Sony is making another foray into the netbook market with the Vaio M-series VPCM12M1E/P. With an Intel Atom N470 CPU and 1GB of RAM, its specs won't set your pulse racing, but it's reasonably priced, at around £300, and you'll get the big, bright screen that's associated with the Vaio range.
With its pleasingly rounded corners and sturdy frame, this machine looks very much like a scaled-down, mid-range laptop, avoiding the cheap, flimsy appearance that afflicts some netbooks. It weighs a pretty average 1.4kg -- about the same as a bag and a half of sugar -- so, while it's hardly feather-light, it's certainly dainty enough to chuck in a backpack and forget about.
The display is far from average though. Sony packs some pretty tasty screens into its machines, and this model is no exception, offering a 10.1-inch, LED-backlit display with a maximum resolution of 1,024x600 pixels. The backlighting helps to make the screen far brighter and crisper than those you'd usually find on competing netbooks. We were also impressed with the extremely wide horizontal viewing angle, which mitigates the difficulty involved in crowding people around the modestly sized screen.
Bear in mind that, because this machine is rather low on processing power, you won't be able to use the tasty screen for any serious gaming. High-definition, 720p video didn't play very smoothly when we tested it out either.
The VPCM12M1E/P offers a pretty comprehensive set of ports for a device of its size. There's a VGA out, an Ethernet port, an SD card slot, and three USB ports on the right-hand side. A 3.5mm headphone jack and microphone socket are located on the front, and a 0.3-megapixel webcam is mounted above the screen. This netbook also supports 802.11b/g/n wireless connectivity.
This M-series netbook ditches the signature Vaio keyboard with isolated keys. Instead, it has a keyboard that reminds us of those on some older Dell Inspiron machines. That's no bad thing, however -- the keys themselves are large, and offer sufficient travel so that typing at speed is comfortable. We were also happy to see a big return key.
We were less impressed with the trackpad. Netbooks aren't exactly known for their large, responsive trackpads, and sacrifices must be made to keep these mini laptops as small as possible. But Sony's offering is just slightly too unresponsive, with a considerably large dead zone around each edge.
The left- and right-click buttons are quite fiddly too. Unlike those on some laptops, however, they don't require a huge effort to press. We didn't find that they became uncomfortable during long periods of use either.
Slow and steady
On the inside, the VPCM12M1E/P offers little to get excited about, with a 1.83GHz Atom N470 CPU, and 1GB of DDR2, 667MHz RAM. That means the netbook isn't particularly speedy, as indicated by its PCMark05 benchmark score of 1,588. Even busy Web pages proved something of a stumbling block during our tests, but this machine should be fine for undemanding tasks like editing documents, sending emails and chatting online.
Sony reckons a six-cell lithium-ion battery will keep the VPCM12M1E/P chugging along for a little over 4.5 hours. That seems pretty accurate -- in the Battery Eater Reader test, which simulates light usage, such as document editing, we found the netbook lasted a few minutes under 4 hours before the battery level became critical. Running the Classic test, which pushes the laptop's processor to its limit, the VPCM12M1E/P held out for 2 hours and 54 minutes.
That kind of battery life isn't awful, but it's far from impressive -- we've seen netbooks capable of lasting much longer away from the mains, such as the Asus Eee PC 1005PE. As such, we'd recommend you carefully consider the role you want this netbook to fill. If you're only going to use it in your house, 4 hours of battery life will probably suffice. If you want to take your netbook away on long trips, a machine that holds more juice might be a better option.
The Sony Vaio M-series VPCM12M1E/P offers standard netbook performance, but it beats much of the competition when it comes to its comfortable, surprisingly large keyboard and bright, attractive display. Its trackpad could use some refinement, though, and its battery life is rather unimpressive. If you fancy a netbook with a similarly attractive screen and slightly longer battery life, but don't mind having some weaker components on the inside, check out the Acer Aspire One 751.
Edited by Charles Kloet