Thanks to millions of dollars heaped into R&D and a savvy design team, "Sony" is now synonymous with "style". In fact, its notebooks are so sexy that the manufacturer can get away with charging a significant premium over similarly configured competing offerings.
Case in point: the VAIO VGN-FJ68GP/W. It boasts an attractive light grey chassis with a black underside and screen border, while plastered across the lid is an elegant chrome VAIO logo. The keyboard is also grey, so it blends in nicely.
The FJ68GP/W is configured similarly to the budget sub-AU$1500 notebooks we've tested previously, but will set you back AU$1999 -- a premium of over AU$500. It's not an exorbitant price by any stretch of the imagination (especially compared to other VAIOs), but the premium may not be justifiable for some users.
Offering up a full-size keyboard, an adequately sized track pad and two large mouse buttons, the notebook is comfortable to use. There are also nice big palm rests that are raised ever so slightly above the keyboard (it's difficult to tell from the photographs) -- a small design quirk that increases typing comfort immensely.
It's got fairly large dimensions of 340 x 21-33 x 253.3mm, but the magnesium alloy chassis keeps its weight down to 2.4 kg (including the battery). The use of magnesium alloy also makes the device more sturdy and durable than competing offerings.
The area above the keyboard is bare save for a power switch and two customisable quick-launch buttons. This is a far cry from the plethora of multimedia keys offered up by more entertainment-oriented notebooks such as the HP Pavilion dv1600.
Along the front edge of the device lies a Wi-Fi on/off switch (turning the wireless chip off when it's not in use conserves battery life), as well as a card reader that supports the Memory Stick Pro/Duo formats. Of course, since the Memory Stick is a proprietary Sony format, the vendor has decided against supporting other types of cards. This will come as a disappointment for users of non-Sony digital cameras.
On the left edge there's a PCMCIA slot for add-in devices, a USB 2.0 port, a VGA output for connection to an external monitor, a mini Firewire port, a 10/100 LAN port and a modem port. There's no ExpressCard slot, nor is there Gigabit Ethernet support, however, this isn't a significant issue since the take-up of these two standards has so far been minimal.
The right edge offers up headphone/microphone jacks, an S-Video port, two USB 2.0 ports and an 8x DVD writer. On the whole, we're quite happy with the port layout of the FJ68GP/W despite there being a couple of notable omissions.
Being Sony's budget offering, the FJ68GP/W is based on the previous Centrino platform, rather than Centrino Duo. It's got a Pentium M 1.86GHz processor, 512MB DDR2-533 memory and a 60GB hard drive. Graphics acceleration is provided by an Intel GMA 900 chipset, which -- like any integrated graphics solution -- is adequate for DVD viewing but disastrous if you plan on playing games.
Sony displays have always been superb and the FJ68GP/W is no exception. It's equipped with a 14.1-inch 1280x800 widescreen display that produces accurate, vibrant colours with an ideal level of saturation. Its glossy finish produces a slight reflection, but this isn't anywhere near as annoying as with other glossy screens we've tested. In fact, it's hardly noticeable.
Built into the display is an integrated "Motion Eye" camera, which produces surprisingly sharp images. There's also a built-in microphone should you want to conduct any video conferencing.
The notebook's networking features include 802.11b/g Wi-Fi and 10/100 Ethernet, but there's no support for the faster Gigabit Ethernet or Bluetooth. Additionally, as mentioned above we were pleased with the inclusion of a Memory Stick Pro/Duo card reader, but it's disappointing to see that Sony doesn't support other standards such as SD, xD and Smart Media.
See above in "Design" for further information regarding the notebook's port layout.
The FJ68GP/W's MobileMark 2005 office productivity score beat out all of the notebooks included in CNET.com.au's budget notebook roundup, which lessens the blow caused by its AU$500 price premium.
It performs most basic tasks (i.e. word processing, spreadsheet manipulation and DVD viewing) with ease, but if you're into gaming or system-intensive tasks such as audio/video editing you'll want to go with a more powerful (and more expensive) notebook.
Service and Support
All VAIOs come with a standard one-year warranty, but this can be extended at an additional cost. It's a return-to-base warranty, and provided that you're living within the metropolitan area of a "Sony VAIO Authorised Service Centre", also includes a next business day on-site courier pick-up.
For 90 days from the date of sale Sony also provides both telephone (1300 137 669) and online support, but understandably this doesn't cover third party software or hardware.
The VAIO FJ68GP/W continues Sony's tradition of stylish, feature-rich notebooks. Its performance is also impressive, making it a great choice for those with an AU$2000 budget.
Sony VAIO FJ68GP/W