Reviewed by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief. Nov. 11,
(Discontinued and replaced by the Sony TX Series)
Sony is no stranger to making incredibly small
and light notebooks, though some of their coolest offerings are
still only available in Japan. The Vaio 505 line started as a niche
market ultra-small notebook in the US with no internal optical
drive. While the current V505 line
is still small and light at ~4.4 pounds, it has grown larger and
heavier over the years. The now discontinued cult classic Sony
PictureBook offered small size and an integrated VGA camera, but
was low on horsepower and screen real estate. What about those
of us who still want a 3 pound, highly portable and powerful notebook
with great multimedia features in the Sony tradition? Enter the
TR series, widely available in the US.
The Sony Vaio TR2A, which comes
with Windows XP Home Edition.
Top view, closed.
The TR2A weights in at a modest 3.1 pounds and
measures only 10.6 x 7.4". While it's not terribly thin at
1.4", the thickness is worth it because you get an internal
DVD/CDRW drive, PCMCIA slot and a full compliment of ports. You're
not giving up on expandability and functionality by choosing this
ultralight. Of course, ultralight notebooks still run slower processors
than full sized and desktop replacement notebooks due to the cost
and design difficulties relating to heat dissipation in miniaturized
notebooks. The TR2A has a 1 GHz Pentium M processor, while most
full sized notebooks are running at twice that speed.
Probably the most remarkable thing about the
Vaio TR2A besides its small size is its XBRITE display. You likely
haven't seen anything as gorgeous as this display, which surpasses
even OLED (organic LED) and Sharp's CG display used on the Zaurus
C760. The Vaio also has a built-in VGA camera that can take
still photos, record movies and act as a web cam. Finally, it claims
to have one of the longest runtimes, thanks to Centrino technology
and a beefy standard battery.
The Vaio has a magnesium alloy case that's scratch
resistant, and has a light pearly silver finish. The inner surfaces are
nearly white, as is the keyboard. The font used on the keys is very attractive
and futuristic and is the same as the Sony
Clié UX50 PDA— in fact the TR2A and UX50 look like close
cousins in terms of finish and keyboard font and were both designed by
the same person at Sony. The unit is very light and compact, though not
The keyboard is comfy and has 17mm key travel, requiring
little adjustment from standard notebook keyboards. The corners of the
keys are rounded, which looks very cool and integrates well with the
overall design. The Sony has a two button touch pad with a page scroll
feature and you can use an external USB mouse.
The bottom of the TR2A. The RAM
slots are located below the removable door which has ventilation
Size comparison: bottom Apple PowerBook
15" TiBook G4, the TR2A and the Sony
Clié UX50 Palm OS PDA on top. Notice the finish on the
UX50 and TR2A match.
The camera is located along the top edge above the
LCD, and below that a speaker grill runs the length of the LCD. To the
right of the display you'll find a capture button to activate the camera
application, volume up and down buttons and a zoom button that enlarges
the screen image (handy when reading small text). LEDs indicating power,
hard drive activity, WiFi on and Memory Stick access are located on the
front edge and glow either orange or green under a translucent white
acrylic finish. All in all, this is a very attractive and classy looking
Ultra-light subnotebooks are not speed demons compared
to their full-sized notebook brethren. High speed, state of the art processors
don't jibe well with "miniaturization" because of heat dissipation
issues. The cost of high-end processors is also a concern, since you're
already paying extra for that small size. That said, the Intel Ultra
Low Voltage Mobile Pentium M processor running at 1GHz is plenty fast
for even demanding applications. The Intel Centrino technology improves
speed while keeping power requirements low. What is Centrino? It's Intel's
name for their new notebook architecture released in 2003 which combines
their new Pentium M processor, 855 chipset and the Intel PRO/Wireless
2100 WiFi 802.11 network interface. The Pentium M is supposed to be significantly
faster than mobile Pentium 4 processors, yet it uses very little power.
For example, Sony claims that a 1.3 Ghz Centrino Pentium M will outperform
a 2 GHz mobile Pentium 4. The M was designed from the ground up as a
mobile processor where low power, heat dissipation and excellent speed
performance were the goals, rather than being a shrunk down desktop processor.
Centrino definitely hit the mark, and represents a very exciting technology.
The TR2A comes with 512 megs of RAM and runs Windows
XP Home Edition. That's a healthy amount of RAM, and enough to keep your
computer running speedily while using MS Office, web browsers and other
business applications. If you want to run more demanding applications,
you can install an additional 512 meg DDR micro DIMM to bring the machine
up to 1 gig of RAM. The TR2A has 2 DIMM slots that are easily accessible
under a door on the bottom of the computer. 1 slot has a 512 meg DIMM
and the second is empty, so you won't have to discard existing RAM to
upgrade the computer.
