Sony goes wireless with Bluetooth kit

Sony launches new Bluetooth-enabled notebooks, plans 802.11b products for the autumn and forms a strategic partnership with fast wireless networking specialist

Bluetooth, the 2.4GHz wireless technology designed to facilitate ad hoc Personal Area Networks (PANs), has been available for notebook PCs in the shape of PC Card and USB add-ons for a few months, but on Thursday Sony became the first manufacturer to build it into its products. From next week, buyers will have a choice of two ultraportable VAIO models featuring an integrated Bluetooth module, antenna and software.

The 1.36kg VAIO PCG-SR31K is built around a 750MHz Low Voltage SpeedStep Mobile Pentium III processor, and features 128MB of RAM (maximum 256MB), a 15GB hard disk and a 10.4in. XGA TFT display powered by an 8MB S3Savage/IX8 graphics chipset. The Bluetooth antenna resides in the previously empty black plastic edging atop the screen. The SR-31K also has a MagicGate Memory Stick slot and comes with Sony's OpenMG Jukebox software for managing music storage and playback. The VAIO PCG-SR31K costs £1,534 (ex. VAT).

The popular C1 series with its integrated Motion Eye camera also gets a Bluetooth-enabled model, in the shape of the VAIO PCG-C1VFK, which weighs in at just 1kg. The C1VFK uses a faster Transmeta Crusoe processor than its predecessor, boosting the clock speed from 600MHz to 667MHz. You get 128MB of RAM (maximum 192MB) as before, and a 1,024 by 480 resolution TFT display powered by ATi's 3D Rage Mobility-1 graphics chipset with 8MB of video memory. Hard disk capacity rises from 12 to 15GB.

Like the SR31K model, the C1VFK features a MagicGate Memory Stick slot and the OpenMG Jukebox software and comes with Windows 2000 Professional loaded -- a change from the previous C1 model, which shipped with Windows ME. The VAIO PCG-C1VFK costs £1,449 (ex. VAT).

Bluetooth demonstrations have become something of a running joke among tech journalists over the past two years or so, largely because of the many ways they (the demos that is) manage to fall over. That Sony broke the mould when showing off its Bluetooth notebooks was largely due to the impressive-looking BlueSpace driver/utility software that establishes password-protected links with in-range Bluetooth devices, and the VisualShare application that facilitates file sharing.

As far as interoperability with other Bluetooth equipment and interference with 802.11b wireless networking gear is concerned, Sony said that the new VAIO notebooks had been tested successfully with Nokia and Ericsson Bluetooth phones, and an HP printer with a USB Bluetooth add-on. Sony could only vouch for the lack of interference with its own 802.11b products -- a network access point/hub and a PC Card due in the UK in September. Later, following a round of redesigns, Sony expects 802.11b to be built into selected VAIO models too.

Recent reports have suggested that Bluetooth will prove difficult for wireless novices to set up and use. If anyone can make it simple and straightforward, it's probably Sony. Just be prepared to pay for the privilege.

In a separate move aimed even further ahead, Sony Venture Capital Europe has announced an undisclosed equity investment in wireless communications platform provider Systemonic. Initial solutions emerging from this strategic partnership will support the 54Mbit/s HiperLAN2 and IEEE 802.11a standards in Europe and the US respectively, in a variety of Sony products.

Soon all your digital devices could be talking to one another, without wires. Find out the latest in ZDNet UK's Bluetooth News Section.

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