What's hot: Unique full Windows 7 PC with a very good keyboard and widescreen display. Superb build and looks.
What's not: Pricey, speed is adequate but still in the netbook range.
Reviewed June 30, 2010 by Lisa Gade, Editor
There are quite a few miniature notebooks on the market from the likes of Viliv, Fujitsu and other less well known manufacturers, but none manage the cache, quality and usable keyboard of the Sony Vaio P. The first generation Vaio P that we reviewed in March 2009 and first saw at the CES trade show in January 2009 made a lasting impression on the press and consumers with its unique form factor, extremely high resolution 8”, 1600 x 768 display and “normal” keyboard. To borrow Sony’s old tag line, it was certainly like no other. By omitting the wrist rest area, the Vaio P was only half as deep as even the smallest netbook, making Sony’s Vaio X (a 1.5 lb. 11” ultralight) seem large.
The second generation Vaio P was long in coming since it’s not easy to evolve something this miniaturized and custom engineered. More than a year later, an eon for the tech world, the re-designed P is finally here in two models: the base $899 model that’s available in a variety of mundane and entertaining colors with a 1.6GHz Intel Atom CPU and the $1,499 black model with a 2GHz Atom CPU. Though the Atom CPU puts the Vaio P in the netbook camp, the rest of the specs place it firmly outside, hence the high ticket price relative to netbooks. Beyond Sony’s excellent build quality and aesthetics (second only to Apple), the P’s super-high resolution/high DPI/high quality display, dual band WiFi 802.11n, Bluetooth, Windows 7 Home Premium rather than Starter Edition and 2 gigs of RAM are better than netbook fodder. One can argue whether this is a netbook or an ultra-mobile PC, but I’d say beyond the Atom CPU, it’s not a netbook.
For those of you familiar with the first generation Vaio P, here’s a rundown of new features:
Redesigned casing with an improved keyboard and non-gloss (non-fingerprint magnet) lid
New optical trackpad and mouse buttons on the display bezel
Accelerometer and motion sensor for switching display orientation and moving forward/back a screen in some apps
S-GPS on the signature model
SSD drive standard on all models, using SATA for seriously improved speed
Power button and wireless control moved
400 mAh more battery capacity, significantly better battery life
Windows 7 Home Premium rather than piggish Vista
Verizon 3G EV-DO and GPS no longer included in base model
The combined VGA + Ethernet dongle is no longer included (it sells for $60)
The battery redesign means gen 1 Vaio P batteries won’t work in the new model
Noise canceling stereo earbuds are included
Specs and features:
1.6GHz Intel Atom Z530 CPU (2Ghz Z550 on the signature model) with Intel GMA 500 integrated graphics
2 gigs RAM, 128 gig SSD drive (256 on the signature model)
WiFi 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1 +EDR
1600 x 768 resolution, 8” mid-gloss LED backlit display
Verizon 3G with GPS on signature model
VGA webcam with mic
Ports: 2 USB 2.0 ports, stereo headphone jack, dongle port (for VGA + Ethernet adapter)
2500 mAh 2 cell battery standard, extended 4 cell, 5000 mAh battery sells for $129
If you’re shopping for a 3 to 3.5 lb. netbook that sells for under $500, stop reading now. This isn’t your beast. If you think 1.3 lb. notebooks with the requisite low horsepower specs are silly, this isn’t your kind of product. If your eyes aren’t good, look elsewhere. That 1600 x 768 resolution packed into an 8” widescreen (very widescreen) display requires good vision. Not because the display quality isn’t there—at around 200ppi it’s extremely sharp and even tiny text is readable, but it’s still tiny text. But wait: Sony did hear our moans or perhaps they went nearly blind when using the P for a few months and answered our prayers with the second gen’s resolution switcher button. Conveniently located near the front right corner of the keyboard, this button drops the P to a much more eyeball-friendly 1280 x 600. And it’s not some goofy zoom function that requires annoying panning and loss of quality; it does the same thing as going to display settings and dropping down the resolution. You can switch back and forth on the fly; there’s no need to close applications or reboot.
