Sony VAIO TR1A Review

The VAIO TR1A offers similar horsepower of larger notebook computers without the large physical size.
The VAIO TR1A offers similar horsepower of larger notebook computers without the large physical size.
The VAIO TR1A offers similar horsepower of larger notebook computers without the large physical size.

Highs

  • Excellent battery life and wireless connectivity
  • beautiful and bright display

Lows

  • Mushy keyboard
  • poor web cam performance

Summary

We have to wonder why Sony has kept the likes of the VAIO TR1A from the US market for such a long period of time as the system is truly wondrous to use. The VAIO TR1A’s beautiful display and excellent wireless connectivity will make the TR1A the perfect partner for any journalist, reporter or any traveler for that matter. Business users will love the battery life and VGA output making the TR1A perfect for presentations. At just 3.1 lbs the TR1A is hardly noticeable while carrying and its long lasting battery will keep the TR1A a faithful companion for any occasion.

Introduction

The Sony VAIO TR1A is one of the smallest notebook computers we have ever had the privilege to lay our hands on, but packed in this cute system is a beast ready to be unleashed. In Japan, sub notebooks of this size are relatively common, but here in the states a lot of consumers are chasing the “bigger is better” fad, but this trend could be going in the opposite direction thanks to the likes of Sony and Fujitsu. Sony’s popular U101 series notebook computers are extremely popular among importers such as iCube. The VAIO TR1A follows in the same footsteps as the U101 and is available at most major electronics retailers. The VAIO TR1A offers similar horsepower of larger notebook computers without the large physical size. Journalists and students will love the TR1A’s portability and WiFi connectivity.

Features and Design

We have to admit that we had our reservations regarding the TR1A’s size. With dimensions 1/3rd smaller than the average notebook computer, one has to wonder if you can legitimately type or work on a system this small, let alone read the screen. The VAIO TR1A has a width of just 10.6″ inches, a height of 1.44″ inches and weighs a mere 3.11lbs. But do not let its size fool you. The VAIO TR1A is powered by Intel’s new Pentium M processor and Centrino chipset running at 900MHz and featuring 512 MB (upgradeable to 1GB) of memory standard. Of course, along with the Centrino Chipset comes integrated 802.11b WiFi networking. Other features include two USB 2.0 ports, 1 FireWire port, a Sony Memory Stick slot, VGA output, a 30GB hard drive, 64MB integrated video, integrated web camera and an integrated DVD/CD-RW combo drive. The fact that Sony was able to fit a DVD/CD-RW drive into this little system without using an external housing is amazing in itself. For a complete list of the VAIO TR1A’s specifications please click on the specs tab above and below this review.

Following in the footsteps of the rest of Sony’s notebook computer line, the VAIO TR1A features a silver metallic casing. Upon opening the case you will immediately be stared at by the integrated web camera located in the lid of the TR1A. The 10.6″ LCD display is covered in a protective shield reminiscent of the Sony VAIO PCV-W20 lifestyle computer developed by Sony. Called XBRITE, the glossy display actually increases the brightness of the VAIO TR1A and helps to make the screen look sharper than normal. Lastly, the keyboard features a font slightly italicized to give the VAIO TR1A a very hip and retro look.

Sony VAIO TR1A compared to VPR MAtrix 200A5

Sony VAIO TR1A compared to VPR MAtrix 200A5

On the right hand side of the TR1A is where you will find the Ethernet/mode ports, audio ports, a single USB 2.0 port and a PCMCIA expansion slot. The left-hand side of the TR1A reveals a VGA out port, another USB 2.0 port, a FireWire port hidden behind a protective cover, and Sony’s Memory Stick slot called the “Magic Gate”. The internal cooling system blows air through an exhaust port located on the left side as well.

Sony VAIO TR1A compared to Sony Ericsson T68i mobile phone

Sony VAIO TR1A compared to Sony Ericsson T68i mobile phone

The Sony VAIO TR1A is available with a plethora of accessories including larger batteries, Bluetooth add-ons, 802.11a wireless networking cards, a privacy screen and more, although a docking station was not one of them.

Performance

In our testing the Sony VAIO TR1A trailed both the Gateway 450 XL and Sony VAIO PCG-Z1AP1 Centrino based systems by about 33% in most tests; this is due no doubt to the slower 900 MHz processor than the other systems. Because both the Sony VAIO TR1A and Z1AP1 systems use the same integrated graphics card, their 3dMark 2001 score were nearly identical with the Z1AP1 system slightly leading due to a faster processor.

