Sony VAIO NW Series (VGN-NW150J/T) Review

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Pros: Stylish design; Smooth Blu-ray playback; Nicely textured touchpad; Loud, crisp speakers; Instant-on capability

Cons: Boot time a bit slow; Washed out webcam colors; Weak graphics (as configured)

Verdict: With its eye-catching design and Blu-ray playback, this multimedia notebook is a solid purchase for entertainment addicts on a budget.

Entertainment seekers in search of a notebook that offers Blu-ray playback, solid performance, and plenty of style will find a lot to like in the Sony VAIO NW. Priced at a reasonable $879 (as low as $799 online), this machine comes packed with a wealth of features, as well as a sharp 15.5-inch display--although you'll need to use the HDMI port and an external monitor or TV to get the full 1080p experience. Those looking for more graphics oomph will want to opt for a different configuration of this system, but overall the VAIO NW is a satisfying multimedia laptop.

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Design

The first thing you'll notice about the 14.6 x 9.8 x 1.2-inch, Walnut Brown VAIO NW is the cool faux-wood design on the lid, which extends to the base of the system. If you're not keen on this look, Sony also offers the system in in Birch White and Silver Rattan. Owing to the NW's "waved body" design, the keyboard resides in a slight depression, but it didn't negatively impact our typing.

Above and to the right of the keyboard are a row of buttons that let us launch the Splashtop instant-on browser (which allows users access to the Web while avoiding Vista's lengthy boot times), mute the speakers, and turn the display off (for when you're using the notebook only to listen to music, for example). We would have liked to see dedicated volume controls, but it's easy enough to adjust with function keys. At 5.6 pounds, the VAIO NW isn't a system you'll want to constantly keep in tow, but it's certainly light enough to easily move from room to room.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The island-style keyboard on the VAIO NW is roomy and comfortable, which made for a pleasurable typing experience. The keys are flat and springy; the layout lacks a full number pad, but that's far from a dealbreaker on a multimedia notebook.

A 3.3 x 2.5-inch textured touchpad below the keyboard offered just the right amount of resistance; it was neither too slippery nor too friction-heavy. That let us zip the cursor across the screen with ease. We also liked the two raised touchpad buttons, which had a firm feel.

Display and Audio

The glossy, 15.5-inch (1366 x 768-pixel resolution) display uses Sony's X-Brite Eco technology, which lengthens battery life by using one backlight instead of the two in the regular X-Brite displays. The 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio offered plenty of real estate for crafting documents and reading Web pages. The viewing angles were fairly decent; two people can watch a video simultaneously, but as you move farther from the center, you'll encounter more reflections.

Overall, the sound that emanated from the speakers was quite crisp; we loved the crackle of the gunfire exchanges, and the sounds of helicopter blades were nice and chunky. The maximum volume and bass may not be enough for those who like to rattle rooms, but we found the audio sufficiently loud and clear when watching movies or streaming '90s alternative music from Slacker.

Blu-ray Playback

The VAIO NW is one of the least expensive notebooks yet that offers an integrated Blu-ray drive. The notebook itself supports only 720p playback, but we like what we saw when we popped in our We Were Soldiers Blu-ray. Night scenes, for example, showed the appropriate amount of black without losing detail.

When we output the video via HDMI to a 32-inch Samsung monitor, the VAIO NW was able to deftly handle our flick's fast-moving action scenes at 1080p resolution. The appeal of Blu-ray on this (or any notebook) will come down to how convenient it is for you to hook the system up to a large TV or monitor that can take full advantage of the format's capabilities.

Ports and Webcam

The VAIO NW is packed with a fair number of connectivity options for hooking up accessories and peripherals. Built into the right side of the system is the aforementioned 2X Blu-ray drive (with an 8X DVD+/-RW burner), two USB 2.0 ports, and headphone and microphone jacks; its front features two memory card readers (Memory Stick Pro and SD), and a Wi-Fi switch; the left side contains an additional USB port, VGA, HDMI, FireWire 400, Ethernet, and an ExpressCard/34 slot.

Diving face-first into video chats with friends was simple, thanks to the embedded0.3 MP Motion Eye camera. While chatting with friends using Skype, we enjoyed smooth frame rates that suffered from very little blur. However, we found the colors--be it clothing or skin tones--to be a bit muted.

Performance

Packing a 2.1-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6500 processor and 4GB of RAM (expandable to 8GB), the VAIO NW breezed through our PCMark Vantage benchmark, which tests Windows Vista performance. The system notched a score of 3,334, which was nearly 200 points higher than the 3,159 mainstream notebook average, and more than 100 points better than the $599Gateway NV5807u, which has the same CPU and RAM. This translated into a pleasurable experience with the Vista Home Premium (64-bit) OS, where we saw windows and menus open quickly, even when a Blu-ray disc was spinning.

The 5,400-rpm, 320GB hard drive offers plenty of room for storing documents, photos, music, and video, and booted the system to Vista in 1 minute and 5 seconds (6 seconds longer than the mainstream average). The VAIO NW performed adequately on the LAPTOP Transfer Test, achieving speeds of 17.5 MBps; that's 1.1 MBps slower than the mainstream average.

