Vaio P series notebook - Initial impressions

Today, DK, Ryu and I attended the Singapore launch event for the Sony Vaio P series notebook, and I thought I should share with you guys my first impressions of the device. Just remember that this is an article about a yet-to-be-released device.

Sony Vaio P (Red)

Size

There’s no doubt that the Vaio P is a really beautiful device. They made the width of the device just long enough for you to hold with one hand, and fit in your jeans pocket (not that anyone will ever do that). That makes the device really small, and I’m sure will be a joy to carry around too (I’m not certain about this, since they won’t let me bring it even more than a few meters away from the display 😉 ). Small size means you have to sacrifice the display and the keyboard size though.

Sony made up for the keyboard by maintaining the size, and just removing the palm rest of the device. The keyboard is actually quite comfortable to use at my first attempt due to the size of the keys and the gap between the keys, just like it was for the HP Mini 1000, but the lack of a palm rest made it quite akward to use. Of course, since the device is pretty slim too, you could use a table top to make up for the lack of a palm rest. It will certainly take a while to get used it. As for the track point, it’s using the traditional fabric-like trackpoint, rather than the flat-rubber-topped trackpoint found on the newer Lenovo Thinkpads and HP Elitebooks. It was actually quite stiff to use in the beginning, but after DK maxed the speed of the pointer in the Control Panel, it actually become slightly better. Oh, and did I mention that you can click by pressing the trackpoint in?

vaio-p-7

While the keyboard and track point were fine, I found the display too small for me. Moreover, the fact that they made the display super high-resolution didn’t help things at all. Sure, your images would be extra sharp, and HD video (assuming it could play them in the first place) would really pop out, but that made everything from the start button to the words on the screen super tiny. I’m sure there’s a way to up the font size and icon size in Windows, but I didn’t really get why they insisted on putting in such a high-resolution display (1600 by 768, for those geeks who care about numbers) into such a small display (only 8 inches). I personally felt that even with a 1024 wide resolution would be more than sufficient and sharp enough for an 8 inches display, and would certainly help lower costs.

Design

The design of this Vaio is certainly well done. Lots of metal and gloss where they should be. I always complained that netbooks these days look like they came out of a Fisher Price factory because of all that plastic. HP countered that succesful by using their imprint technology to make the device subtly feel expensive, and Sony, well, they DID make it expensive. According to what I was told, they used magnesium for the body, and painted over the top cover with multiple layers, before adding a layer of gloss, while on the bottom they made it completely flat like the HP Mini 1000, and even covered all the screws. They even said the bottom was made with carbon fibre! I mean, with all that going on, how can this device not stand out?

Specs

This is where I think they completely messed up. Okay, maybe not completely, but just one tiny problem. Sony did say they weren’t making a budget computer, but that doesn’t give them an excuse to come up with such a decision: They paired an Intel Atom processor with Windows Vista!!?! How is it that no one at Sony thought that was a bad idea?? Sure, in the high-end model, they popped in a 64GB solid state drive, and for both models there’s 2GB of DDR2 RAM, but that’s not going to help the fact that it’s being powered by a low-powered Intel Atom chip along with a weak Intel GMA 500 graphics chip!! Did I mention that for the high-end model, it’s running Vista Home Premium?? We took the device for a spin, and it really slowed down after you ran more than 2 apps. In fact, when we first tried the device, we hit the power button, posed with it for a few minutes for pictures, and by the time we were done, the machine still hasn’t finished booting up!! If they put XP in this machine, I’m sure it will sell really well!! Okay, I’m done with my Vista rant.

The rest of the specs are pretty standard for netbooks (yes, I still see it as a netbook!), there’s Wifi A/B/G/Draft N, a Memory Stick Duo and an SD card slot. There’s only 2 USB slots, and like the HP Mini, they took out the 2 biggest ports and replaced it with a port replicator, requiring a special adapter: LAN and VGA. That’s right, unlike the HP Mini, this device is so thin, they couldn’t even hide a LAN port in it. Oh, and did I mention there’s only a headphone jack? They omitted the mic-in jack. Unlike the HP Mini 1000, this jack won’t switch between in and out. It’s just in and nothing else. The high end model supports a special noise cancelling headphone set though. I thought that was cool. There’s a supposed hardware decoder for AVCHD video files in the device too, but I’m guessing only for the industry standard AVCHD you find in some HD cameras. I put in my SD card from my Sanyo HD cam, and it wouldn’t even play 720p properly.

Software, the other place Sony value added this device

Apart from Vista, the rest of the software on this device are pretty packed. They bundled a whole bunch of Vaio software you’d find on most Vaio machines, along with a trial version of Office 2007 Professional, WinDVD (I wonder where you put the DVD in?), Roxio Easy Media Creator etc. They also have this cool cross media bar application that lets you access your media as if you were using a PSP, PS3 or bravia TV. They added an extra button on the device too that when pressed, it will organise all your windows automatically from left to right. I really like that feature.

