Just when you thought manufacturers had finished carving out enough different laptop screen sizes, someone has to go and scribble another odd one onto the scale. Acer did it earlier this year with an 18.4-inch behemoth that created its own size class, and now Sony has done the same with its very own 16.4-inch laptop, which it claims is the first of its kind as well.
Spanning the gap between 15.4-inch notebooks and 17-inch desktop replacements, Sony’s new FW-series notebooks will take advantage of a new screen size, but not just to add another shade of grey between big and small. The FW will actually adopt an unusual wide-screen 16:9 aspect ratio, a number that will be familiar to multimedia hounds as Hollywood’s magic number for Blu-ray releases and HDTV.
Image Courtesy of Sony
Although widescreen has pretty much become the de facto standard for all laptop displays in the last few years, it’s worth mentioning that most screens carrying that label don’t line up with the same 16:9 standard used in the TV and movie biz. While a 16:9 screen is 1.77 times as wide as it is tall, a common widescreen laptop resolution, such as 1280 x 800, is only 1.6 times as wide. It’s a minute difference, but in practice it means you’ll either have to settle for black bars running across the top and bottom of your screen, or a clipped image. Not so on the 1600 x 900 pixel FW series.
What may be most impressive about this new size, besides its suitability for HD video, is the relatively small amount of weight that gets tacked on with all the extra real estate. A Vaio FW weighs just 6.4 pounds, putting it only a hair above Sony’s existing 15.4-inch machines, which weigh between 6.1 and 6.3 pounds. It almost makes the upgrade seem like a no-brainer, if you can tolerate the extra bulk.
The FW has also been modified for movies with custom media controls embedded directly above the keyboard. Pressing “A/V Mode” lets you dive directly into a movie, and separate controls such as play, pause and stop make it easy to control the experience without groping for a mouse in the dark or breaking out of full screen.
For movie fans with a touch of creativity in their blood, Sony has also equipped the FW with the means to serve as a digital editing room. It has a built-in 1.3-megapixel webcam for impromptu movie making (or teleconferencing,) and comes with an ultra-simplified editor, Vaio Movie Story, that makes amateur film making as quick as importing video, choosing a theme and soundtrack, and letting it process.
And that shouldn’t take long. Like most next-gen laptops appearing these days, the Vaio FW will use Intel’s latest Centrino 2 processors, which will be available in speeds up to 2.80GHz. They’ve been optimized for low heat and power efficiency, an aspect that shines through in the FW’s advertised battery life of 5.5 hours – an impressive run time for a large-screen laptop to wring out of a standard battery. It can also be equipped with a hard drive of up to 400GB, in case you would rather carry your movie library onboard instead of in a disc case.
While you might expect a one-off notebook size to carry a price premium, due to economies of scale that make popular sizes cheaper to manufacture, the FW actually starts at just $1059.99, not much more than its most similarly equipped 15.4-inch cousin, the FZ series. Of course, that’s the standard model with the lowest hardware specs, and no Blu-ray burner. The “premium” model that gets all the bells and whistles will hit a significantly higher figure of $1,750. Both will begin shipping in early August. In the man time, movie fans can get a better feel for the FW’s capabilities at Sony’s Web site.