The latest addition to Sony's range of all-in-one PCs is the Vaio J series. At the moment there are two identically priced models, the VPCJ21L0E reviewed here, and the VPCJ21L8E. The only differences are the size of the hard disk (500GB in the J21L0E reviewed here, 1TB in the J21L8E) and amount of RAM (6GB in the J21L0E, 4GB in the J21L8E). The J21L0E is currently on sale for £800 at PC World, or £900 direct from Sony.
Both models use a 21-inch optical multi-touch screen, an unusual choice that works using two optical detectors positioned inside the frame at the top corners of the display. This technology has been around a while, and its main benefit is that, unlike capacitive screens, you can use any kind of pointing device, such as a finger or stylus. But unlike resistive screens, there's no circuitry or special coatings on the screen itself. Like most Windows 7 touchscreen systems, you only get two-point multi-touch.
The system works pretty well, and because it's not a pressure-sensitive system you don't have to jab the screen to get a response. The downside is hovering your finger a couple of millimetres over an icon can be enough to launch it. Another problem is that the sensors need quite a deeply recessed screen, which makes working at the extreme edges of the display a bit fiddly.
Style and substance
It's a good-looking PC, although surely it's time for a change from glossy piano-black paint jobs? A robust kickstand at the rear has plenty of friction to let you adjust the tilt of the screen, and the display sits at a fairly low height on the full-width foot to give a decent ergonomic setup. It certainly feels like a quality product, and it's surprisingly slim compared to models we've reviewed recently, such as the Acer Z5763 and Packard Bell oneTwo.
At the left side are two USB ports, a memory card reader, headphone/mic sockets and an assist button that starts the Vaio Care troubleshooting software. On top of the screen frame are the power button, a handy button for turning off just the display, and a Web button that launches the browser. Networking is either via the Gigabit Ethernet port at the rear or using the 150Mbps single-stream 802.11n wireless connection. There's also integrated Bluetooth.
One pleasant surprise was the quality of the audio from the speakers situated under the screen -- although there's not much bass, it's very clear, adequately loud and not at all tinny. A decent quality wireless keyboard and mouse set is supplied, although we're not big fans of the flat 'chiclet' keycaps. Although there's a webcam, there's no TV tuner or Blu-ray drive, which is a shame -- just a Super Multi DVD burner at the right edge of the screen.
As with most all-in-ones, the Vaio VPCJ21L0E is built around notebook components. It uses a dual-core (with hyper threading) Intel Core i5-2410M CPU running at 2.3GHz, and the 6GB of memory gives it a much more spritely feel when running real applications than its moderate PCMark05 score of 7,993 might suggest.
Similarly, the Intel HD 3000 integrated graphics acquitted itself fairly well in 3DMark06 with a score of 4,025 -- good enough to run most modern games at moderate detail levels. And even at full tilt, the internal fans are almost inaudible.
Sony loves adding its own-branded tools and utilities, and although there are quite a few of these, they're not overly intrusive. There's a branded version of the Microsoft Touch Pack, with a some games and drawing tools to keep the kids happy, plus a secondary quick-launch Vaio Gate animated task bar at the top of the display, which seems rather pointless.
There are a few trial editions bundled, but the only productivity software is MS Office 2010 Starter Edition, plus Sony's own PMB Vaio Edition for very basic photo and video editing and DVD creation. Media Gallery is a peculiar media player that supports gestures to control playback.
For a small room or study, the Sony Vaio VPCJ21L0E is a good choice, but it's far too small to double up as a living-room PC. It's well put together, has some smart design touches, and gives plenty of performance, although as often with Sony it does command a premium price compared to the competition.
Edited by Nick Hide