As Sony reaffirmed most recently by selling a $1,400 netbook, the company that built a reputation on luxury and performance doesn’t do “cheap.” That hasn’t them though, from offering a number of surprisingly affordable notebooks further up the performance ladder. We saw Sony concede to practicality once with the well-equipped $800 CW Series, and now the Japanese titan appears to be bowing to budget restraints yet again with the similarly priced Vaio Y series. Compared to the well-equipped CW, the Y strips down some of the bulk and drops one size class to compete in the increasingly popular thin-and-light category, with the likes of notebooks such as the Asus’ UL30A. Like that machine, it uses an Intel CULV dual-core processor for extended battery life, and omits an optical drive in favor of a slimmer profile, leaving a machine with much of the portability of a netbook but few of the size compromises.
Features and Specs
Like most thin-and-light models, the miserly Intel U7300 CULV processor clocked at 1.3GHz forms the cornerstone of the Vaio Y, backed by Intel 4500MHD integrated graphics, 4GB of DDR3 RAM, and 500GB hard drive. You’ll find the usual 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and an unremarkable 1.3-megapixel webcam here, but no optical drive – a typical sacrifice made by all but the most expensive models in this class, like Lenovo’s $2,090 X301.
For $800, you’re getting a lot less hardware here than with the CW, but Sony makes amends by truly delivering on the “thin and light” promise. At 3.9 pounds, it weighs only a bit more than most netbooks, and sports a slim 1.2-inch profile that seems to disappear into most backpacks. However, some other machines in its class manage to outshrink the Vaio Y: MSI’s MacBook Air wannabee, the X340, measures only 0.78 inches thick and weighs only 2.9 pounds, while Acer’s Timeline 3810T manages to hit 3.6 pounds and 0.9 inches thick. Thin and light as the Vaio Y is, it’s not the thinnest or lightest in its class, so buyers wielding postal scales and tape measures may want to look elsewhere for their winner.
Sony seldom steps too far outside the box with the style of its Vaio line, and the Y doesn’t break any rules for the staid Japanese manufacturer. Conservative, but sleek. The all-plastic body doesn’t wrap itself in metal the way many of today’s trendiest notebooks do, but we liked the smooth matte surfaces that taper smartly around the edges, and the classy Vaio stamp on the lid in mirror finish. You’ll also spot Sony’s classic cylindrical Vaio hinge, with a glowing green power button on one end and the DC connector on the other.
The Y-Series chassis feels respectably rigid around the palm rest and keyboard, but the razor-thin display bends like a trampoline when pressing on the Vaio logo. A seam between lid and bezel that you can literally split apart with a fingernail further cheapens impressions.
Ports & Connections
The Vaio Y offers up all the usual connections considered standard in its class, including three USB ports (two on the right, one of the left), microphone and headphone jacks, an Ethernet port, SD and Memory Stick Pro Duo card readers, and both VGA and HDMI outputs. Folks with camcorders and external hard drives will also be pleased to find a FireWire 400 port for speedy file transfers. Lastly, you’ll find an ExpressCard/34 slot for expansion.
Sony has been on board with chiclet keyboards since before most of the buying public even knew the term “netbook,” so it should come as no surprise that the Y-Series gets the same island-style treatment. As lame and flat as this arrangement can sometimes be, the keys on the Vaio Y Series actual dip enough with each stroke for a decent “click,” exhibit very little wiggle, and spread out enough to allow us to type with no learning curve to speak of. The biggest adjustment will likely be the slightly compressed row of F-keys up top, which don’t see much action anyway.
Sony doesn’t waste a centimeter of space around the oversized Vaio Y Series trackpad, which sprawls out on the palmrest like Shaq on a twin-sized mattress. It’s big, lightly recessed, and easy to dart a finger across without snagging, making it just as perfect a pointing device as the one on the CW, but with clackier buttons that don’t dive down quite as much. Although it supports multi-touch, the Synaptics drivers that came preinstalled didn’t allow us to use our favorite gesture – two-finger scrolling. Only motions like pinch-to-zoom and two-fingered swipes for forward and back were supported.