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Innovation

Sony VAIO: P is for portable, not perfect

If you're looking for something that nails the idea of the netbook, Sony has pretty much the full range of approaches in the VAIO series (leaving out budget): basic (the W series), the lightest computer you can think of but with a decent-sized screen and keyboard (the X series) or small enough to slip into a handbag or the back pocket of your jeans (the P series).

If you're looking for something that nails the idea of the netbook, Sony has pretty much the full range of approaches in the VAIO series (leaving out budget): basic (the W series), the lightest computer you can think of but with a decent-sized screen and keyboard (the X series) or small enough to slip into a handbag or the back pocket of your jeans (the P series). Despite the price I'd say these notebooks count as netbooks, because they have Atom processors - and they don't have the full set of features you expect in an ultraportable. And like some of the best netbooks, there's the element of fun.

The fashion colours - like orange and bright green - mean that people sometimes mistake the P series I've been using recently for a handbag when I put it down on the table at lunch. It's small enough to fit on the lunch table without needing its own place setting (and using OneNote means what I type over lunch is back on a PC big enough to work with when I get back to the office). The small size means a small battery but it's light enough that I'll carry it when I'm only going to use a PC for such a short time that I wouldn't bother taking a heavier machine - and this is a machine to use a bit when you need it, not sit in front of all day long. It's light enough that I'll put it in my handbag even when I'm not sure I'll definitely need it. It's not perfect, but it's definitely portable.

My favourite feature after the size and weight is hugely useful, utterly simple and something I don't know why every manufacturer doesn't do. All notebooks have a sensor that detect when you close the lid to put your PC to sleep; Sony uses the same sensor to detect when you open the lid and turns the VAIO P on automatically. That's a few seconds shaved off the time it takes to get Windows going and one less thing to do when you're in a hurry.

The widescreen form factor means you get a decent keyboard even in the eight inches of space; far more usable than the keyboard on a 7" netbook like the original EEE PC - and the separated 'chiclet' keys have plenty of travel and excellent action so you can actually type.

The disadvantage of the screen ratio is that things don't quite fit. Dialogs are truncated by the bottom of the screen, buttons are out of reach.

The screen resolution neatly cuts the Save button off this dialog

You can scroll down, with the trackball or the touchpad that's set next to the screen - or you can press the button that cycles between different resolutions. That way you can zoom out for buttons, zoom in to read things - it's not perfect, but it helps.

Switch to higher resolution and everything fits - but it can be a little too small to read so you'll keep switching from time to time

What I find myself wishing for most is a touchscreen - especially after I've been using the touchscreen HP EliteBook 2740p tablet for a while. If you could reach up and swipe down on screen to get to the rest of the dialog the way you can with a Web page on athe EliteBook - or a 4" smartphone, not being able to see it all at once would be much less irritating.

Windows 8 needs to make it easier to work on smaller screen sizes for tablets and tiny devices like this (and incidentally, if you tried the first VAIO P with Vista on, Windows 7 is a world away from that chugging performance).

On a small screen like this, you start to want elements of the Windows UI to make themselves much smaller; what's a subtle frame at a normal size leaves room for only a few entries in the list on the VAIO P

I know people who use a netbook as their only computer. I can't see anyone doing that with the VAIO P: this is very much a second (or third) PC. You have to be on the move a lot, care about size and weight enough to put up with the compromises - and you'll be happier about the price if you think colour and style is worth paying for.

Mary Branscombe

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