First Sony VAIO P Series reviews: On second thought. . .

First Sony VAIO P Series reviews: On second thought. . .

Summary: You can't judge a netbook by its cover. With its amazing looks, the Sony VAIO P Series landed a spot on nearly everyone's Best of CES list.

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Sony VAIO P Series Group

You can't judge a netbook by its cover. With its amazing looks, the Sony VAIO P Series landed a spot on nearly everyone's Best of CES list. But only a few days after the curtain came down, the first full reviews have been posted, and it looks like the "LifeStyle PC" may not be the showstopper it seemed.

It's easy to see why so many tech journalists fell for the P Series. The extra-wide 8-inch display results in a netbook that is uniquely long and lean, weighing only 1.4 pounds. Despite its tiny size, it has a good keyboard and features not found in most netbooks such as a high-resolution display (1,600 x 768, in this case), integrated 3G and GPS. So far so good.

Then came the actual tests. How's this for a list of "cons" for a netbook that starts at $900 from PC Magazine's review:

Underpowered. Bloated with software. Three-cell battery yields only 2 hours of battery life. Needs another price adjustment.

In its review, Laptop Magazine wrote that, while performance was "adequate for light productivity chores," overall it was "less than stellar" noting that the P Series was "struggling to redraw the screen when merely closing programs or moving windows around."

Keep in mind that both PC Magazine and Laptop Magazine were actually testing a $1,199 configuration that includes a 64GB SSD, which ought to enhance performance. The base $900 configuration has a 60GB hard drive. Both sites also said the P Series became "uncomfortably warm" when in use.

It's tough to know how any laptop will perform until you run a full battery of tests, but in this case the problem was predictable thanks to the combination of an Intel Atom Z series chip and Windows Vista. At CES, I spent a only a few minutes with the P Series--opening and closing dialog boxes, launching Word, creating and saving simple documents--and it was obvious that performance was an issue.

Even if you didn't get a chance to try it, the specs tell the story. There's a reason the vast majority of netbooks run Windows XP--Atom simply isn't up to the task of Vista. (That's why Microsoft has taken pains to note that Windows 7 will run comfortably on a netbook.) Even with Windows XP, the 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270 found in nearly all netbooks isn't noted for its performance. But the P Series uses an even slower chip--the 1.33GHz Atom Z520--that was originally designed for MIDs (Mobile Internet Devices). Throw in Sony's notoriously hefty software bundle (25 VAIO-branded apps alone?) and the poor P Series can barely get out of its own way. Sony insists the P Series is a true notebook--not a netbook--but even compared to netbooks that cost half as much, it performed poorly on tests.

Sony says performance isn't the point. The target audience is women, and eventually college kids and young professionals. And as PC Magazine's review states: "According to Sony, women aren't too concerned about what's inside the system; how it looks is more important." I'm going to give Sony the benefit of doubt here and assume that this is a bit of an oversimplification. I'm sure women do care about how the products they use look, but they need a functional PC just as much as men do.

To be fair, Sony is hardly only company to try this tack. Ask HP execs why the HP Mini 1000 Vivienne Tam edition costs $275 more than an identically-configured HP Mini 1000--both of which are very good netbooks--and they just smile.

The Sony P Series is a sleek two-seater with the engine of an econobox. The design is absolutely compelling--and I believe there is a market for a go-anywhere subnote with 3G--but Sony needs to open up the hood and do some work. If the design won't allow for a faster processor and chipset--and I'm almost certain it won't--then kick Vista to the curb, drop Windows XP in there (even if you must knock the memory down to 1GB), and get rid of all those bundled apps.

That should buy some time until Windows 7 ships--and, if the rumors are correct, Intel releases a (slightly) more powerful Atom platform--both of which would make the P Series a better proposition. Still, it is one great-looking laptop.

Topics: Hardware, Mobility, Servers

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6 comments
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  • Why no love for the Atom 330 in netbooks?

