- Extremely thin and lightweight
- widescreen format
- large keyboard
- excellent battery life
- Lid does not offer a great deal of protection for the screen
- only two USB ports
- Bluetooth and Wi-Fi can’t be controlled separately
Sony has a reputation for producing intelligently designed, well specified and visually appealing ultraportable notebooks. The sub-2kg VAIO VGN-TX2XP/L -- available from Sony Centres and online from Sony Style -- is no exception.
The VAIO VGN-TX2XP/L looks absolutely stunning. Its carbon fibre lid is slate grey, with subtle patterning that makes it -- from a distance at any rate -- actually look like slate. The VAIO logo is picked out in a more reflective material, with the Sony brand name much smaller and in silver.
The widescreen format means that the VAIO VGN-TX2XP/L is slightly larger than some other ultraportable notebooks. Even so, its dimensions of 27.2cm wide by 19.5cm deep by 2.85cm high are well within the acceptable range for an ultraportable, as is the 1.24kg weight.
The TX2XP/L's 24.5cm-wide screen has two important design consequences: the system has room for both an optical drive -- in this instance a DVD rewriter and a wide keyboard. The keys are certainly big enough for touch typists, and the full-sized number row is topped by a row of only slightly smaller function keys. We had no problem typing at speed, although the keyboard itself feels a little spongy. There is very little wrist rest depth, so the TouchPad butts up against the space bar, with the mouse buttons squeezed into the remaining space beneath it.
The screen delivers a resolution of 1,366 by 768 pixels, and its width means you'll have no trouble working on two documents at the same time. Sony’s X-Black technology makes for a brilliantly clear display, although the screen is more reflective than usual -- you'll notice this most when a light source is behind you.
The screen is connected to the lower section by hinges at the far left and right of the system, and it swivels around these when raised and lowered. This means that the top edge of the keyboard section is visible when the lid is down. Sony has placed the battery and hard drive activity information bar in this section, as well the power switch and a series of AV control buttons.
The VAIO VGN-TX2XP/L is equipped with an Ultra Low Voltage Intel Pentium M 753 processor running at 1.2GHz. It has 2MB of Level 2 cache and a 400MHz frontside bus. Intel’s PRO/Wireless 2200BG chipset provides for the 802.11b and g wireless connections, while graphics are provided by Intel’s GMA 900 module, which shares up to 128MB of the system's 1GB of DDR SDRAM. The 80GB hard drive spins at relatively stately 4,200rpm.
There are ports and connectors on all four sides of the system. The right edge houses the optical drive, along with a VGA port for an external monitor. On the left edge there are two USB 2.0 ports, one right at the back and the other at the front under a protective cover that also houses the RJ-11 (modem) port. A single Type II C card slot is also here.
The back edge is largely occupied by the removable Li-ion battery. The TX2XP/L is supplied with a single battery, but some mobile professionals may need to buy a second for extended mains-free use. To the left and right of the battery are the RJ-45 (Ethernet) port, the mains power connector and a FireWire (IEEE 1394) port.
The front of the system is home to SD card and Memory Stick slots, microphone and headphone jacks, a single button that turns Bluetooth and Wi-Fi on and off (you can’t control them separately), and three volume control buttons (mute, volume up and volume down).
The bank of AV controls noted earlier allow you to quickly access music or movies. One of these buttons ejects the optical drive caddy, and you'll use this frequently as the eject button on the drive itself is so tiny that it needs to be prodded with a fingernail.
When the TX2XP/L is powered down, one of these buttons -- marked AV Mode -- will quickly bring up a screen where you can choose to work with a CD or DVD, view photos or start Windows. Choosing either of these pre-boot options results in the appropriate control software being started.
If you want to listen to a CD, you can close the lid and use the AV control buttons to shift between tracks. These buttons also control DVD playback and the viewing of flash-card-based photos. It's all very user-friendly, although things become a bit messy when Windows is running: now, when you press the AV mode button, you have to choose between the provided WinDVD software or Windows Media Player 10 -- the system can’t be set to run the appropriate software automatically based on the inserted media. CD audio quality was reasonable through the built-in speakers and excellent through headphones, while DVD playback quality was also excellent.
Sony includes a range of software with the TX2XP/L. CD- and DVD-burning utilities come courtesy of Roxio DigitalMedia SE7 and Click to DVD 2.5 respectively. Adobe PhotoShop Elements 4.0, WinDVD 6.0 for VAIO, DVgate Plus 2.2, Adobe Premier Elements 2.0 and Microsoft Works 8.0 take care of productivity tasks, while Sony includes its own VAIO Recovery Utility and trial versions of a range of security and data protection applications.
Performance & battery life
Given the VAIO VGN-TX2XP/L's 1.2GHz ULV Pentium M 753 processor, 1GB of DDR RAM and 4,200rpm hard drive, we expected workmanlike rather than startling performance from the VAIO VGN-T2XP/L, and a MobileMark 2002 score of 161 confirms that this is the case. By contrast, the fastest notebooks available, based on Intel's new Napa platform, are delivering scores of 250 and above. That said, you should have no problems running basic office productivity software such as word processor, spreadsheet and presentation graphics applications.
We were pleasantly surprised by the TX2XP/L's battery life, which came in at an impressive 5 hours and 13 minutes with the system in Desktop (maximum performance) mode and middling screen brightness. Clearly the combination of a ULV processor, integrated rather than discrete graphics and a 4,200rpm hard disk pays dividends in terms of power consumption.
The TX2XP/L is an ultraportable notebook with a keyboard large enough to use productively and at speed, and an internal optical drive. As such it's a good compromise between functionality and usability: the widescreen format certainly helps in this respect. However, we'd have liked more than two USB ports. We are concerned about the flexibility of the lid: a protective case is a must, and you should take care not to put anything heavy on the system when it's closed.