Writing a love poem for a laptop isn't normal behaviour, but then the Vaio TX series aren't normal laptops. These 11-inch wonders have looks to die for and their petite dimensions give you a legitimate reason never to venture outdoors without them. If you're looking for a laptop that's genuinely designed for life on the move, is attractive, and you have about £1,500 burning a hole in your pocket, the TX3XP could be the one.
Like the virtually identical TX2, the Vaio TX3XP is significantly smaller than an A4 sheet of paper. Its petite 1.25kg chassis is built around an 11.1-inch display, which makes it perfectly practical for taking on the move, yet almost intolerable as an every-day office machine.
Lift the lid of the Vaio TX3XP and you'll be amazed at how thin the screen is -- less than 5mm. Also impressive is the keyboard section. The keys and the palm rest have an attractive slate-blue finish, while the mouse touchpad has a dotted grid pattern that's almost reminiscent of Braille. Unfortunately, the mouse section is slightly cramped. Sony doesn't have much space to work in, so the ultra-thin selector buttons sit too far towards the front lip of the laptop, making them difficult to press.
Above the keyboard, along the hinge of the laptop is a set of shortcut keys -- which are accessible whether the screen is open or closed. One, labelled AV Mode, can be programmed to launch an application of your choice, including Windows Media Player, or programmed to activate a feature such as maximum screen brightness, standby mode or multiple monitor support.
Unlike the Vaio TX2, the TX3XP features an integrated fingerprint reader tucked to the far right-hand side of the keyboard section. Just below this are headphone and mic ports, volume adjuster buttons, and a switch for enabling or disabling the wireless capabilities -- which could come in handy during a flight.
To the left front section of the laptop there's an SD memory card reader and Memory Stick Pro slot, but no sign of readers for other popular card types. On the left there's an exposed USB port and another hidden behind a plastic flap next to a modem port. At the rear are LAN and four-pin FireWire ports. Finally, there's an implausibly thin DVD rewriter drive on the right hand side, just in front of a D-Sub VGA monitor port.
The TX3XP's predecessor was built around an ageing single-core Pentium M processor, so we were glad to see this laptop benefit from more modern components. Sony has opted not to use a dual-core CPU, but you get an ultra-low voltage (ULV) Intel U1400 processor clocked at a very modest 1.2GHz and 1GB of RAM. It's not exactly geared for high-speed number crunching, but gives it the potential for extremely long battery life.
Given the size of the TX3XP, it's hardly a surprise to find it isn't capable of running many games. The cooling systems on advanced 3D graphics cards take up a large amount of internal space -- which isn't a luxury here.
Despite its small size, the TX3XP is a two-spindle machine, meaning it has both a hard drive and an integrated optical drive. You might find yourself filling the 80GB Toshiba hard drive fairly quickly, but the Matshita UJ-832D DVD rewriter drive writes to DVD-R media at up to 4x and is dual-layer-compatible, so you can write up to 8.5GB of data to a single disc.
The TX3XP doesn't have much in the way of external connectivity: there are only two USB ports and a single FireWire port. Some would argue two is all you need, but we'd recommend buying a USB hub just in case you intend to use more than two USB devices simultaneously. We found ourselves reverting to an external USB mouse, and as we're regular users of USB keys, an extra few ports wouldn't have gone amiss.
The TX3XP is fully Centrino-certified so it's capable of connecting to Wi-Fi hotspots for Internet access while away from home. Slightly disappointing was the fact it doesn't come with an HSDPA card, which would have allowed the laptop to connect to the Internet at broadband speeds from just about anywhere. To its credit, the TX3XP comes with a PC Card slot so you can connect a third-party 3G datacard, and it has Bluetooth.
The TX3XP is very usable, for an ultraportable. Its keyboard is very comfortable, despite the keys being slightly cramped, as is the mouse, whose only drawback is its ultra-thin selector buttons. One thing you may not appreciate is the tiny 11.1-inch display. Yes, it runs at a widescreen resolution of 1,366x768 pixels, and it uses LED backlights to save battery power, but it's very small for day-to-day use. You won't want to look at it for long periods unless you're watching a movie. In this respect, the TX3XP is pretty good -- its glossy X-black screen highlights contrast and colours to improve picture quality.
The TX3XP comes with a good amount of software. You get Windows XP Professional Edition as standard, plus Microsoft Works, a trial version of Microsoft Office, Norton Internet Security (AntiSpyware Edition), Adobe Photoshop Elements and a variety of security software to help you get the most out of the laptop's integrated fingerprint reader. We have our reservations about fingerprint scanners -- there will be countless examples of your fingerprint littered all over the surface of the laptop -- but at least it means you don't have to remember complicated passwords. Unfortunately, you only get a one-year standard warranty, which is miserly considering the price of the laptop.
The TX3XP isn't built for speed, but that doesn't mean it's a slowcoach. It'll perform most tasks, as indicated by its respectable PCMark 2006 tally of 1,442. This isn't much higher than the TX2XP's 1,327 and it doesn't come close to the dual-core Samsung Q35's 2,618, but what it lacks in performance it makes up for in battery life.
The laptop lasted an amazing 538 minutes (nearly 9 hours) in our MobileMark 2005 test, building on the TX2XP's 4-hour battery life by a substantial margin. Battery life was slightly poorer during DVD playback, but it lasted 332 minutes, which is enough to watch more than three average-length movies without needing a charge.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide