Like most of Sony’s new Vaios, the X Series uses a Chiclet-style keyboard – more like an array of nearly flush-mounted buttons than “keys”. We initially balked at both the shallow stroke and tight spacing of the keys, but eventually overcame both limitations after a 30-minute learning curve. Still, we wish Sony could have used the extra half inch of space to the left and right of the keyboard to stretch it out to a more comfortable size.
We felt much the same way about the touchpad, which measures only a little larger than a matchbook despite copious surrounding space that could have been commandeered for touchpad. Before learning its boundaries, it’s far too easy to begin a stroke at its edge and inadvertently trigger the automatic scrolling function. Even so, we give it points for its smooth matte finish (reminiscent of the superb CW Series touchpad) which makes swiping around on it smooth and snag-free, even with slightly clammy fingers.
Despite measuring only 11.1 inches across, the Vaio X screen offers full 1366 x 768 resolution, giving it incredible pixel density. That’s the same resolution you might find on notebook screens all the way up to 16.0 inches, effectively compressing all the working room of a much larger notebook into a physically tiny space. Buyers with poor eyesight might find that it strains the eyes a bit in its default configuration, but Windows 7 makes it easy enough to bump up text size to a more readable level without sacrificing the crispness this level of resolution provides. Sony also wisely opted to go with a matte finish on the display, which might rob the screen of a bit of the glossy “pop,” but makes it far more usable and less annoying in many situations.
The Vaio X is a beautiful piece of machinery. Downright gorgeous, in fact. But can it perform any better than a $400 netbook?
Yes and no. On one hand, the 2.0GHz processor seems to give it that little extra bit of spring in its step. It handles Windows 7 just fine, minus the flashy Aero bits (they come turned off by default). It snaps open browser windows in a split second, breezes through photos, and boots to the Windows desktop in 55 seconds. Not bad.
But the same walls that bind your $400 netbook still apply to the Vaio X. It will handle YouTube, but has trouble scaling even standard-def content to fill its 1366 x 768 pixels in full screen mode. Hulu bumps it against the same wall. (Incidentally, shifting resolution to 1024 x 768 for the sake of testing fixes the problem, explaining why many lesser netbooks pull this trick just fine.) And don’t even try any gaming.
The Vaio X suffers from the same handicaps as a netbook, but it’s worth noting that experientially, it doesn’t feel like a netbook. By virtue of running Windows 7 and offering a bright WXGA screen, we’re dealing with a whole different level of refinement from the dime-a-dozen XP machines with half as many pixels to drive. When you play within the boundaries, it doesn’t announce them to you.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the Vaio X’s performance cropped up when we fired up music on the built-in speakers. The single down-firing speaker – which hides behind a grille no bigger than half a keyboard key – emits barely a whisper.
With the built-in battery, which sits flush to the bottom, Sony’s three-hour battery life estimate proved closer to two hours for us. However, Sony includes an extended-life battery with every unit. Although significantly bulkier, it delivered a clean 10 hours at full brightness – not all that far from Sony’s 12-hour claim.
Let’s just throw it out there: With performance right on par with netbooks that cost a quarter of what it does, the Vaio X is an atrocious value. But that truly doesn’t do this magnificent machine justice. You will get a stupid grin on your face the first time you handle it. It defies all expectations of what a working laptop can look and feel like. Even after using it for hours, we returned to it to marvel anew at the size and build quality. If you’re looking for a novelty, status symbol and technological benchmark every bit as much as you’re looking for a functional computer, decide what it’s worth to you and see if you should bite the bullet on the Sony Vaio X.
- Truly unprecedented size and weight
- Sharp, high-resolution, LED-backlit screen
- Acceptable desktop performance
- Solid carbon-fiber chassis
- Extreme price premium for netbook hardware
- Dismal built-in speaker
- Won’t handle many movies and games