Sony has achieved something very exciting by squeezing a full version of Windows Vista on to a tiny computer that's much smaller than even the teeniest ultra-portable laptop. With a full Qwerty keyboard and the first instance of flash memory being used rather than a hard drive, the Vaio UX1XN sounds like it could be one of this year's biggest products.
But the thrill of seeing Vista running on such a small machine soon wears off. The compromises Sony has made to squeeze everything into such a small space makes this ultra-mobile PC incredibly difficult to use, and the £2,000 price tag is the final nail in the coffin. A laptop may be larger, but it remains the best option for most people.
The UX1XN sports a clever and attractive design. It's perhaps best described as a handheld tablet PC with a screen that slides up to reveal a Qwerty keyboard. The unit feels good in the hand; it measures 95 by 150 by 32mm and weighs just 480g, which is a minor miracle considering its specification.
The front of the unit is littered with buttons and switches. The most important of these are the mouse controls -- a nubbin at the top right, and selector buttons at the top left.
The mouse is reminiscent of the TrackPoint 'nipples' found on IBM laptops, and while this may not sound like good news for trackpad fans, it's worth pointing out this allows for very precise input. Our only gripe would be that the mouse is clad in a cloth-like material that's prone to picking up fluff. It's not something to worry about too much though, as you'll end up using the touchscreen most of the time.
Below the mouse nubbin is a set of magnification buttons that allow magnification of the screen by 1.5x, 2.0x, 2.5x and 3x zoom. The remaining buttons include a power switch at the bottom right, a wireless switch at the bottom left, plus scroll lock and 'Vaio Touch Launcher' buttons below the mouse selector buttons.
The latter launches a task-based interface that gives access to commonly used applications such as Internet Explorer or Windows Media Player. Each of these shortcuts is represented by large, highly visible icons that give respite from squinting. The default applications can be swapped for programs of your choice, which is a nice touch.
Towards the top of the unit you'll find a fingerprint reader for secure logins, plus forward-facing and rear-facing cameras. The shutter button lurks just above the mouse nubbin, which is an unfortunate position as it's prone to being accidentally pressed -- we've lost count of the number of times we've activated the camera without meaning to. Also near the shutter is a macro photo switch for taking close-up photos, and a Memory Stick Duo card reader.