Sony VAIO W Series Eco Edition Review

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Pros: Great HD screen ; Green design ; Well designed touchpad and touch buttons ; Very good video performance ; Parent-friendly software

Cons: Relatively expensive ; Cramped keyboard ; Battery juts out underneath ; Only two USB ports

Verdict: Sony's latest netbook sports an eco-friendly design and parent-friendly software, but we wish it had a larger keyboard.

It's green, but does it cost too much green? With the VAIO W Eco Edition Sony seeks to stand out with a design that's partially made of reprocessed plastic from CDs, as well as a carrying case made of recycled PET bottles. The keyboard, at 86 percent of full size, feels somewhat cramped. And while we like the HD display and the bundled Kidzui browser that's designed to keep kids safe, parents may think twice about paying an $80 premium (or more) over competing netbooks for Sony's latest mini-notebook. The $480 VAIO W Eco Edition offers style, eco-friendliness, good performance, and a robust software bundle, but it's not the best value. Read on to see how this netbook stacks up to the competition.

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Design

The rounded edges of the 10.5 x 7.1 x 2.0-inch Sony VAIO W remind us of the Samsung N130's pebble-like design. The white, matte lid eschews fingerprints and includes a large but tasteful embedded chrome VAIO logo. This color allowed every mark to be immediately apparent, and we wished for something a bit darker to hide scuff marks. Sony offers two other color choices for the non-Eco Edition, but environmentalists will have to live with Sugar White for now. Under the lid, the deck has a dimpled pattern and a tasteful sea green color that meshed well with the silver metallic keyboard. We also like the green interlocking loop pattern on the silver touchpad.

The six-cell battery juts out from the bottom of the VAIO W a full three quarters of an inch, which gives the netbook a useful forward incline but also a noticeable thickness in the back. Though it's not as svelte as some of our favorite netbooks, it weighs the standard 2.8 pounds.

Greenness

As the name implies, the VAIO W Eco Edition has a few more environmentally friendly aspects than most netbooks. The chassis is made from 20 percent recycled CDs. There's no cardboard packaging to throw out when you buy this netbook--it comes in a carrying case made from recycled PET bottles. However, we would have liked to see the green theme extended to the software package, with Sony making it easy for users to monitor and adjust how much energy the VAIO W uses (similar to Toshiba's eco Utility).

Charging the battery after it was fully drained took 3 hours and 45 minutes. During this time the VAIO W used an average of 31.3 watts. Owing to its relatively short battery life (6:42), this netbook's LAPTOP Battery Efficiency Rating was 17.5. While that score is equal to the category average, it's worse than most other Pine Trail netbooks we've tested. The Dell Inspiron Mini 10, for example, has an Efficiency Rating of 10.4. Still, the VAIO W boasts an EPEAT Gold rating of 21 out of 27, which is quite good.

Heat

The VAIO W kept its cool during our heat test. After streaming a Hulu video for 15 minutes, we measured the temperature on the touchpad at 82 degrees Fahrenheit; the space between the G and H keys reached 87 degrees; and the middle of the underside rose to 96 degrees. Though the underside's temperature is right at the cusp of our "acceptable" threshold (below 100 degrees), we were never uncomfortable using the VAIO W on our lap.

Keyboard and Touchpad

We wish that Sony had made the keyboard larger; there's half an inch of extra space on either side that serves no purpose other than to show off the deck's pattern. This resulted in a severely undersized right Shift key, which is crammed to the left of the Up arrow. Keys on the left edge of the keyboard are also smaller than we like, and may annoy frequent keyboard shortcut users. Still, the metal keys were responsive and springy, offering good travel. We were able to reach our normal typing speed and low error rate relatively quickly, but we still much prefer the layouts on the Toshiba mini NB305 and HP Mini 5102.


The relatively large 2.7 x 1.5-inch touchpad offered just enough friction for our movements to be precise. We didn't have to pick up our finger too much when moving the cursor across the screen. The two discrete mouse buttons were responsive and springy as well.

