Sony seems to think 'netbook' is a dirty word, so you won't find the Vaio VPCM13M1E referred to as such on the company's website. But this machine couldn't be more netbook-like if it tried -- it's got a small, 10.1-inch screen, uses an Atom processor and runs Windows 7 Starter.
The VPCM13M1E is available from Laptops Direct and other vendors for around £310, which puts it at the high end of the netbook market.
Cuts a dash
The VPCM13M1E is available in three colours: white, pink and blue. We had the blue model in for review. Although the blue used on the lid is very dark, it still looks quite striking, especially as there's also a chrome Vaio logo stamped in the middle. Open the lid and you'll find that the screen bezel is finished in matte black plastic, while the keyboard and its surroundings use a two-tone silver colour scheme.
The VPCM13M1E's isn't the best-looking netbook we've come across, but its sober, business-like appearance is far from unattractive. At 1.4kg, however, it's slightly heavier than most 10-inch models.
Despite its relatively high price tag, the VPCM13M1E's line-up of ports is disappointing. For example, although you get a VGA output for connecting it to an external display, it lacks the HDMI port that we'd expect to see on a machine in this price bracket. Also, while it has three USB ports, none of these are enabled for 'sleep and charge', so it can't be used to charge external devices like smart phones when it's switched off.
Networking is taken care of by a wired Ethernet port, along with 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.1 connectivity. You also get a multi-format memory-card reader, and headphone and microphone jacks that are rather awkwardly mounted on the front lip.
Treat for the fingers
Unlike many of the latest netbooks, the keyboard on the VPCM13M1E uses traditional tapered keys, instead of the isolated keys that are so trendy at the moment. We've no complaints with this decision, though, as the keyboard is very good. As with all 10-inch netbooks, the keyboard feels rather cramped, but you soon get used to it. The solid feel of the keys meant we had no problem touch typing at speed.
The trackpad is reasonably roomy, but it's slightly spoiled by its narrow, elongated buttons. They have to be pressed slightly too deeply for our liking before they respond.
We've no such qualms about the 10.1-inch screen, however. It's very bright and delivers punchy colours, so pictures and videos really grab your attention. Its resolution of 1,024x600 pixels is also first-rate for such a small display and means that text in documents or on Web pages looks very crisp and clean. The screen also uses an anti-glare coating, which cuts down hugely on reflections from bright lights, making it more comfortable to use for work purposes.
Same old specs
Under the bonnet, the VPCM13M1E doesn't do much to differentiate itself from the netbook masses. It's powered by a slightly beefier-than-usual Intel Atom N470 processor that ticks over at 1.83GHz and, like almost all netbooks, has just a single gigabyte of RAM.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, its performance won't exactly set the world on fire. In the PCMark05 benchmark test, it managed to clock up a score of 1,469, so it's fine for undemanding tasks, like emailing or editing Word documents, but, like most netbooks, it struggles with multi-tasking. Even pretty simple tasks, like streaming video from the BBC's iPlayer service, can be a stretch too far.
There's no dedicated graphics chip on-board either, so the VPCM13M1E instead relies on integrated Intel graphics. In 3DMark06, it only posted a score of 168, so you can forget about using it for playing 3D shooters.
Sony quotes a battery life of 4.5 hours, which seems reasonably accurate to us -- in the particularly intensive Battery Eater Classic test, we managed to get just under 3 hours of juice. Three hours isn't too bad, but it's some way off the marathon battery life of machines like the Samsung N130, which managed to keep puffing away for around 10 hours in the same test.
The Sony Vaio VPCM13M1E looks good and offers decent overall performance, but it doesn't really excel in any particular area, besides offering a great screen. From a £300 netbook, we now expect more.
Edited by Charles Kloet