The VAIO P comes equipped with an Intel Atom Z520 CPU running at 1.33GHz, 2GB DDR2-533 RAM, and a 128GB SSD. Will the old adage of “good things come in small packages” ring true with the VAIO P? Let’s see.
Case look and feel
The VAIO P tested here had a glossy black lid, that surprisingly, didn’t attract as many fingerprints and smudges as I would have expected. That isn’t to say it was completely free of them, but it was less than many other manufacturers out there today.
Opening the lid, the keys are silver, and a glossy black bezel surrounds the LCD. It is the classic monochrome color scheme, executed very well.
Sony also offers several colors for the lid in addition to our unit’s “Onyx Black”. They are Garnet Red, Emerald Green, Crystal White, and Gold.
Size & Weight
The VAIO P measures 9.65" wide x 0.78" high x 4.72" deep and weighs 1.4 pounds, making it ridiculously portable. I could easily fit it in my inside coat pocket and in the pocket of a pair of Dockers, even though the rectangular bulge on my thigh came off looking a bit silly.
Keyboard & Mouse
I had a real surprise waiting for me with the VAIO P’s keyboard and mouse. Well, two actually. The first surprise was Sony’s inclusion of a trackpoint instead of the standard trackpad found in most laptops these days. Certainly this inclusion was to save on precious real estate, but since I favor trackpoints tenfold over trackpads, this made me quite pleased.
The second surprise came when using the keyboard itself. The chiclet-style keys were very functional, despite their small size. There were certain instances where I could see things being improved (such as a very small Tab key and an oversized “1” key that I pressed on more than one occasion, meaning to press Tab) but overall the keyboard was pretty good. It took a bit of getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, the keyboard is very functional indeed.
The VAIO P’s screen is kind of a mixed bag. Packing a crazy 1600 x 768 resolution into a tiny 8” screen is no mean feat, and Sony is to be commended for that. On the other hand, the screen resolution, while very sharp, will likely turn some users off since the native font and text sizes are very small. Another thing about the screen that I felt could have been better was the fact that the bezel surrounding it was a little thick. I would have liked to see the screen extend out a little more, to fill more of the bezel while reducing “dead space” around the screen.
The VAIO P comes with just enough ports to make it useful without going overboard. On the left side, you will find the DC-In jack, one USB port, and a headphone jack.
On the rear, you will find nothing but the hinges… Sony had to keep this thing thin somehow!
The right side of the VAIO P has one more USB port, as well as a “breakout” port for an included dongle that has an Ethernet jack and a VGA-out port built in. The solution is kind of inelegant but it works just fine.
In the front, you will find a Memory Stick Duo and an SD card slot, as well as the sliding power button, and WiFi power toggle switch.
The VAIO P offers two different CPU configurations, namely the 1.33GHz Intel Atom Z520 (what our review model came equipped with) and the 1.60GHZ Atom Z530. There are two memory sockets for a maximum of 2GB DDR2-533 RAM (which is what our VAIO P was running). The only available GPU option is the somewhat underwhelming Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 500.
On the hard drive front, both SSD and platter-based hard drive options are available. For traditional hard drives, you have a choice of 60GB or 80GB, and on the SSD front, you can get 64GB, 128GB, or 256GB. Our review unit came with the 128GB SSD model. There is no option for optical drive unless you want to purchase an external USB drive somewhere else.
The VAIO P features integrated stereo A2DP Bluetooth (2.1 + EDR), Atheros 802.11 b/g/n wireless LAN, and Verizon Wireless Mobile Broadband (3G) built in. This should have you covered for pretty much any network setup you encounter, and pretty cool since you don’t need a plug-in card for WWAN (provided you’re a Verizon customer, that is).
The VAIO P features a standard 1.3MP webcam, and comes with a Sony software suite to add goofy hats, glasses, and backgrounds to the picture. It seemed to work well enough, though like most others, fell short of the Apple iSight software included with the MacBook line.
A great feature included in the VAIO P is GPS functionality, which uses Microsoft Streets & Trips software as its base. Now you can really look like a tourist walking down Broadway in NYC trying to find the nearest TGI Friday’s with the VAIO P in hand!
Another inclusion with the VAIO P is the Instant Mode application suite. Offered with many other laptops these days, this “instant mode” allows you to get base functionality such as media streaming and internet access without first booting into Windows. These features, while neat in concept, are often more novelty than useful in my opinion. I don’t see much use to the “instant-on” application suites, since they’re usually very limited in scope. I can’t really take any points away from Sony on this one, since I haven’t really found an “instant-on” suite that I actually like enough to use.
Lastly, the hinges found on the VAIO P were very good. They felt pretty strong and durable.
While the VAIO P is an engineering marvel, the one area that I can easily find fault with is its performance. There are three key areas that can be improved upon, and these are the CPU, GPU, and operating system.
Sony has been reluctant to market the VAIO P as a netbook since many people view netbooks as disposable pieces of junk. Sony wants to market the VAIO P as a “Lifestyle” PC, not as a cheap junker that people expect to pay $400 and under. As such, you won’t even see references to the Atom CPU in most VAIO P marketing materials (whether on the website or even the VAIO P’s box itself), all you see is “Intel 1.xx GHz processor” until you look at a real spec sheet. By stating “Atom” that makes most people think “netbook”, not $1,000+ “lifestyle” PC.