Display and Audio

Most netbooks opt for a 1024 x 600 display, but Sony crams 1366 x 768 pixels into the VAIO W's 10.1-inch WXGA LED backlit display. Despite the extra pixels on the glossy HD display, it never seemed as though icons or Web elements were too small. We appreciated the extra screen real estate when viewing Web sites and playing games. The glossiness of the display isn't overdone; we sometimes caught our reflection during dark scenes in videos, but weren't distracted by it most of the time.

Vertical viewing angles are decent, though users won't experience the best of the screen's bright colors and deep blacks unless they push the screen all the way back. Unfortunately, it only goes back about 40 degrees past vertical. Due to the forward tilt from the battery, this means the screen has a limited useful vertical range. Horizontal angles are excellent. While watching an episode of Torchwood, we had to view the display from a very oblique angle before we encountered color distortion. Three people can easily sit together to watch videos.

Audio was about what we expect from netbooks. The biggest issue was volume: even at 100 percent, the netbook had a hard time filling a small room with sound. Hulu videos, which tend to be softer than music, were only just audible against soft background noise. Songs that feature high, clear treble--such as S. J. Tucker's "Firebird's Child" and "Fast Cars" by U2--didn't sound bad, but tracks that feature bass will feel incomplete. Even the acoustic "Patience" by Guns N' Roses came out muddy and indistinct.

Ports and Webcam

Sony includes two USB ports on the VAIO W, which is somewhat disappointing given that many other netbooks have three ports. Otherwise, the spread is about the same as we've seen on other systems. VGA, headphone, and mic along the left side; Ethernet, two USB, and a Kensington lock slot on the right; finally, a Memory Stick PRO slot with MagicGate functionality and a separate SD card slot sit on the front left next to the wireless on/off switch.



The 1.3-megapixel webcam captured decent still images and video with accurate colors and good lighting correction. While chatting on Skype our friend noticed some blur whenever we moved, but didn't find it too distracting.

ArcSoft's WebCam Companion 3 software is the most robust we've seen included for free on a netbook. It captures still images up to 1280 x 960 and video up to 640 x 480. Users can apply fun effects such as masques and frames to both photos and video. The webcam can also be used as a monitor your home or office, as it comes with some basic motion sensing abilities.

When the webcam is in use with another program, such as Skype, ArcSoft's Magic-i Visual Effects 2 window pops up in case you need to change the brightness, contrast, and other properties or add effects to the video.

Performance

The VAIO W's 1.66-GHz Intel Atom N450 processor and 1GB of RAM earned it a score of 1,368 in PCMark05, a benchmark that measures overall performance. The netbook comes in at just under 100 points below the netbook category average, but this score sits around the median when compared to other systems with the Atom N450 CPU. The ASUS Eee PC 1005PE-P (Seashell) (1,410) beats it by more than 40 points, but the VAIO W is only 15 points behind category favorite Toshiba mini NB305-N410 (1,383) and comes in ahead of the Acer Aspire One 532h (1,332). The netbook's score of 921 in Geekbench is well above the 854 average score, beating every other Pine Trail system except the mini NB305 (925).



Anecdotally, we saw snappy performance and had a smooth multitasking experience while running Adobe Reader 9, Google Chrome, Skype, VLC media player, WordPad, and the webcam.

The 5,400-rpm, 250GB hard drive took a leisurely 1 minute and 10 seconds to boot into Windows 7 Starter Edition. Trial software such as Norton Internet Security 2010 is usually the culprit for systems that load this much slower than the average (59 seconds). On the plus side, the LAPTOP Transfer Test speed of 22.1 MBps is well above the 16.2 MBps average. Still, the VAIO W's hard drive can't catch up to the swift Eee PC 1005PE-P (26.4 MBps).

Using Oxelon Media Converter, we transcoded a 114MB MPEG-4 video in 5 minutes and 54 seconds, 3 seconds slower than the average but decent for a netbook. The VAIO W was a bit faster than the mini NB305 (6:03), though slower than the Eee PC 1005PE-P (5:47).

The Intel GMA 3150 integrated graphics earned the VAIO W a 3DMark06 score of 155, which matches both the Eee PC 1005PE-P and HP Mini 5102. The mini NB305 scoots ahead with 159 marks, but in general the VAIO W is on a par with other non-Nvidia Ion netbooks.