Nobody would call the last gen 1.3GHz P spritely, though upgrading to Windows 7 or downgrading to Windows XP helped. The Intel GMA 500 seemed to be the bane of the P’s existence, especially for Flash playback. The new model is much faster thanks to Windows 7 and good software and hardware engineering. With 2 gigs of RAM and the SSD drive, the Vaio P feels faster than most netbooks, and it’s actually faster than my Sony Vaio X that has the faster 2GHz Atom but a sluggish PATA interface on its SSD drive. Clearly, this isn’t the machine for serious gaming, software development or CAD design, but it has no problems with MS Office 2010, Firefox, Google Chrome and even Photoshop CS4 (see our video review). Bloatware is on board, but it’s not over the top in terms of software that affects performance, and the only changes I made before filming our video were to remove Norton Internet Security 2009 trialware (replaced with MS Security Essentials for free) and install Flash 10.1 for hardware Flash video decoding. The Intel GMA 500 has hardware support for video playback but Flash 10.1 is required for Flash acceleration.
Video Review with demos of Flash playback, Photoshop CS4 and more:
Indeed, the Vaio had no problem with standard low def Flash playback on YouTube and Hulu, and it could handle HD YouTube at 720p around 22fps. Hulu full screen playback manages about 20-25fps, but stay away from the HD option. Playback of local MPEG4 WMV files was smooth up to 1280 x 720 (any higher and you’re exceeding the display resolution anyway). Hmmm… not your grandma’s P. That said; think of the 2nd gen Vaio P as a fast netbook, not a replacement for a powerful laptop. The dual thread, single core Atom can handle a few applications running at once, but go for more than 6 tabs in Firefox with Photoshop running and Outlook chugging away and you’ll see the CPU stay peaked. Happily Sony has improved the passive (no fans) cooling and our 1.6GHz Vaio P didn’t often scale down CPU speed to reduce temps (at around 50 centigrade the machine will throttle back to prevent heat-stressing the components). That’s good news because running at 800MHz is no fun unless you’re doing simple tasks. In our tests playing an 800 x 480 high bitrate MPEG4 movie, the P's hottest spot at the bottom didn't rise above 98 degrees Fahrenheit and the CPU averaged 34% utilization.
The notebook comes with 2 gigs of DDR2 533MHz RAM and that’s not upgradable. With several applications running, we typically had 1 gig of RAM free. The standard model has an SATA 128 gig drive and the signature has 256 gigs. Our 128 gig machine had 90 gigs free after adding 1 gig of movies, full Office 2010, Photoshop CS4, a host of Windows updates and a few smaller apps. There is no room for an optical drive, so you’ll need to use an external USB CD/DVD drive (commonly sold for $40-$75 at electronics stores).
Here are our PCMark05 benchmarks for the 1.6GHz Vaio P 2010 model. Note that the benchmark numbers didn’t budge when we dropped the resolution down to 1280 x 600 (interesting).
PC Marks: 1254
Hard drive: 11,075
The subtly resigned chiclet keyboard is much easier to type on, and after 30 minutes I was typing at 75wpm with no effort (I am accustomed to subnotebook keyboards and have long, thin fingers). The keyboard is better than the last gen model’s and it’s much better than the Vaio X keyboard and some netbook keyboards. If Lenovo made a ThinkPad this size, the keyboard would be like the 2010 Vaio P’s.
The eraser stick pointer embedded in the keyboard remains the same, and that’s a good thing since it works well and I love the tap to click feature. The right and left clickers are fairly loud, unlike the incredibly quiet stereo speakers (no wonder Sony now includes noise canceling earbuds in the box). Sony has added an optical trackpad on the lower right display bezel and this works well if you’re allergic to eraser stick pointers or are holding the P close. You can tap the trackpad to click or use the mouse buttons on the left corner of the display bezel.
The display is extremely sharp and colorful—no dull and fuzzy netbook display here. Viewing angles are also good and we love the new accelerometer-based screen rotation feature. Want to use the Vaio as an ebook reader? Rotate it and it switches to portrait mode. In fact, it makes a darned good ereader, and I particularly like Adobe Digital Editions on the P since it does facing pages at full resolution and offers a larger font that’s easy to read in landscape mode at full and particularly 1280 resolution. The motion sensor that lets you move forward and back with a slight flick of the notebook seems more like a gimmick, though it does reduce dependency on the eraser stick and nav pad. This feature works in IE (but not other browsers) and Adobe Reader (but not in the Kindle, B&N or Digital Editions apps). You can disable this feature for bumpy bus rides and rocking chairs. You need not worry about flicking and flipping the P since it has no moving parts and no conventional hard drive with crashable heads.