Transcoding a 5:05 MPEG-4 video file (640 x 480) to AVI took 7:22, which was considerably slower than the category average of 4:44. However, users might see better results if they upgrade from Intel's integrated graphics solution to discrete ATI graphics (more on that below).

Graphics

The VAIO NW achieved an even 1,000 score on our 3DMark06 benchmark, which was more than 2,200 points below the category average. That was to be expected, as the VAIO NW features integrated Intel GMA 4500MHD graphics. On autodetect (and the resolution set to 1024 x 768) Far Cry 2 chugged along at just 6 frames per second.

If you want greater GPU performance and Blu-ray playback, a model that adds ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4570 graphics (with 512MB of dedicated video memory) sells for $999. If you want to forego Blu-ray and still get a discrete GPU, you'll pay $849--$30 less than the price of this configuration.

Battery Life and Wi-Fi

You can expect decent endurance from the VAIO NW. It lasted 3 hours and 23 minutes on our LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi), which was on a par with the Gateway NV5807u (3:20) and the mainstream average (3:27).

The 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi pushed data at a rate of 20.5 Mbps when the notebook was 15 feet away from our wireless access point, and dipped to 18.6 Mbps at 50 feet. Both measurements were above the 19.0 Mbps and 15.5 Mbps averages, and allowed us to stream episodes of Family Guy from Hulu without any hiccups.

Green Testing

While the VAIO NW has yet to be rated by EPEAT, the notebook did fairly well on our green testing. The system took 2 hours and 48 minutes to fully recharge; during that time, it used an average of 39.9 watts. On the LAPTOP Battery Efficiency Test (the total amount of watts it takes to recharge divided by the battery life), the VAIO NW notched a score of 33, which places it just below the 15-inch ASUS N50v (34.4) and the 17-inchHP ProBook 4710s(32.8).

Software and Warranty

Bundled with the VAIO NW is Microsoft Works SE 9.0, a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007, Norton Internet Security 2009 (30-day trial), and Sony's multimedia suite, which includes Click to Disc Editor, VAIO Movie Story, VAIO MusicBox, and VAIO Media plus.

Also included is DeviceVM's Splashtop Browser (branded here as Quick Web Access) which let us connect to the Internet (by pressing the Web button) in just 21 seconds--a third of Vista's boot time. It allowed us to stream full-screen episodes of The Addams Family from YouTube, check e-mail, and peruse Google News without a hitch. Unlike some other versions of Splashtop, this one is strictly designed to access the Web; you can't access any content on your hard drive.

Sony covers the VAIO NW with a one-year limited warranty and 24/7 toll-free tech support. Click here to see how Sony fared in our Tech Support Showdown.

Other Configurations

Aside from the model we reviewed, Sony offers an $849 version of the VAIO NW that has the same specs, but trades Blu-ray for discrete ATI graphics. The system is also available in a $999 model that features a 2.0-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7350 (Centrino 2) processor, Blu-ray, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4570 graphics (with 512MB of video memory), and a 5,400-rpm, 400GB hard drive.

There's also an exclusive Best Buy version of the VAIO NW (the NW125J/T) that the retail giant sells for $796 as part of its Next Class notebook line, which includes a full version of Microsoft Home and Student Edition 2007, a year of Norton Internet Security 2009, and a lower 1280 x 800 resolution.

Verdict

Featuring an eye-pleasing design, good sound quality, and Blu-ray playback, the Sony VAIO NW150J/T is an attractive multimedia notebook. While listed for $879, Best Buy currently offers the white and silver versions of this notebook for $799, making it all the more attractive for those who are looking for Blu-ray on a budget. Gamers, however, will want to opt for a configuration that includes ATI graphics (with or without Blu-ray).

As is, the VAIO NW doesn't offer drastically increased performance over other 15-inch notebooks such as the $599 Gateway NV5807u, but its price is in line with similarly configured notebooks with Blu-ray drives. AnHP Pavilion dv4twith the same specs and a Blu-ray drive, for example, sells for $779. Overall, this system is worth theinvestment if you've already amassed, or are planning to amass, a Blu-ray collection.

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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
CPU 2.1-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6500
Operating System MS Windows Vista Home Premium (64 bit)
RAM 4GB
RAM Upgradable to 8GB
Hard Drive Size 320GB
Hard Drive Speed 5,400rpm
Hard Drive Type SATA Hard Drive
Display Size 15.5
Native Resolution 1366x768
Optical Drive BD-ROM/DVD /-RW
Optical Drive Speed 2X
Graphics Card Intel GMA 4500MHD
Video Memory 1.8GB
Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n
Bluetooth
Mobile Broadband
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone
Ports (excluding USB) HDMI
Ports (excluding USB) Firewire 400
Ports (excluding USB) Ethernet
Ports (excluding USB) VGA
Ports (excluding USB) Microphone
USB Ports
Card Slots SD memory reader
Card Slots Memory Stick Pro
Card Slots ExpressCard/34
Warranty/Support One-year limited/24/7 toll-free phone
Size 14.6 x 9.8 x 1.2 inches
Weight 5.6 pounds
Company Website http://www.sonystyle.com