Sony VAIO TR1A 3dMark 2001 scores
Sony VAIO TR1A Mobile Mark 2002 scores
Sony VAIO TR1A SiSoftware Sanda CPU Arithmetic test
Sony VAIO TR1A SiSoftware Sandra CPU Multimedia tests

System Configurations:

Sony VAIO TR1A

Windows XP Home; 900MHz Intel Pentium M; 512MB DDR SDRAM; Intel 855GM Chipset Integrated Graphics 64MB; 30GB Hard Drive

Gateway DS 450 XL
Windows XP Home; 1.5GHz Intel Pentium M; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 32MB; Toshiba MK4018GAP 40GB 4,200rpm

Sony VAIO PCG-Z1A
Windows XP Home; 1.3GHz Intel Pentium M; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 16MB; Hitachi DK23EA-60 60GB 4,200rpm

Setup and use

Setup on the VAIO TR1A follows the typical Windows XP Home Edition routine. Simply add your user information and follow the setup prompts. The software included with the VAIO TR1A is the same mix Sony is offering on the most of their other notebook computers: Microsoft Works, McAfee Utilities and Sony’s own software created specifically for the VAIO line.

The first thing we had to do was to try out the integrated web cam, called the “Motion Eye” by Sony, to see how easily it works. The Motion Eye can be flipped to aim either towards the user or away. There is a “capture” button located on the right hand side of the lid. Pressing this activates the web cam software and allows you to record yourself and broadcast it or take a digital still shot. We were a tad disappointed with the overall quality of both the live video and the images. Even at the highest settings quality settings the image appeared fuzzy and blurred.

While the integrated Motion Eye produces blurry images, the beautiful 10.6″ display does not. Both the brightness and contrast ratio’s appear almost perfect. Sony uses what they call XBRITE LCD technology to enhance the appearance of the display. We have seen this same display technology used on the Sony VAIO PCV-W20 lifestyle system reviewed back in April. The screen looks incredibly vivid and bright from viewing angles up to about 45 degrees. Because the screen has a glossy and smooth look and feel to it there is considerable glare in an environment with lots of sun, but overall the XBRITE display is better than most LCD displays we have seen.

Having a 10.6″ screen may have the advantage of offering a smaller overall system, but those planning on using a notebook computer for extended periods of time may find the 1280×768 resolution on a 10.6″ display fatiguing. While we found the screen resolution to be just about right, those new to the notebook world will more than likely find it smaller than desired. Sony addresses this issue by including a one touch screen zoom hotkey which when pushed will “zoom” in and change the screen resolution increasing the font and icon size.

The keyboard layout while small does not inhibit you from typing slower than what you would on say a 15″ laptop. The right hand shift key is about half the size of what it would be on a larger notebook, so you will have to train your fingers to find it, unless of course you use the shift key on the left hand side. The key travel feels short and mushy unfortunately, so you will have to get used to it.

The touchpad is just the right size and cursor travel correlates to the screen resolution perfectly; it is not under or over sensitive. What is odd from a design standpoint is that the touch pad buttons do not line up directly below it, they are skewed to the right slightly. But because the buttons are rather long finding them with your fingers is easy. Overall the keyboard layout is good and feels pretty solid, making typing on the go easy to do after some getting used to.

Mobility is what the Intel Centrino chipset and Sony VAIO TR1A are all about. Packed with every Centrino chipset comes Intel’s very own 802.11b WiFi network adapter. Our VAIO TR1A test system always had an excellent 802.11b WiFi connection with our Netgear WGR614 router and the range was outstanding even while pushing the 300FT barrier through walls. In fact the TR1A was able to get further range than the Sony VAIO PCG-Z1AP1 we reviewed back in May.

Performance and testing

In our testing the Sony VAIO TR1A trailed both the Gateway 450 XL and Sony VAIO PCG-Z1AP1 Centrino based systems by about 33% in most tests; this is due no doubt to the slower 900 MHz processor than the other systems. Because both the Sony VAIO TR1A and Z1AP1 systems use the same integrated graphics card, their 3dMark 2001 score were nearly identical with the Z1AP1 system slightly leading due to a faster processor.

The Sony VAIO TR1A comes standard with a large 4300mAh battery pack. In our battery performance tests the TR1A smoked both the Gateway 450 XL and Sony VAIO PCG-Z1AP1 systems. We were able to squeeze out 4 hours and 15 minutes of battery life while running Mobile Mark 2001. Mobile Mark 2001 is a pretty extensive test which simulates which programs a business user might be inclined to use. This includes running Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Office XP, WinZip, multiple web browsers and other software simultaneously. So if you plan on using the TR1A simply for web browsing or running a single program at once, we expect the battery life to last significantly longer. Travelers will love the integrated DVD/CD-RW drive and should have no problem whatsoever playing back a DVD movie with battery life to spare. Overall the VAIO TR1A feels faster than what its specifications indicate, the 512MB of memory will have more of an impact over processor speed when it comes to Windows XP and multitasking; and that is what’s important. Overall we were very impressed with the TR1A’s performance.

You can read more about the performance on the Performance page.

Conclusion

We have to wonder why Sony has kept the likes of the VAIO TR1A from the US market for such a long period of time as the system is truly wondrous to use. The VAIO TR1A’s beautiful display and excellent wireless connectivity will make the TR1A the perfect partner for any journalist, reporter or any traveler for that matter. Business users will love the battery life and VGA output making the TR1A perfect for presentations. At just 3.1 lbs the TR1A is hardly noticeable while carrying and its long lasting battery will keep the TR1A a faithful companion for any occasion.

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