Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
Sony VAIO L Series (VPCL118FGB) touch-screen PC
An all-in-one touch-screen PC that makes for a great media centre and all-round desktop
- Accurate and responsive Full HD touch screen, ships with Adobe Elements software, ready to use as soon as you pull it out of the box
- Lacks eSATA, no expansion slot, needs a bigger hard drive, needs a dual digital TV tuner
Full HD touch-screen PCs may not be everyone's cup of tea, but for those of you who want one, Sony's L Series is a good option. Its screen is excellent, it's easy to use and it ships with plenty of software so you can be up and running in no time. However, it could use more hard drive space and a few more expansion options.
Price$ 2,999.00 (AUD)
Touch screen PCs haven't yet changed the way we compute at home or in the office — most of us are still more comfortable using a mouse to move the cursor rather than prodding or dragging our fingers across a screen. Sony's VAIO L Series (VPCL118FG) all-in-one touch screen PC is the latest model to try and convert us — and it succeeds with its good looks and ease of use.
The screen and overall design
The Sony's VAIO L Series (VPCL118FG) is an elegant, 24in all-in-one PC with a design that's understated — to a point. There are no overbearing lights, just tiny LEDs at the top of the screen; you don't get any buttons except for power and turning off the display, both of which sit conveniently at the top of the unit. The button for switching off the display is particularly useful if you want to listen to music in the dark. A Blu-ray drive can be found on the right side of the PC; USB, FireWire and audio ports are on the left, and more USB ports, as well as networking, TV and optical audio ports, are on the rear. The unit sits on a desk in the same way a picture frame would, and it can be tilted back.
The rear of the L Series has an antenna connection, a Gigabit Ethernet port, a digital audio port, and three USB 2.0 ports.
The PC has a Full HD screen and it supports dual finger inputs, so it can take advantage of Windows 7's multitouch capabilities. You can use your fingers to drag files, zoom and rotate photos, scroll windows and flick back and forth between files, folders and Web pages.
The screen itself has plenty of contrast and images look vibrant, but it is glossy and reflections will sometimes drive you crazy (especially while you are watching TV). At 24in, the screen is a good size if you want to use the L Series as a TV in an average-sized room; it comes with a remote control, and the integrated speakers will fill a small space easily. It has a hybrid TV tuner installed, which means it can receive digital and analog channels. We'd prefer a dual digital tuner so that you could record one digital channel while watching another, or record two digital channels simultaneously.
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit edition is installed, and the Media Centre interface of the operating system is used for watching TV. You can also view DVDs through the Media Centre interface, but not Blu-ray movies (which are watched using the preinstalled WinDVD BD software). There's no doubt the L Series is geared towards multimedia activities such as viewing and editing photos and videos, watching TV, DVDs and Blu-ray movies, and listening to music. It ships with plenty of software to help you edit photos and piece together home movies, including Adobe Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements.
The Intel Core 2 Duo E7500 CPU, which runs at 2.93GHz, will have no problems running those programs and its speed is beneficial when you render videos and transcode media files. In the Blender rendering test, it took 1min 04 sec to render our test 3D image. This is not as fast as the Fujitsu T5010 tablet-convertible notebook, which uses a 2.8GHz Core 2 Duo T9600 mobile CPU. However the T9600 CPU is a better performer as it has 6MB of cache as opposed to E7500's 3MB. The rest of the L Series' configuration includes 4GB of DDR3 SDRAM, an NVIDIA GeForce 210M graphics adapter and a 500GB hard drive.
We wish the drive was larger. For a PC that will be used to create and consume media files, 500GB is not enough; we'd like to see at least a 1TB drive, and 2TB would be optimal. Of course, you could connect external USB 2.0 drives or store files over a network — you get five USB 2.0 ports and a Gigabit Ethernet port, as well as 802.11n WiFi — but more local storage would be appreciated.
The NVIDIA GeForce 210M is a mainstream graphics adapter that won't play many games unless they are at a low detail level. If you want a PC for high-end gaming, you'll have to look elsewhere.
A hardware and software solution
The VAIO software that ships with the PC is useful for novice users as there aren't many features and effects to choose from; simply line up your videos in the order you want them to appear and the program will do the rest. However, if you want to take more creative control over your work, you can use the afore-mentioned Adobe programs. VAIO Media Gallery is a useful program for viewing and sorting your photos, and it works nicely with the touch screen.
In many ways, the Sony VAIO L Series touch-screen PC is ideal for anyone who wants a complete hardware and software solution that isn't a Mac. Because it comes with Adobe Premiere and Photoshop Elements preinstalled, as well as VAIO-braded software, all you have to do once you get home is plug in the power cable, switch the PC on and start using it. (The keyboard and mouse are cordless, so you'll need to switch them on, too.)
You might have to calibrate the touch screen the first time you use it, but for us it worked perfectly straight out of the box. It was accurate enough to allow us to select files and menu items, as well as minimise and close windows with our fingers. Gestures for zooming and rotating photos were recognised without any problems and we rarely had to repeat one.
A machine like the VAIO L Series doesn't come cheap, and $2999 definitely isn't a sum that many of us can afford to splurge on a new PC. But if you want a good looking, all-in-one PC with a touch screen, then it's definitely worth considering. It's powerful enough for image and video editing — and it ships with approximately $200 worth of Adobe software to boot. It can be used as a media centre PC and it won't take you long to set it up.
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