So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Sony VAIO VPCW21BAGZ netbook
The Sony VAIO VPCW21BAGZ netbook has a unique design and good build quality, but suffers from poor battery life
- Unique style, good build quality, excellent display, wide palm rest and good touchpad, faster processor than many netbooks, adequate performance
- Poor battery life, only two USB ports, slightly cramped keyboard
Sony has splashed the VAIO VPCW21BAGZ netbook with a Billabong theme, but it's the netbook's high resolution screen, good build quality and adequate performance that should win the most praise. The slightly cramped keyboard and poor battery life are downsides, but the VAIO VPCW21BAGZ remains a decent option if you're after a netbook for basic tasks.
Price$ 599.00 (AUD)
Sony's latest VAIO netbook is the VPCW21BAGZ; it's a competent 10in netbook with a slightly faster CPU and a higher screen resolution than most of its competitors. It also features a limited edition Billabong design that helps it stand out from the crowd.
Sony VAIO VPCW21BAGZ: Design
The netbook's lid features an 'Imperial Lime' design that Sony says will be seen on Billabong board-shorts this summer. Its style won't appeal to everyone, but it is definitely a unique touch. The lid has a matte finish, so it's easy to keep free of fingerprints and smudges.
Flipped open, the Sony VAIO VPCW21BAGZ looks and feels impressive. Its body is constructed from sturdy feeling plastic, the screen exhibits minimal flex when pressed, and the hinges feel strong. We also like the textured finish surrounding the keyboard and palm rest — it is easy to keep clean and also provides good grip while you're typing.
The VAIO VPCW21BAGZ's 10.1in screen has a glossy finish but it is less susceptible to reflections than many other notebook screens we've seen. Thankfully, the black bezel surrounding the display is matte plastic and minimises the effect of any reflections. The screen has average viewing angles, but it is bright and clear enough for most tasks. Most netbooks have 1024x600 resolution screens, but the VPCW21BAGZ's display has a higher 1366x768 resolution.
The Sony VAIO VPCW21BAGZ's keyboard is perhaps the weakest aspect of its design. The keys are well laid out, but some keys (including the right Shift key and the arrow keys) are much smaller and narrower than usual. The keys themselves are firm, but don't provide as much travel as we would have liked. The longer you use the keyboard the more comfortable it feels, however. The VAIO VPCW21BAGZ's touchpad is reasonably sized for a 10in netbook, and its buttons provide good travel and a reassuring click when pressed.
At 1.19kg, the Sony VAIO VPCW21BAGZ is easy to carry with you all day. It's a little top-heavy (so it doesn't balance well on your lap with the screen open at an angle greater than 90 degrees). It also gets reasonably warm — though not hot.
The Sony VAIO VPCW21BAGZ's standard 3-cell battery lasted a very poor 1hr 47min in our battery rundown test, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise brightness and loop an Xvid-encoded video. By way of comparison, Medion's Akoya E1222 netbook, which is much cheaper than the VAIO, lasted almost four hours. If you purchase the VAIO VPCW21BAGZ, we recommend picking up the optional six-cell battery so the netbook will last longer away from a power outlet.
Sony VAIO VPCW21BAGZ: Performance
The Sony VAIO VPCW21BAGZ is powered by a 1.83GHz Intel Atom N470 processor, 1GB of DDR2 RAM, a 250GB hard drive, and integrated Intel graphics. The VAIO VPCW21BAGZ is one of the first netbooks to feature the new N470 Intel Atom processor; an upgrade over last year's N280 CPU, which ran at 1.66GHz. The new processor aims to produce better performance and longer battery life.
In our performance tests, the Sony VAIO VPCW21BAGZ recorded a time of 6min 15sec in the Blender 3D rendering test, which is faster than the Samsung N220 netbook. However, it fell slightly short of the N220 in the iTunes MP3 encoding test — completing the task in 7min 37sec. The N220 only took 7min 3sec in this test, despite running a 1.66GHz Intel Atom N450.
The Sony VAIO VPCW21BAGZ hasn't been designed to play games, and its low score of 158 in 3DMark06 reflects this. The 1366x768 display resolution can cope with standard-definition movies and some HD content, but it isn't large enough for any serious movie watching. The built-in speakers lack bass and distort at high volumes, but sound is adequate when using headphones. A VGA webcam is located above the display.
Sony VAIO VPCW21BAGZ: Connectivity
The Sony VAIO VPCW21BAGZ comes with two USB 2.0 ports, a VGA port, microphone and headphone jacks, 10/100 Ethernet, a Kensington lock slot, an SD card slot and a Memory Stick slot. Most netbooks have at least three USB ports, so the fact that there's only two is a little disappointing, but the inclusion of a dedicated Memory Stick slot is perfect for users of Sony digital cameras. The VAIO VPCW21BAGZ also includes Bluetooth and 802.11n Wi-Fi, which can be turned on and off via a switch on the front.
The Sony VAIO VPCW21BAGZ ships with Windows 7 Starter preinstalled, and it also comes with a range of software, including a handy "VAIO Gate" dock which sits at the top of the screen and performs a similar function to the Mac OSX dock. You can choose to load it upon start-up, or have it only appear when you move the mouse cursor to the top of the screen, and you can easily drag a folder or shortcut from the desktop into the VAIO Gate for quick access.
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