The TR2A comes with a 40 meg hard drive. This is one
of those cool new Toshiba 1.8" PCMCIA form factor hard drives that's
permanently installed in the Vaio. While still not as fast as standard
2.5" notebook hard drives, these 1.8" drives have increased
in speed recently, and the drive has a 2 meg cache (the same as most
notebook and basic desktop hard drives) and a 4,200 RPM rotational speed.
Toshiba states that the drive has a 15 ms access time, and uses about
half the power of a 2.5" notebook drive. It's also more shock resistant
than standard notebook drives. How fast does the drive feel? It is the
slowest component, though certainly it's not punishingly slow. I do notice
that XP accesses the drive frequently for about 1 to 2 minutes you've
entered the Windows desktop, and this means the Vaio will run a bit more
slowly until everything has loaded from the hard drive. Once Windows
is loaded, the drive rarely causes slowdowns. You can upgrade to the
full 1 gig of RAM to avoid some hard disk paging and load programs into
RAM, taking the burden off the drive.
Screen, Sound and Battery Life
As stated, the display is a marvel, and once
you use the TR2A it's hard to go back to regular notebook screens.
The display runs at 1280 x 768 resolution and can drive a large
external monitor either in extended desktop or mirroring mode.
It surpasses other Sony notebooks and the Apple PowerBook line,
both known for their excellent LCDs. The TR2A's XBRITE display
is a new technology developed by Sony that allows for a much brighter
(yet power-friendly) display with superb contrast and color saturation.
The display looks like glass rather than the usual dull matte finish
found on notebooks, yet it doesn't glare thanks to a special anti-reflective
coating. The glassy look contributes to the incredibly attractive
look of the screen (like looking at a glossy photo). You can read
a long interview with Sony's engineers that explains XBRITE in
great deal here.
The display is driven by an Intel 855GM integrated
graphics chipset (a part of the Centrino package) with 64 megs
of RAM that's shared with system RAM. I was doubtful about the
power of the 855GM, like any integrated graphics chipset with shared
memory, as this usually aren't stellar performers or great with
games. Happily, the graphics processor runs extremely fast and
is compatible with state of the art games like Rise of Nations.
In fact, the TR2A comes with Age of Empires II, which is a sign
of Sony's faith in the unit's graphics capabilities and also great
fun! These games run perfectly smoothly with all effects turned
on. Adobe Photoshop also runs smoothly when working with web graphics,
but as with any subnotebook, if you're working with 40 meg + print
graphics every day you'll probably want a more powerful machine.
Though the Vaio is very usable working with such large files, it
won't be as fast as a desktop or desktop replacement notebook.
Two speakers that live behind a grill that runs
across the top of the display provide stereo sound. It's not exactly
bass-booming audio, but it's pretty good for built-in speakers.
The TR2A features Dolby Headphone sound and virtual Dolby speaker
sound which makes watching DVDs and playing games while wearing
headphones quite pleasurable. MP3s sound great through headphones
and the Sony TR2A has a standard stereo headphone jack. For recording,
there's a built-in mic located on the outside corner of the wrist
rest area, and a standard mic jack for use with PC microphones.
Sony claims that this notebook has one of the
longest run times on a standard battery, and that may well be true.
Battery life with the standard battery will vary depending on whether
you're using WiFi and what kinds of programs you're running (MS
Word uses less power than Age of Empires II or Photoshop). Sony
claims a maximum of 7 hours on the standard battery, and while
like all manufacturer's claims, that's optimistic, I do get about
4.5 hours on a charge when using WiFi, browsers, MS Office apps
and light Photoshop image processing with the screen set at a still
very bright middle setting. You can play a DVD and still have power
to spare. The Vaio TR2A comes with a very full-featured power management
applications that lets you set screen brightness, sleep times,
processor speed and even fan speed among other things. This level
of granularity combined with the high capacity 4300 mAh standard
battery and Centrino's excellent power management mean long run
times and a relatively cool running computer. If you need even
longer run times, Sony does offer an extended battery that offers
1.5 times the capacity of the standard battery. It looks like the
standard battery, but has a tubular prominence that runs along
the backside of the computer. Unfortunately, Sony charges an outrageous
sum for Vaio batteries compared to other manufacturers, so be prepared
to spend $199 for a spare standard battery and $349 for the extended
Ports, WiFi and Expandability
The Sony TR2A comes with Intel
PRO/ Wireless 2100 802.11b WiFi, which offers exceptional
range in our tests. To turn WiFi off and on, simply use the slider
switch on the front of the computer. The Vaio also has Intel
Pro 10/100 integrated wired Ethernet and a 56k modem. There are
two USB 2.0 ports, one located on the right side of the computer,
and the other under a door on the left side. Under that door
you'll also find an IEEE1394 iLink 4 pin (unpowered) Firewire
port and a proprietary power connector for Sony's external Firewire
optical drives. The standard VGA port and Memory Stick pro slot
(compatible with regular and Pro sticks) are also located on
the left. The PCMCIA slot, compatible with type I and II cards
as well as CardBus cards is located on the right side, as are
the audio out and in jacks. The computer's multi-speed fan is
located on the left side and is very quiet.
