New VAIO P Hands-on: Wild Colors, Tiny Touchpad, Accelerometerized

How much more would you be willing to pay for a netbook that weighs at least a pound less than the competition and easily slips into a coat pocket? Back in January of last year Sony was hoping it would be $899, but with the latest version of the VAIO P the company has knocked $100 off while adding bold new colors, a faster CPU, and a unique touchpad built into the screen’s bezael. There’s even an integrated accelerometer, which you could use for reading eBooks or viewing Web pages with less scrolling. The new VAIO P series has the same 9.7 x 0.7 x 4.7-inch, 1.4-pound body as its predecessor along with the following specs:

  • 2.0-GHz Atom Z560 CPU (the original had a 1.6-GHz Atom)
  • Windows 7 Home Premium
  • 2GB of RAM
  • An 8-inch 1600×768 screen
  • Splashtop Instant-on operating system that boots in approximately 15 seconds when you hit the Web button
  • Sony Assist button launches VAIO Care troubleshooting software
  • Up to 256GB of SSD Storage (the original maxed out at 64GB)
  • Dual pointing options: a pointing stick sits in the middle of the keyboard while a thumb-sized touchpad is built into the screen bezel.
  • Accelerometer that changes the screen orientation when you rotate the system
  • 3.5 to 4 hours of rated battery life with the default battery, 7 hours with an extended battery
  • 3G Mobile Broadband from Verizon
  • Available in white, black, electric orange, neon green, or hot pink.

We had a chance to test out a pre-production unit in neon green this past week and came away eager to see how the final build will perform. Clearly, this is an amazingly compact form factor that provides the full Windows 7 computing experience. But is it worth $70 more than the 64GB 3G iPad? Check out our impressions below.

Keyboard

Though we wish the keys offered a little more tactile feedback, we were impressed with their size and spacing. Using the Ten Thumbs Typing test, we were able to achieve a rate of 69 words-per-minute with a 1-percent error rate on our first try. That’s lower than our typical 80 wpm, but we feel confident that if we used the VAIO P every day, our score would improve dramatically.

Pointing Options

We really like the pointing stick and found it incredibly accurate for navigating around the high-resolution desktop. We particularly appreciate the middle mouse button that turns the stick into a scroll wheel, a feature that’s present on Lenovo ThinkPads, but lacking on  other pointing-stick-based systems like the HP Elitebook line.

A tiny touchpad which Sony refers to as a “mobile nav grip” sits on the right side of the screen bezel and allows users to navigate around the desktop using only a thumb. Left and right mouse buttons sit on the left side bezel. The touchpad’s positioning makes it easy to use the VAIO P while standing, with one thumb on the nav and another on the buttons. Given the netbook’s small size, we can imagine users carrying it around the office or the house, and surfing the Web as they walk down the hall.

Screen

The VAIO P’s screen fells bigger than it is, because the 8-inch panel has so much more screen real estate than a typical 10-inch netbook’s display. Where most 10-inch netbooks have only 1024 x 600 resolutions, the VAIO P has a whopping 1600 x 768, enough to view Web pages without a ton of scrolling.

Color and Material

The original Sony VAIO P had tastefully colored lids with a metal keyboard and deck, but this new VAIO P has a plastic keyboard and deck and comes in a variety of neon colors in addition to the more conservative black and white shades. Our sample unit’s neon green chassis had a polarizing effect on the staff, with some regarding the color as garish and others calling it vibrant and candy-like. We would have liked the option to get the VAIO P in the original metal design.

Final Thoughts

With a starting price of $799, the new VAIO P is expensive for a secondary system, costing twice as much as the average netbook and over $100 more than an entry-level iPad 3G (which has much longer battery life but an inferior keyboard). However, the unique form-factor and screen give the VAIO P the potential to be a compelling device for road warriors and tech fashionistas. Adding touch capability would seem like a no-brainer given the high price, but we’re not convinced Windows 7 is the right platform for that kind of input, especially on such a high-res screen.

The original VAIO P Series had issues with performance and heat that made it hard to justify its $1,199 price (as configured). Our preproduction VAIO P was not fit to be benchmarked so we’re waiting for Sony to send us a final build to find out whether this new version will make us neon green with envy.


AUTHOR BIO
Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
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