We streamed an episode of The Colbert Report from Hulu and were pleasantly surprised to see that the VAIO W was able to handle playback at full screen with very little hitching (which we only noticed because we were looking for it). Both standard and high definition video stored on the hard drive played smoothly. Transitions from light to dark in the trailer for The Discoverers betrayed no distracting pixelation, and we were able to distinguish details in the dark scenes of Torchwood: Children of Earth.

Wireless and Battery Life

Wireless throughput was acceptable on the VAIO W, even though the rates we measured 15 and 50 feet from the router--19.6 and 16.9 Mbps, respectively--are both below the current averages of 21.0 and 17.4 Mbps. This netbook can't match the Eee PC 1005PE-P (24.7 Mbps) or the HP Mini 5102 (20.3 Mbps) at 15 feet, but we could easily stream video and music without buffering delays.



The six-cell battery in the Sony VAIO W lasted 6 hours and 42 minutes during the LAPTOP Battery Test. While this is good enough for a full day of intermittent use, and is about 30 minutes above the six-cell battery average, it's no match for category leaders like the ASUS Eee PC 1005PE-P (10:36), HP Mini 5102 (10:08), and the Toshiba mini NB305 (8:37). Still, anything over 6 hours will be enough for most users.

Configurations

The VAIO W Eco Edition (212AX) is only available in Sony Style stores, and currently only comes in Sugar White. The company offers other VAIO W Series models in two additional colors: Berry Pink and Navy Blue. A version of the netbook with Verizon Wireless mobile broadband (but otherwise identical specs) is available for $599 through the Sony Style Web site.

Software and Warranty

Aside from the aforementioned 30-day trial of Norton Internet Security 2010, Sony also includes trials of Norton Online Backup and Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007. Thankfully, the vendor also included quite a few useful programs and utilities for entertainment and productivity: ArcSoft WebCam Companion 3, Evernote for VAIO, Google Chrome, ArcSoft Magic-i Visual Effects 2, and the Microsoft Works suite. You also get VAIO-branded programs, including Media plus for multimedia streaming, VAIO Care for maintenance and support, and PMB VAIO Edition for importing, organizing, editing, and publishing photographs.

Recognizing that netbooks appeal to both kids and adults, Sony packaged the VAIO W with some basic parental controls to keep youngersters safe. The Kidzui browser allows kids to enjoy millions of preapproved sites, games, and videos. The OnlineFamily.Norton software provides further protection by letting parents monitor chats, social networks, and set time limits for computer use.

The VAIO W comes with a one-year limited warranty with on-site/in-home service and 24/7 toll-free phone support. Online and e-mail support is also available. To see how Sony's support stacks up, click here to check out our Tech Support Showdown.

Verdict

Starting at $480, the Sony VAIO W Eco Edition is near the top of the netbook pricing curve. It's more expensive than the three leading Pine Trail netbooks--the ASUS Eee PC 1005PE-P ($379), HP Mini 5102 ($424), and Toshiba mini NB305 ($399)--yet doesn't stand out in the areas that matter most: battery life, keyboard, and overall performance. The HD screen is a bonus for multimedia lovers, but Sony doesn't offer a video accelerator option (like the Dell Inspiron Mini 10) to help you make the most of those extra pixels. What we do like about this system is its premium aesthetics and eco-friendly design. Sony also does a nice job of giving parents peace of mind with its software bundle. Overall, the VAIO W Eco Edition is worth considering, but you'll need evaluate your needs to decide if it's worth the relatively high price.

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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
CPU 1.66-GHz Intel Atom N450
Operating System MS Windows 7 Starter
RAM 1GB
RAM Upgradable to 1 GB
Hard Drive Size 250GB
Hard Drive Speed 5,400rpm
Hard Drive Type SATA Dual Drive
Display Size 10.1
Native Resolution 1366x768
Optical Drive
Optical Drive Speed
Graphics Card Intel GMA 3150
Video Memory
Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n
Bluetooth Bluetooth 2.1 EDR
Mobile Broadband
USB Ports 2
Card Slots SD memory reader
Card Slots Memory Stick Pro
Warranty/Support 1 year limited warranty with Onsite/In-Home service and 24/7 toll-free phone support plus online and email support
Size 10.5 x 7.1 x 2.0 inches
Weight 2.8 pounds
Company Website http://www.sonystyle.com