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Sony VAIO X505

Dripping with seductive charm, Sony's seriously ultraportable VAIO X505 will be difficult to resist, but its beauty will cost you in both features and performance. And at £1,701 (ex. VAT, or £1,999 inc. VAT) it's not exactly a bargain -- especially considering the small screen and keyboard and the lack of an internal optical drive and modem. Sony is facing competition from less-expensive competitors, including the Dell Inspiron 700m, the Toshiba Portege R100 and the IBM ThinkPad X40, all of which are slightly larger than the VAIO X505 but about half the price. Nevertheless, the VAIO X505 is about the sexiest ultraportable on the market. If you don't mind its reduced feature set, you can always pay off that credit card bill next year.

The charcoal and silver VAIO X505 is the slimmest ultraportable on the market. Measuring 25.9cm wide and 20.8cm deep, the VAIO X505 is a remarkable 2.1cm thick at its widest point and 0.97cm at its thinnest -- smaller than the tiny Toshiba Portege R100. Tipping the scales at a twiggy 0.83kg, the VAIO X505 is also one of the lightest (if not the lightest) notebooks available; the chocolate bar-sized AC adapter bumps up its travel weight to a negligible 1.08kg.

Despite its pint-size form factor, the VAIO X505 incorporates a basic but fairly complete array of essential features. Its 10.4in. (diagonal) screen, with a 1,024 by 768 native resolution, is big enough to work on; however, it's a bit dimmer and smaller than the screen on the Portege R100. The VAIO X505's keyboard features small but usable 17mm keys with 1.5mm of depth (19mm and 2.0mm are more typical); it does flex a bit under intense typing. Embedded near the centre of the keyboard is the pointing stick. The three small mouse buttons sit just below the keyboard, quite close to the tiny spacebar, which occasionally results in some cursor chaos when typing. The VAIO X505's internal stereo speakers, positioned somewhere below the keyboard, are totally lame -- you'll need to plug into the single headphone jack for any audio needs.

As a result of its sheer smallness, the VAIO X505 skimps on features; in fact, it barely has the essentials. The system offers two USB 2.0 ports, a four-pin FireWire port, and a PC Card slot for the 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi card that Sony includes with the system. Sony also throws in a dongle that does double duty providing inputs for LAN and VGA monitor connections. The only critical features missing are an optical drive and modem, but these are the trade-offs Sony makes for such a beautifully minimalist notebook.

The system comes with a decent software package. The highlight is Microsoft Windows XP Professional, but you also get Norton Internet Security, Adobe Premiere Standard, Photoshop Elements and Photoshop Album Starter Edition, InterVideo WinDVD for DVD playback, and a number of Sony applications for audio, video and system recovery needs.

The VAIO X505 comes standard with a smallish 20GB hard drive (you can upgrade to 60GB) and 512MB of 400MHz memory, 64MB of which is shared with the system's Intel 855GM video card. The system's low-voltage 1.1GHz Pentium M processor delivers slightly above-average performance compared to other similar systems. The VAIO X505 proved competent in our MobileMark 2002 tests with both real-world office and content-creation applications.

However, for such an incredibly portable system, we wish the VAIO X505 offered better battery life. Its 11.1V, 2,000mAh (22WHr) battery isn't terrible, lasting just under three hours in our rundown tests, but better battery life would edge the VAIO X505 a bit closer to perfection.

Like other VAIO notebooks, the VAIO X505 comes with a one-year warranty on parts and labour, but you'll need to ship the machine to one of Sony's repair depots (the company pays for shipping).

Sony's solid online support offers software updates and drivers, downloadable manuals, a thorough and searchable knowledge base, and tips for setting up the computer. The Web site chat section is a great way for technicians and users to resolve detailed problems, and the discussions are accessible to other users, too. Sony provides phone support between 8am and 6pm Monday to Friday, at a cost of 7p a minute. You can email a question or a problem to a technician anytime during the life of the product.

         

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