With the cover down, the VAIO W would pass as just about any 10.1 inch netbook. Our review unit's matte black lid was scratch resistant. The rest of the body came in the same black with some grey trim. There's a power switch on the front edge with LEDs for the battery, AC and wireless LAN switch and status indicator. One the lower edge there's SD and MagicGate slots. The left side is home to the VGA connector, mic and headphone jacks with the right holding the ethernet and a pair of USB ports. That's a minor issue - most netbooks deliver three USB ports.
Once the lid's open, the chiclet keyboard and touchpad are ready to use. With the machine on, the VAIO W's biggest strength comes to the fore. The bright, clear 1366 by 768 LED-lit display is one of the best in the netbook market. For business users, this equates to lots more visible spreadsheet than the standard 1024 by 600 resolution the majority of netbooks operate at.
For viewing documents, looking at photos and watching videos - the screen simply excelled at everything. Video performance was as good as we've seen on a netbook. Our testing, with high definition 1080p WMV movie didn't pixelate or have any problems when played in fullscreen.
Performance was excellent. Driven by an Intel N450 processor clocked at 1.66GHz with IGB of memory, the VAIO W coped with everything we'd expect from a netbook. Add in another stick of memory would give Windows 7 a nice boost.
The software side of things was covered off with Windows 7 Starter. While this can be easily updated using the Windows Anytime Upgrade service, we think that such a high-end unit ought to come with a superior version. We were also a touch annoyed by the lack of a full productivity suite. There's a 60 day trial of Microsoft Office installed but we'd expect a little more from a premium reseller like Sony. There was also a lot of Sony software pre-installed. It's be nice if it could all be integrated somehow as, even though it all seemed like reasonable software, it felt like there was a lot of stuff there cluttering up the Start menu. Of the available 224GB, the operating system and preinstalled software used about 13GB.
The keyboard had nice feel with soft, yet responsive keys. Like all 10 inch netbooks, the keyboard is a little cramped but the separation between the keys gives the illusion of a larger keyboard. The touchpad was a little larger than most - a good thing for moving the pointer across the high-resolution display. Taps on touchpad were responsive and there buttons for left and right clicks as well.
Battery life was on par with most of the current generation of netbooks. Our rundown test, running a looped high definition movie in full screen mode with WiFi and Bluetooth active, found that the VAIO W could run for six hours - easily translating into a working day's usage. Our only complaint is that the battery adds significantly to the VAIO W's bulk. The battery's shape is moulded so that it raises the back of the unit so that the keyboard is on a slight angle. Unfortunately, this makes the back edge of the netbook much thicker than the front edge. And this isn't a gradual, wedge shape. It looks like an ugly bump in our view.
At $850, the VAIO is definitely priced at the premium end of the market. The question is "Is it worth it?" Although the screen is spectacular, we're not convinced that it's enough. The rest of the unit is competent but unspectacular. For around $200 less a similarly equipped netbook with a high resolution display can be had.