, and on the entirety of the palm rest.
CPU, Chipset, RAM, Storage
The VAIO NR is a modern notebook in that it’s using the Intel 965 chipset, but it doesn’t sport all the bleeding edge components we’ve seen in recent notebook reviews. For example, it features an Intel Core 2 Duo processor, but it’s a low-end chip with just 2MB of L2 cache (instead of 4MB found on higher-end models) and runs at just 1.5GHz. On the RAM front it has just 1GB (two 512MB sticks of DDR2 5300). The NR we received for review has a 160GB 5400rpm SATA hard drive, variations of this notebook include a 250GB hard drive, and slightly faster processors (same notebook, different model number), you will have to visit SonyStyle.com to see what their variation/model number of the week is.
Yep, it’s got the Intel 965 chipset but sadly it’s lacking support for the next-gen wireless N standard. It does support B and G, of course. Its Ethernet is also a bit old school, running at older Fast Ethernet speeds rather than Gigabit.
The NR comes with a 15.4” widescreen, glossy display. It features XBRITE-ECO technology which Sony claims provides enhanced brightness and clarity while consuming less power than traditional LCDS.
Ports and connectors.
Let’s take a quick tour around the NR and check out its ports.
We have an 8X DVD-R/RW, CD-R/RW drive, two USB and a Kensington lock.
Express Card /34 slot, two USB ports, microphone, headphone, FireWire and exhaust.
Here we have an SD card reader, Memory Stick reader, activity lights and WiFi switch.
Not much to see here other than the battery, Ethernet and 56K ports, and AC jack.
Most notebooks these days have a few shortcut buttons below the LCD, and the NR is no exception. This laptop has two buttons: One which is cryptically labeled “S1” and another labeled AV mode. The S1 mode is a shortcut button that you can customize to perform numerous tasks such as muting the volume, putting the NR to sleep, etc.
The AV Mode button launches a giant taskbar at the top of the screen that lets you open the DVD software or go on the Internet.
The S1 is a customizable quick-launch button, and AV mode is a quick-launcher for DVDs and the Internet.
Like most pre-built systems the NR includes a slew of pre-installed software, as well as the option to install numerous ancillary programs. The list is long and includes AOL, Norton, Microsoft Works, Office 2007 Trial, Corel Paint Shop Pro, and much, much more.
Use and Testing
Our initial impression of the NR is that it’s pretty and sleek. It seems a bit thinner than most 15.4” notebooks we’ve sampled. The specs say 1.2”-1.5”, so it’s certainly not a boat anchor, especially given its relatively low weight of 6.2lbs.
We booted to Windows and were immediately impressed by how bright and crisp the display was. It’s beautiful, and the glossy finish makes everything look sharp. The native resolution is 1280×800, which is decent for a 15.4” display.
We checked out the OS configuration and were dismayed to see how much bloatware (installed trial software) comes included with the system. Easily the biggest transgression is an animated AOL icon that sits on the desktop and is constantly changing colors and shapes. Here’s the whole list of either pre-installed or could-be installed trial software: Norton Internet Security 2007 trial, Microsoft office 2007 trial, AOL, AOL video, MS Works, SafeIT document shredder trial, Adobe Acrobat Connect trial, Intuit Quickbooks Starter edition, six casual games, Napster trial, LocationFree, Corel Paint Shop Pro XI trial, AIM 6.0, VAIO Click to DVD, Corel Snapfire, Roxio Easy Media Creator 9, SonicStage Mastering Studio, and finally there’s even more software in the various VAIO suites.
Look at all that software Sony has pre-installed. Wow.
That’s a lot of software, a ton of trialware, and basically a bunch of software that we would not want on our notebook. Adding insult to injury, Sony installed an AOL toolbar on Internet Explorer. And it also added a transparent “taskbar” to the desktop that is just above the regular taskbar. It lets you launch things like “VAIO Entertainment Center” which then lets you install all the trialware and such. Thankfully, you can easily disable this taskbar.
Sony includes a transparent “taskbar” on the desktop to make installing trialware easier.
We haven’t tested a Vista system with just 1GB of RAM in a while, so we were surprised at how sluggish the system felt. Vista is a memory hog, and was consuming 738MB of RAM just idling at the desktop, with no programs running. With Vista’s SuperFetch program, which continually monitors what programs you use and adds their boot files to RAM, it’s easy to predict that Vista would eventually consume all 1GB of RAM available, which would seriously degrade the notebook’s performance.
1GB of RAM is fine for XP, but not for Vista. The NR was sucking down 738MB just sitting at the desktop.
Given its low amount of RAM, low-end processor and 5400rpm hard drive, performance was a bit of a letdown. It’s not that the system was insanely slow or that we grew a beard waiting for programs to open, just that it was more sluggish than what we’re used to. It’s by no means “slow” but it’s certainly not what we’d call “responsive.” Once again, adding more RAM would most likely improve this situation drastically. Its Windows Experience Index score is just 3.4, and was dragged down by the onboard Intel graphics.
We tested the NR’s battery life by playing a DVD movie with the screen brightness set to its middle level. We also had WiFi enabled and an internet connection established. With these settings we were able to squeeze two hours and 20 minutes out of the NR, which is very respectable.
AV Mode and S1
The two extra keys at the top of the keyboard are the only “special” keys on the NR, and both are quick-launch keys.
The oddly-named S1 key does whatever you tell it to, and you can either select from a list of actions or customize it to open a program. The pre-installed list includes things like muting, sleep, maximum brightness, etc. You can also customize it to launch any application you like. Overall it worked as expected and we had no issues with it.
The AV mode button, however, is largely useless. When you press the button, you hear a little ditty that sounds like a typical VAIO ringtone. Then, after a few seconds, a transparent taskbar pops up on the top of the screen with two buttons – DVD and Internet. That’s it. Clicking the first button opens up the DVD software and clicking the second one opens up Internet Explorer. Why is this even necessary? We can just click the actual shortcut icons to the programs and they open. Our guess as to why this feature was included was that given this notebook’s low price tag, it’s for newbies who might need a helping hand getting on the Internets or watching movies. But for someone with even the most basic understanding of how computers work, it’s a useless feature.
Press this button and a taskbar launches to let you get to the Net or watch a DVD.
We liked the keyboard on the VAIO a lot, as its low, flat keys felt very good to our fingers. We also loved the display, which is very bright and surprisingly sharp. The onboard speakers also got very loud; much louder than we’ve heard from most notebooks. The presence of four USB ports is also a handy.
The NR series from Sony is a mixed bag. We don’t really expect tremendous performance from a notebook with this type of price tag, but this notebook is sluggish, needs more RAM, and also has more unnecessary software than any notebook we’ve ever reviewed. All these things lead us to one conclusion: this is a notebook for the family, not enthusiasts or business travelers. It’s not for anyone who does anything but surf the Net and email. For those types of basic tasks, however, it’s more than enough and looks good while doing it.
• Several color options
• Decent battery life
• Lots of bloatware
• Only 1GB of RAM
• Sluggish performance