The TR2A has a built-in "Motion Eye" camera
that's located on the top edge of the notebook, above the LCD.
The camera assembly swivels 180 degrees allowing you to take photos
and video of yourself, someone or something facing the backside
of the Vaio or anywhere in between. The camera is a VGA CMOS model
with 370,000 pixels (just over 1/3 MP). You can take still photos,
videos and even use the camera as a web cam. It's a manual focus
unit, and the focus wheel (a knurled knob) is located on the top
edge of the camera. As with any VGA camera, it's great for capturing
impromptu shots, vertical market usage and for web conferencing— it
won't replace a standalone digicam. You can launch the camera application
which works for both still and motion videos by pressing the capture
button located to the right of the LCD. The camera can also control
Sony digital HandyCam video cameras that are connected via cable.
Sony always has a good software bundle, and the
Vaio TR2A comes with Windows XP Home Edition (XP Pro is available
on the TR2AP1 and TR2AP3 models), Microsoft Works, Norton Internet
Security (virus protection, firewall and more), Age of Empires
II, MS Money 2004, Quicken 2003 and InterVideo WinDVD 4. In addition
you'll get Sony's own applications such as the camera capture application,
PictureGear Studio, SonicStage (for music), Vaio Media (turn your
Vaio into a multimedia server for other Vaio PCs), and DVgate Plus
video editing software (use it to import video from firewire camcorders
and edit them output movies to media or your hard drive).
The unit comes with the Vaio Recovery Wizard,
which allows you to completely wipe out and restore your computer
to its factory state, or simply restore selected applications.
There's a 5 gig partition that holds the recovery files used for
this process. If you choose to burn backup CDs using the Vaio recovery
application, you have the option of reclaiming the 5 gig partition,
though Sony recommends keeping it for added restore flexibility.
Note that Sony doesn't ship recovery CDs or application CDs with
the unit (oye!). You only get the Windows XP CD. You must order
the backup DVDs from Sony for the TR2A if you don't wish to burn
8 recovery CDs on your own. Fortunately, the recovery DVD package
is only $10.95. Note also that the Vaio (like most all Sony computers)
doesn't come with a printed manual. Instead you'll use the online
help and manuals pre-installed on the TR2A. You do get a very short
printed pamphlet outlining the ports and controls on the unit.
you're looking for an ultralight notebook that doesn't compromise
on features, get this notebook! Pro: Though it's only 1 GHz, the
TR2A feels very fast and features Intel's new Centrino technology.
It comes with a generous 512 megs of RAM, and has an open slot
to upgrade to a full gig--— very nice for a 3 pound unit!
The integrated DVD/CDRW drive means no lugging external optical
drives with you on trips, and you can burn CDs on the road. The
display is literally the finest on any notebook. It has VGA, USB
2.0 and a Firewire port, 1 CardBus PC card slot and a Memory Stick
slot. Integrated WiFi, Ethernet and a 56k modem will help you stay
connected. The camera is fun and useful for web conferencing. Cons:
Like all subnotebooks, it's not as fast as full sized notebooks.
Sony's price for spare batteries is absurd. No S-video or RCA video
out for plugging directly into TVs. Please give us a printed manual
and recovery CDs or DVDs in the box!
TR2A: (Windows XP Home, 512 megs RAM) $2,199
TR2AP1: (Windows XP Pro, 512 megs RAM) $2,299
TR2AP3 (Windows XP Pro, 1 gig RAM, 802.11g instead of 802.11b): $2,499
Size: 10.6" X
1.40” X 7.4". Weighs 3.11 pounds. Magnesium
Display: 10.6" XBRITE™ TFT
LCD display (1280 x 768). Intel® 855GM Chipset
Integrated Graphics. 64 megs video memory. Can drive
an external monitor.
Headphone & Dolby Virtual Speaker. Built-in stereo
speakers; monaural mini-jack microphone, Internal
mic. SoundMAX integrated digital audio controller
made by Analog Devices.
technology. Ultra Low Voltage Intel® Pentium® M
Processor running at 1GHz. 64K level 1 cache, 1 meg
level 2 cache (both On-Die). 400 MHz Front Side Bus.
Intel 855 Centrino chipset.
RAM: 512 megs, expandable to 1 gigabyte.
GB hard drive, 100MB/s Ultra DMA Transfer Rate. Internal
DVD/CDRW drive, Max speeds: CD-R write 16x, CD-RW
write 10x, CD Read 24x, DVD-ROM read 8x.
PCMCIA slot (supports type I & II as well as
CardBus), 1 Memory Stick slot supporting Memory
Stick Pro, 1 FireWire (IEE 1394) 4 pin non-powered
400 Mpbs, 2 USB 2.0 ports, RJ45 Ethernet 10/100,
VGA, audio in and out.