    I'd like to see the dual-core Atom find its place in netbooks some time soon. Enough processing power for high definition video needs to be a shipping feature on a sub-portable device by now. For a mini device to handle that, it should be able to handle just about anything you throw at it.

    Also, what's the deal with the GMA 500 drivers and Windows 7 beta? Why don't they work with Aero? The GMA 500 is slow, but it's a Direct X10 part with pixel shaders and can handle Vista's version of Aero just fine. This device (or something similar - maybe with a touchscreen) is going to be on my wish list when Windows 7 ships. I'd like to see the new Windows 7 Media Center running on a compact little device like that.
    Joe_Raby
  • RE: First Sony VAIO P Series reviews: On second thought. . .

    A few months ago, I overheard part of an NPR broadcast (Marketplace?) claiming that in their desperation, Sony has been hiring Harvard Business School MBAs. This moronic idea of claiming women care only about looks sounds like the kind of nonsense a Harvard MBA would come up with!
    mejohnsn
  • Just like their full-priced ultra-portables

    Beautiful. An incredible celebration of sleek design. until
    you turn them on. Sony's software team is the worst out of
    the major PC manufacturers. We have about 30 people
    with the 2.5-3k ultra-portable VAIOs and about 500 on HP
    laptops (the 6510 and 2510 at the moment), the people
    with VAIOs take up more time with hardware and software
    issues than all the other laptop users combined.

    And since we can't get Ghost to work with the VAIOs (i'm
    sure there's a way, but we can't figure it out), each
    machine takes approx 4-6 hours to update, de-crapify,
    install Office, McAfee, and Acrobat Reader, etc.

    Trying to do a clean install is a nightmare - many of the
    driver files on the sony site download to numbered files
    (that do not appear to correlate with the name of the
    device in any way), and many must be installed
    sequentially.

    The 'Clean' option that Sony is supposed to be offering is
    apparently not available via our hardware vendors (yes,
    we've shown them the site, they have contacted Sony, and
    was told 'we're working on it').

    It's a shame, because they do make some slick-looking
    laptops, but it's like a cracker-jack ring in a Tiffany's box.
    Gritztastic
  • RE: First Sony VAIO P Series reviews: On second thought. . .

    Frankly, I've told clients to pass on Sony machines for some time now. All the issues mentioned in other posts, plus terrible and slow support. Pity, because long, long ago I used to wish for a Vaio. Now you couldn't give me one. (FWIW, I'm a consultant with over 30 years in the field, mostly as a developer. I know it can be done right.)

    Skip this toy and go with another toy--but one with the right price tag, and actually functional. The Acer Aspire 1 (AA1) is almost a throwaway at $349 for the 120GB HD model, yet it just *works*. And you can put Linux on it, no prob.
    ignatz_z
  • Well, it does have instant on, and Ed to the rescue.

    Ed Bott can likely take the machine and make it fly like he did another Sony laptop. I guess one saving grace for this machine is simply it has a Linux instant on option, and that means Linux will support the hardware, and you can turn it into a responsive computer.

    http://www.umpcportal.com/2009/01/vaio-p-goes-official-on-sonystyle-instant-boot-psp-esque-xcross-interface

    TripleII
    TripleII-21189418044173169409978279405827
  • RE: First Sony VAIO P Series reviews: On second thought. . .

    netbooks are cool, and palmtops/subnotes will be a welcome addition to the laptop family, but am i nuts? why MS doesn't revive old OS's ME/2000 to suit these new products is beyond me. put 2000 in her best party frock (better GUI) put xp compat. and some network doodas (protocols), and there you go. but ME might need more work, but i don't know anything about ME. I have a Dell Mini 9, first thing I tried was to install 2000 on it, but 2000 doesn't recognise the SSD, so now i have XP on it. XP is okay on it, but i know 2000 would fly (i would just get a transform pack) 'cos sorry girl, you ugly!
    dava4444