Cross Media Bar and Window arrangment button

How they made up for Vista: Instant on mode

If you turn off the device and press the CrossMediaBar button, the device boots into Instant On mode quite quickly, and you get a PSP-like interface to access your music, photos and videos. There’s a web browser (Firefox, I might add) and an IM app (Pidgin) too. The instant on mode is obviously powered by Linux, and to be honest, I’d end up using this mode most often. I mean, between this and Vista on an Intel Atom machine?? In my opinion, this was one of the smartest thing they did with the Vaio P.

Overall

No matter how much Sony keeps trying to say this isn’t a netbook, I still think it is, thanks to the Intel Atom chip. It’s a really expensive netbook (S$1299 for a 1.33Ghz Intel Atom computer?!??), but it’s still a netbook. To put it nicely, it’s a premium netbook, just like the Macbook Air is a premium notebook. I feel that Sony should have gone in either two directions with this device. Add in more power, say an Intel Centrino Solo even, along with an Nvidia 9400 (the one found in the new Macbook) graphics chip, or even the more powerful Intel GMA X3100, and make it more expensive. S$2000 for a powerhouse is value for money. Or they could have gone the other way. Take out Vista and put in XP, use a cheaper 1024pixelled wide display, maybe even a 16G SSD, then charge S$1000. I’m willing to pay S$200 more than other netbooks for that amazing casing, keyboard, form factor and that awesome instant on feature. That would certainly sell better than other netbooks out there.

Most important take away for you, my friend

I haven’t played with the device for an extended time yet, and for all you know, things might change by the time the device hits the market in February. Until then, just keep the good stuff of this machine in mind:

  1. Awesome tiny form factor
  2. Awesome head-turning design and amazing quality for a netbook
  3. Great keyboard
  4. Super useful instant-on

As for the Vista and slow performance part, we’re willing to give Sony a second chance to prove us wrong when the device goes on sale in late February 2009.

  • Wow! That’s a well written first impression! Totally agree with your points. But still, its a nice piece of accessory to have if I’m rich, sexy and blond. But I’m neither. =(

    If I didn’t quote wrongly, the lady mentioned that its a great tool for blogging and social network site users. But ermm… can this group of people afford it? Perhaps just a handful.

  • NTT

    Very well written indeed Daniel!!

  • Ddeath

    I was looking forward to Sony’s answer to the netbook world, but now maybe not. It’s too expensive for a netbook, and Vista??!?! On an Atom?!?! Are they stoopid or something? Give me XP anytime. Vista is a big failure IMO.

  • PJ

    Sony has been the LV of computers so the price wasn’t a surprise. Vista was the real bummer. Hope in the next revision we will see the GeForce 9400 DX10 and HD chipset and Dual-Atom. The design is timeless btw

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  • Excellent write up – brought me back to earth. Hurhur.

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  • nne

    I wanna get this so much that I don’t mind spending abit more on the design & how compact this notebook/netbook is. But I felt that what Daniel said: ‘Add in more power, say an Intel Centrino Solo even, along with an Nvidia 9400 (the one found in the new Macbook) graphics chip, or even the more powerful Intel GMA X3100, and make it more expensive. S$2000 for a powerhouse is value for money. Or they could have gone the other way. Take out Vista and put in XP, use a cheaper 1024pixelled wide display, maybe even a 16G SSD, then charge S$1000.’ is exactly how I felt & to add on that I feel that the screen should expand to cover the remaining space just like Fujitsu Lifebook S7110. + the lack of GPS etc etc..

    I guess I will wait for the newer or better modify VAIO P version ba… Hope is better…

    I am just so in love with this.. Arrgh.. Got to wait till Sony wisen up on their Marketing Research on ‘Potential Customers feedback’…

  • Or you can wait till someone else gets this and finds out how to change the software on his own. If it works, you could just downgrade it to XP yourself!

    I don’t think it’s a good idea to expand the screen any more though, because the screen is already wider than normal. Any wider, your videos in fullscreen are going to come out really weird.

    I’m with you on the marketing research part… To think they could’ve learnt from HP last year…

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Daniel
Daniel Tsou is our fabulous host, who decides mostly what we talk about and basically calls the shots, Yes, he does. I, writer of this bio on Mr Tsou is very much afraid that by commiting this post to words, I will be dragged off in the night by a black Truck, or a Segway more like. Other than that, Daniel is tall, lived for a period of time in Venezuela and Spain, and is enthusiastic for all things tech.
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