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sony vaio p review

UPDATE: I only just tested the Vaio UX dongle with the component video-out jack and couldn't get this to work. However, this appears more to be a driver issue and one I couldn't be less bothered about. That said, I believe the other ports work, but not having truly tested them, this is based on assumption.

introduction

Who exactly the Vaio P was designed to address is a mystery to me. With an extremely high resolution display, very usable keyboard, and a host of connectivity options it would seem to have been designed as a mobile-professional’s dream travel device. It literally leaves very little to be desired upon that which it is already equipped. However, the device’s one Achilles’ heel is that which Sony is in no way (mostly) responsible for: Windows Vista. Combined with Sony’s usual bundled crapware, and the device becomes nearly impossible to use for anything even remotely useful besides showing off to friends.

That’s probably why I managed to pick up mine for so cheap; it had very little wear, the most of which was paint-chipping near the power slider. A nice rub-down and the device was good-as-new. I got one of the early-models equipped with a 60GB hard-drive and 2GB of RAM. By all means, considered a good setup, but typically believed to have a slow hard-drive combined with an annoying implementation of Windows Vista. Not so anymore, however, as I have replaced that with Windows 7 and uncovered a surprisingly fast machine.

With the stage set, it’s time to dig into the review of the Sony Vaio P. The purpose for this review is to try and educate potential buyers of used Vaio P models on whether or not the device is fit for them. I also feel it to be necessary to clear up much of the little bugger’s bad reputation which is almost entirely undeserved.

 

design

The Vaio P is Sony’s first stab at a netbook-style device equipped with an Atom Processor. This last part is important, as Sony has actually made netbook-sized devices for many years, but seeing as netbooks have only recently begun to grow in size to match these machines the comparison can only now be made. In fact, Sony has even dabbled in the UMPC realm with the Vaio UX, a device which I owned for a few months before giving up on it. I feel Sony took many of the lessons learned from the Vaio UX and ensured their implementation in the Vaio P in order to better prepare it for success. Some of these lessons include an actually useful keyboard and a high-resolution display which, in my eye, is useful for anyone that wishes to accomplish any real computing, especially when coupled with an external monitor.

Initially, the P appears to be a miniature laptop. And I mean that just the way it is stated. Its size is smaller than most netbooks available on the market, and its rather unusually rectanglular shape only pronunciates that further. The external of the device is one of a handful of colors; mine came in a maroon, but other colors available are black, white, blue, and I believe I’ve even seen a champagne somewhere. All of the colored plastic pieces are made of a glossy plastic, and renders the entire device a fingerprint magnet. The exception being the battery, which is black matte plastic.

 

The magical appeal of the Vaio P begins when the screen is opened, as a spacious display is revealed along with a chiclet-style keyboard which is almost begging to be tested. The screen itself is extremely glossy, and is especially prone to smudging. A Motion Eye webcam is found in the upper-right, a nice and very useful addition, although a bit odd in position. The keyboard is unusual only in the size of the right-side shift key, which is miniature, and a eraser-head mouse located dead-center of the keyboard and comes in a matching color to the body of the computer.

Two little speaker vents are found on above the keyboard,  and give the feeling of intentional placement as opposed to a lot of netbooks which have rather poor placement and especially poorly designed speaker grilles. The phrase “live life with vigor” is printed above the keyboard for seemingly unknown reasons. Also found above the keyboard are num-lock, caps-lock, and scroll-lock indicator lights. I appreciate the inclusion of these indicators, as a great deal of netbooks seem to forget the utility of these simple LEDs. Moving further along to the right in the space above the keyboard is a small indent for a sticker to be placed which has the model number printed on it. Mine says VGN-P530H, although the technically correct number is VGN-P530H/R (red/rot (Japanese)/maroon).

Underneath the keyboard are the mouse keys, which unlike what a lot of early reviews tell you, are not actually all that prone to being activated by accident. Between the two keys is a scroll key. Farther to the right is a button which appears to serve no purpose in Windows 7. On the right of that, however, is the Instant-On launch button, which I will describe later.

 

One has to look at the sides to find any of the ports found on the Vaio P, and even still they are  not high in count nor overt in presentation. The right side of the device is home to a proprietary Sony port where an external dongle can be attached. This dongle features Ethernet and display connectors, and unfortunately is sold separately. Most consumers of the Vaio P will likely never need any of these extra connections, which is good considering the premium price Sony slapped on it, but for anyone who wishes to use an external display with their P this will be a must-buy accessory. Out of sheer luck, I happened to have the original Vaio UX dongle sitting around in a drawer (the UX itself is long gone). This dongle happened to work perfectly with the Vaio P. Boo on Sony for including the dongle with the UX but not the P, but hooray for anyone looking for a cheaper alternative. A lone USB port is here as well.

 

The right of the front-side is home to the power slider and battery/hard-drive indicator lights. As you can tell from the picture, a noticeable chunk of paint has been chipped off from the previous owner’s use. However, the switch operates just fine. The little power symbol itself is a light, which glows green to indicate the computer is turned on, blinks green to indicate a low battery, and pulses orange to indicate sleep mode. The battery light illuminates solid orange when charging, not-at-all when not charging, and blinks in sync with the power light when the battery is running low. The hard-drive indicator flashes orange when the hard-drive is in use. (Pretty self explanatory.)

 

The left of the front-side is home to the wireless slider and indicator light for when wireless is turned on. This light glows green when on, but shows no indicators of activity other than that. This one switch is responsible for WLAN, Bluetooth, and the built-in EV-DO modem (and attached GPS card).

 

The left side of the device is home to a headphone jack, USB port, and charging port. I appreciate Sony for designing a new plug head… their old plug used to double as a flashlight, it was so bright. This time around the plug head only has a small illuminated strip. It would be nice if Sony took a page out of Apple’s book and greated a plug not so long that it was prone to catching on objects, but apart from that no more complains.

Overall, the computer has a very nice feel to it. It CAN fit in a pocket, although the appeal of doing so is very small. The Vaio UX managed to completely fit in the front pocket of my jeans, although the bulge was significantly more pronounced because of the device’s increased thickness over the P. With a simple soft case, the Vaio P can easily be thrown into a bag and forgotten. It manages to get a significant amount of looks from people who know their gadgets, which in my view is a plus, while not attracting most everyday-folk whom believe it to be a simple cheap netbook (and in my opinion, I don’t miss their attention).

 

usage

First let me state that using the Vaio P with Windows Vista installed on it is a big mistake no matter which model you own or what you want the device to do. The Vaio is capable of functioning a lot more like a real computer when equipped with the streamlined Windows 7 operating system. In fact, that’s exactly what it becomes once everything is said and done. I recommend Windows 7 to anyone with a Vaio P, as there simply is no reason not to especially if you have the resources to purchase it. Most drivers are already built into Windows 7, making the operating system ready to go with only a few extra drivers installed. My Vaio P is capable of running full Aero theme. Amazing. I don’t do any computer gaming anymore, so such things are of trivial importance to me. What I know is that Windows 7 runs extremely smoothly, Microsoft Office runs perfectly, and Internet Explorer is great to use unlike on many other netbooks.

The other operating system is based off of linux, and boots in about 20 seconds on my Vaio P. It’s a great little operating system for in-between classes when I want to check my email but need access to a real keyboard and display for replies. I have yet to use the built-in video player, but from what I’ve seen with the picture-viewer and music player are decently loaded with eye-candy and most importantly they work well and are simple to execute. The built-in Skype client is exceptionally slow to login, but once there works well. I have yet to make a Skype call, so I can’t report on that right now.

In terms of hardware capabilities, the built in speakers are pretty cruddy. Very tinny, lacking just about any mid or bass to them. However, they are properly spaced… if that counts for much. The Motion Eye camera is useful, although color reproduction is a bit shoddy and the quality of the video isn’t anything to write home about. The angle from which the camera sits is rather awkward, requiring the device be sitting just to one’s left in order to appear centered in the video. Also, the looking-up angle from the video is a bit bizarre. Thankfully the device is extremely light, so it really could be held in one’s hands without being too much of a hassle, or even placed atop a nearby shelf.

While some may deem this a downside, the high-resolution display is quite a joy to work with. Sure, you need to have pretty capable eyes otherwise you’ll find yourself squinting or a foot away from the display (literally), but the great thing about this is the ability to view webpages in their native format without a lot of scrolling. Not once have I run into a single Windows 7 settings panel with dimensions greater than the available pixels (both horizontally and vertically). This is a problem quite a few netbooks are afflicted with. The Vaio P manages to fly past them with a higher DPI as well as stunningly vibrant and accurate color reproduction. I have no doubt as well that the external output from the Vaio is capable of also achieving very substantial resolutions with the proper adapter as well.

Lastly, I wish to discuss the keyboard. Joy upon joys, this keyboard has become my new friend. Part of this is because the chiclet-style of keys (which I love), and part because of just how usable this keyboard really is. I’ve managed to type entire reviews (this one, even) with ease, manage emails, essays, just about anything demanded of it and never once thought to myself, “Oh jeez I wish I had a more spacious keyboard, this is going to be a bit of a pain I can already tell.” With many first generation netbooks, this was an especially big problem. HP has managed to scamper past this problem by simply rethinking the shape of each key. That combined with their killer design the first time around (HP Mini 2133) meant that they had only to make minor adjustments to their system to keep it up-to-date, with most of these adjustments being technical upgrades. Sony has found a basic design into which they could, if they wished, continue for quite some time with only minor adjustments. Their Vaio UX is proof of such capabilities (although the keyboard on that, put plainly, was atrocious).

conclusion

It’s a shame to note that Sony is already seemingly in the process of phasing out their Vaio P in favor of the Vaio W which is actually called a netbook by their marketing department. (It’s actually larger although less expensive than the Vaio P, which is seemingly a step backwards, although it would be an accurate real-life example of analysts’ predictions that netbooks are merely a fad.) I personally find very little room for improvement on the Vaio P. My only requests would be a screen that takes up more of the available space in the lid, an unlocked GSM modem (as opposed to the Verizon-only modem it comes with) and a GPS that functions independently of whether or not the Verizon modem is activated. When someone such as me is in personal possession of three Nokia N-Series devices and a fourth loaned N-Series device, however, I find that it’s far easier to use those than the Vaio P, even though it might be a joy to use the display as a GPS map.

In a time when Apple can release something as “revolutionary” as an iPad and still people buy them like hotcakes, it’s devices like the Vaio P which make me feel happy with my business decisions. For less than the cost of an iPad, I got myself a full-featured computer that smokes most netbooks and is a lot more portable than a laptop. In that regards, the Vaio P is the perfect machine for me, especially as I do no gaming and have very light YouTube / video needs.

Soon I believe we’ll see a rapid decline in iPad demand. Afterall, there’s only so much one can do with it before they need a real computer. Perhaps the iPad will manage to kill the netbook, but I doubt it will ever manage to kill the Vaio P. As a potential consumer for both devices, in the used market, I would be quick to pick up one of these bargain-priced Vaio P computers before all of the iPad owners realize their mistake and demand for the Vaio P picks up again. Heck, you could even then sell the Vaio P, make a profit, and go get yourself an iPad later on. (Just a thought.)

My Vaio P is basically one of my new best friends. I doubt I’ll be selling it in the immediate future, and can definitely see it travelling with me to Germany next year. Only time will tell, so keep tuned till later.

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