So, since the VAIO P is using a netbook processor, don’t expect much from it outside of casual internet usage, like email checking and Facebook.
I don’t know if I can solely blame the sometimes sub-par flash video performance on just the 1.33GHz Z520 CPU, or if it shares the dishonor with the anemic Intel Graphics Media Accelerator (GMA) 500 GPU, which is very gimpy. There were several times where playing YouTube videos would make the VAIO P stutter and have to play catch up, which is really disappointing, considering this would be a common use by most people that would buy the VAIO P.
One area that works well with the VAIO P is the 2GB of RAM it shipped with. By not marketing the VAIO P as a netbook, Sony was able to sidestep Microsoft’s silly netbook licensing requirements and their associated 1GB cap on memory, which was a wise decision.
But this also works against the VAIO P. By not being a “netbook” per se, the VAIO P doesn’t come with Windows XP installed. Instead, it comes with Vista Home Premium. I’m not even going to delve into the reasons why Vista installed on such an underpowered machine is a bad idea. You all know the story about Vista. Suffice to say, the experience would have been far better with 2GB RAM installed under XP. I had wanted to toss Windows 7 on the VAIO P to see what kind of difference a better optimized OS would make, but I had to get it back to Sony before I had time to do so. Oh well.
The inclusion of an SSD in the VAIO P is, in my opinion, almost a necessity. It made the experience feel more like what you would get from any other netbook, and kept the VAIO P from seeming too slow. To put it another way, had the VAIO P been running a platter-based drive instead of the speedy 128GB Samsung SSD, it would have seemed even slower than it was, and lowered the experience that much more.
I was curious to see the performance of the VAIO P codified in our benchmark tests… let’s take a look, shall we? For a full explanation of how we test our laptops, see here: http://www.laptoplogic.com/about/test/. Windows Vista Experience ScoreOverall 2.1 Processor 2.1 Memory 4.0 Graphics 2.9 Gaming Graphics 2.5 Primary Hard Disk 4.8
The VAIO P comes in strong in the memory and hard drive categories. Graphics and processor were the weaknesses here. No real surprises to be found.
The VAIO P posted its strongest scores in the memory and HDD categories. The HDD score is great, due to the SSD’s performance advantage over normal platter-based hard drives.
I was unable to run 3DMark06 on the VAIO P. Each time I attempted to run it, the application would crash with a random DirectX error.
This was disheartening, though not much would have been gleaned from the test since the Intel GMA500 is anything but a good gaming chipset.
Sony offers two battery options with the VAIO P: a 2-cell (what our unit had) and a 4-cell. The 2-cell is rated at 2100mAh, and 16Wh; while the 4-cell is 4200mAh and 31Wh.
We ran the VAIO P through several battery tests in an attempt to best simulate “average” use. The software used to accomplish this was Battery Eater 05.
Battery Performance – “Classic” Test
This is kind of akin to a “minimum” test, i.e. this test should give you the lowest battery time of the bunch. In this one, a 3D spinning AA battery is rendered continuously until the battery runs out. In this “classic” test, the VAIO P managed 2 hours 10 minutes, which for a 2-cell battery powered laptop running Vista, is not that bad.
Battery Performance – “Idle” Test
The next test I ran was a simple one. Just charge the VAIO P all the way and let it sit until the battery runs out. As you can imagine, the VAIO P did the best in this test, lasting 3 hours 21 minutes.
Battery Performance – “Text” Test
The last battery test I ran utilizing Battery Eater was their “Text” benchmark. You specify a text file for the program to “read”, and then it scrolls through the file in slightly faster than real-time reading speed. I grabbed Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” from Project Gutenberg and loaded the benchmark up. The VAIO P lasted 3 hours 10 minutes before kicking the bucket.
The VAIO P was silent the entire time I used it, due to its fanless design. That was pretty nice. It only got warm to the touch on the bottom left hand side, but nothing lap-melting.
The VAIO P was the definition of portable, and easy to carry in any bag, purse, or even your coat pocket in a pinch. The keyboard was pretty decent for its size and after the initial break in period, should pose no huge issue to the user.
The areas the VAIO P excels in are web browsing, and email. I’m not sure if I would use it for much else, due to the lagginess I sometimes experienced with flash video.
I had mixed emotions about the VAIO P. On one hand, it was a nice email/browsing laptop, but on the other, it’s a really expensive glorified netbook, albeit one with a unique screen. If all you’re going to be able to use it for is to check sports scores when you’re on the john, $1,000+ is a bit hard to swallow. You can get a much cheaper netbook that will allow you to do that, and more, for a lot less money.
If Sony upgraded the CPU and, and included improved integrated graphics then I’d feel better about shelling out the cash for the VAIO P. I can’t help but think how awesome the VAIO P would be with a low-voltage Core 2 Duo (or even a dual core Atom at the minimum), nVIDIA Ion chipset and 9300 graphics, and Windows 7. Yes the screen is nice, and the SSD made up for some of the shortcomings, but the underpowered processor and graphics card of the laptop are what really holds it back.
If you’ve got a lot of extra money to burn on neat gadgets with interesting form factors, then the VAIO P is definitely for you, provided you have a limited set of tasks you want to use it for. Otherwise, your money might be better spent elsewhere.