In spite of an early model that didn't convince us and which didn't convince Sony's European clients either, Sony has persevered with the Vaio P, a unique netbook. Listening to the criticism, Sony has improved the design and build, changed the storage system (more responsive SSD) and reduced the price of its device significantly. The new Sony Vaio VPCP11 is here!
Handling, design and build: more practical and inaudible
The new Sony Vaio P retains the compactness of the old version. The innovation is the colours! The most sober model is in a nice white, while our test model is a rather flashy green. Whether you like it or not, you can only be impressed at the manufacturing quality of the device. The finish is also very good, in spite of the slightly less luxurious feel in comparison to the previous model. The bright colours in fact give a toyish aspect to it. We don't have any problem with this but it's obviously been designed with the idea of making it more popular. All the same, we like the choice of matte plastic as it picks up fewer finger prints.
The keyboard has small keys (13.5 x 12 mm) separated and flat. All available space is used and the Sony engineers have even managed to place click buttons at the bottom and a trackpad in the centre of the keyboard. Typing is supple and comfortable with soft keys that react well. The size of the keys won't however necessarily be practical for those with big fingers, especially as there's no wrist rest.
The trackpoint is the same as on the old version. It's still a sort of small rough ball that you manipulate with the end of your finger. Precision is good but requires some adaptation. This sort of trackpoint is often to be found on pro laptops (the IBM Thinkpad that was bought by Lenovo for example).
The innovation is situated on the right of the screen - a mini touchpad for those who don't like the trackpoint! You use it with the right thumb (not so good for left-handers). The left thumb naturally finds its way to the space above the left and right clicks (2 other buttons to the left of the screen, in addition to those situated under the keyboard), while the right thumb falls on the touchpad. In spite of its smooth, glossy coating, the glide is pretty good and well designed for the thumb which is more powerful than the fingers you usually use on standard touchpads. The available surface is very reduced however and the thumb often goes beyond the tactile area.
The webcam image is just about ok. It's a shame that Sony hasn't thought it worth improving. Fluidity is good, but it still lacks sharpness and brightness (especially when you're in a dark room). It's also a shame that the webcam has been positioned low down on the right hand side of the screen because you're pictured in profile and appear to be looking elsewhere.
Thanks to the introduction of an SSD (no moving parts in contrast to a magnetic hard drive), the new Sony Vaio VPCP11 is now totally inaudible. Passive cooling (no fan) is apparently sufficient to disperse whatever heat builds up. The underneath of the computer does however get very hot when you place it on a table for a short while. Thicker rubber studs might have been a good idea to improve cooling.
Connectivity is very limited due to the reduced space on the sides of the machine. There are 2 USB ports nevertheless, a headphones socket and a proprietary extension socket for a special box which allows you to add a VGA and an RJ45, which is very practical when you return home from the office.
It also has 3G and a GPS with an electronic compass. This is practical if you want to remain connected to the web while on the move (as long as you have the right subscription) and not get lost when you're on holiday.
Under the PC only the battery can be removed, which is already a good thing. For access to the rest, you have to completely disassemble the machine, which we don't advise given the complexity of the build (reserved for enthusiasts).
|The Sony Vaio VPCP11 is sold with a protector case in varying colours||Antitheft, USB 2.0 and proprietary socket
|Power supply, USB 2.0 and Wi-Fi switch
||Trackpoint, keyboard and clicks
Processing: office doc work and internet, which is exactly what it will be used for
Windows 7 index: 2.3. Detail: CPU 2.5 - Memory 4.3 - Graphics 4.3 - Gaming graphics 2.3 - Main hard drive 5.2.
Like the previous Sony Vaio VGN-P31ZK, the new Sony Vaio VPCP11S1E has an Intel Atom Z540 processor. Clocked at 1.86 GHz, it compares well with the Intel Atom N450 that is used on almost all current netbooks. However, don't expect any miracles as it scores just 19 on our index after being put through our test protocol, compared to 100 for our reference machine, the Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Xi3650 (equipped with an Intel Core 2 Duo T9400) and 19 or 20 on most netbooks. We can therefore only advise the Vaio P for office doc work and internet use.
Although performance levels don't seem any better than before, responsiveness is in fact much better and there are far fewer system slowdowns. This is because of the fact that the 4200 rpm hard drive used for the P31ZK has been replaced by an SSD. You notice this as of start-up of Windows 7 (32 bit Family Premium edition). The Windows desktop comes up in 38 seconds (then another 20 seconds for the main applications to load) and the machine closes down in around 20 seconds. This is more or less twice as fast as the old Vaio P.
While we had hoped for it to be a bit faster, the introduction of the SSD has already solved the problem of slowdowns.
High def video playback (HD 1080p, Blue-Ray equivalent) is no problem on this machine! Surprising perhaps but the integrated graphics (Poulsbo chipset) handles HD wonderfully. Processor occupation is around 22% with hardware acceleration activated (use compatible video playback software such as Power DVD) for power consumption of around 19 watts.
3D gaming: gamers look elsewhere
Although the graphics part handles HD well-enough, it doesn't have the power for 3D. Only models with ATI or NVIDIA ION graphics chips can handle a few recent games and even then as long as the CPU doesn't cut down performance too much (a single core Intel Atom is insufficient).
Audio: don't forget the headphones
The audio still suffers from the fact that this Vaio is so small. Dry, disagreeable, dominance of treble. You're best to use the relatively clean headphones out.
Mobility, battery life: battery life up 50%
Sony has also managed to increase battery life by an hour on this new version. The VPCP11 manages 3h09 in video playback (Wi-Fi disactivated, heaphones plugged in and brightness at 100 cd/m²), which is enough to watch a film and check your email without the battery running down.
Another plus, the charger is very compact. What you notice most however is how light this Sony Vaio P is. At slightly over 600 grammes, it is half as heavy as an average netbook. It remains very slim at just 2 cm thick once closed. This makes it ideal for your handbag.