The Vaio has a "Web" button next to the resolution switcher and when the notebook is off, this launches an instant-on mode web browser (it looks Mozilla-based and a lot like Firefox). it takes about 10 seconds to boot into the web browser from power off.
Battery life was the last gen P's Achilles' heel, but things are looking up for the second gen. Battery capacity has increased from 2,100 mAh to 2,500 mAh and despite the faster CPU, the new model runs considerably longer. Our first gen Vaio with the 1.3GHz Atom and SSD averaged 2.5 hours with conservative brightness settings and our new 1.6GHz P manages 3.5 to 4 hours with brightness set to 80% (the ambient light sensor will still vary the brightness) and default power management settings. We left Bluetooth and WiFi on in our tests and used the P for working on MS Office documents, checking email with Outlook running in the background, surfing the web using Firefox and editing a few dSLR images with Adobe Photoshop CS4. When used as an ebook reader courtesy of Adobe Digital Editions and Kindle for PC, the battery barely budged after an hour of reading.
Sony sells an extended battery for $129, and it's a 4 cell battery that doubles battery capacity to 5000 mAh. Like the last gen P, the charger is extremely small and light and it's interchangeable with the last model's. The batteries aren't interchangeable between the old and new models, so sell your spare batteries if you're upgrading from a first gen Vaio P.
We're thrilled that the 2010 Viao P doesn't have the usual Sony problem where the battery drains excessively when the notebook is turned off. Overnight, the battery loses only 1% of charge rather than the usual 5% for a Vaio.
The optical trackpad in the glass display bezel.
Orange, pink and neon green are available for you flashy types (and me).
We said it last year and we'll say it again: the Sony Vaio P is all about the keyboard and the display. No other tiny PC offers a usable keyboard and a widescreen display that banishes side-scrolling, even at the more viewable 1280 pixel setting. Sony addressed our complaints with the second generation model, making the keyboard even better, increasing battery life, improving video playback and adding the handy resolution switcher for more comfortable reading. It's still not as easy on the eyes as a large display, low resolution netbook, but the P is about getting as much of a real notebook experience as possible into a very small package.
Clearly this notebook isn't for everyone, though Sony tells us the last gen P sold well and the new one is in high demand. The Vaio P is for Internet workers on the go, IT people, certain vertical markets and tech fashionistas. Given the passive cooling requirements of a 1.3 lb. tiny notebook, the Intel Atom Z series is the only real choice right now, and it gets the job done for MS Office, web and email. In fact it can handle casual gaming and Photoshop, but it's no replacement for a full-sized notebook unless your needs are basic.
Price: $899 for standard model and $1,499 for the signature edition
Display:8", 1600 x 768 pixel color XBrite-Eco LED backlit display. Intel GMA500 integrated graphics. Can resolution switch to 1280 x 600. VGA port via optional dongle adapter, max external monitor resolution is 1600 x 1200.
Battery:2500 mAh Lithium
Ion rechargeable included. Claimed runtime: 4 to 4.5 hours. Optional extended double capacity battery sells for $129.
Atom Z530 1.6GHz (single core, two threads) CPU on standard model with 128 SATA SSD. Intel Atom Z550 2GHz CPU with 256 gig SATA SSD drive on signature edition. All models have 2 gigs of DDR2, 533MHz RAM soldered on the motherboard (not upgradable).
x 4.72 x 0.78 inches. Weight: 1.3 pounds.
Camera:VGA webcam with mic.
in stereo speakers, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
jack. Intel HD audio. Noise canceling stereo earbuds included.
WiFi 802.11b/g/n dual band and Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR. Verizon 3G on the signature model.
7 Home Premium. Sony utilities for maintenance and wireless management, Evernote, MS Office 2010 (Starter Edition but will run as standard edition if you enter a product key), Norton Internet Security 2009, Vaio Media Plus, ArcSoft webcam and effects software and MS SLQ Server 2008.
SD (Secure Digital) slot and 1 Memory Stick Pro Duo slot.