The first Sony Vaio P-series mini-laptop left us with mixed feelings. We liked its tiny size and ambitious design, but not its high price and lack of a trackpad. Sony's latest Vaio P-series machine offers upgraded hardware and a few new features to tickle our collective fancy. The basic version that we review here, the Vaio VPCP11S1E/P, is still a pricey piece of kit though. Does this revamped pygmy do enough to justify its £800 price tag?
The basics remain unchanged. The VPCP11S1E/P boasts some remarkably tiny measurements, at 245 by 20 by 120mm. At around 632g, it's light enough to carry in a bag, and you might even be able to fit it in a large pocket.
The laptop has a surprisingly large keyboard with isolated keys, but its size means there's no room left over for a standard trackpad. Sony has, however, included a small, pseudo-trackpad to the right of the screen. It measures about 1.5cm square and is complemented by two mouse buttons on the other side of the screen -- the idea being that you can grip the VPCP11S1E/P around the sides and use these controls for navigation purposes if you wish. You can also use a pointer stick in the centre of the keyboard to navigate around.
The trackpad is a good idea, but it's simply too small to be of much use, and moving the cursor in this manner will require you to swipe like a madman. The surface of the trackpad is as glossy as the rest of the screen, so it's hard to tell where the touch-sensitive surface ends, and you'll frequently stray outside the tracking zone. We generally preferred to use the pointer stick for navigation. If you want to do any really useful computing, you'll have to use a USB mouse.
Children of the resolution
The VPCP11S1E/P's 8-inch screen boasts a stonking 1,600x768-pixel resolution. That's something of a mixed blessing, however, as such a high resolution on a small display means you'll have to really strain to see what's going on. To combat this, Sony has built a resolution-switching button into the chassis, close to the spacebar. Unfortunately, while changing from the native resolution makes things bigger and easier to see on the screen, it also makes them much blurrier. It's a useful but not particularly elegant solution. Additionally, the viewing angle is quite poor -- you'll struggle to get several people around the VPCP11S1E/P's display without someone's view being compromised.
Another new feature is the built-in accelerometer, which detects when the VPCP11S1E/P has been turned on its side, and flips the display accordingly. It'll only do this in certain situations -- when viewing Web pages in Internet Explorer for example, or documents in Word or Adobe Reader. We couldn't get this feature to work with our review sample, but it might well turn the VPCP11S1E/P into a tidy little alternative to an ebook reader.
Up and Atom
Inside, the VPCP11S1E/P has undergone a minor makeover. Gone is the 1.3GHz Intel Atom Z520 CPU, replaced with the slightly faster Atom Z540, clocked at 1.86GHz. It's hardly a speed demon, but we found the VPCP11S1E/P kept pace with our Web browsing without much delay, and it will keep up with document-editing, emailing and other minor tasks without much trouble. That it's suited mainly to light tasks is indicated by its PCMark05 benchmark score of a mere 1,055.
Helping out in the speed department are 2GB of RAM and Windows 7 Home Premium, which helps the VPCP11S1E/P perform better than its Vista-bearing predecessor. The VPCP11S1E/P also supports GPS-based compass and location-finder applications for finding your way around. Unfortunately, as with the accelerometer, we were unable to get either of these applications to work on our review model.