Sony made its first foray into the world of Intel Atom-powered laptops with the Vaio P-series Lifestyle PC. At the time of its release, Sony was adamant that, despite its Atom processor and small size, it was most definitely not a netbook. The new Vaio Mini W series VPCW11S1E, on the other hand, is very clearly a netbook, sporting Windows XP, a 10-inch display and a familiar netbook form factor.
While the £390 price may cause some sticker shock, as the base components aren't too different from what you'd find in cheaper netbook, Sony is hoping the inclusion of a 1,366x768-pixel, high-definition display will be enough to push the VPCW11S1E over the line into the 'premium netbook' category.
While not the thinnest or lightest 10-inch netbook around, the VPCW11S1E offers a solid, well-constructed chassis that feels sturdier than some of the less expensive models we've seen. Our unit was decked out in pink, with a rich, darker pink on the lid, a pale pink on the patterned keyboard tray, and a subtle pink cross-hatching on the touchpad surface. If pink's not your colour, and we can't think why it wouldn't be, white and brown versions are also available.
With the recent and welcome trend towards oversized keys on netbooks -- relatively speaking, of course -- we were surprised by how diminutive the keyboard on the VPCW11S1E feels. It looks and feels like a shrunken-down clone of the standard Vaio laptop keyboard, with flat-topped, widely spaced keys. But this leaves the individual keys smaller than we'd like, and the function, tab and right shift keys are especially tiny.
Sony includes its custom Media Plus software for organising and playing media files. It's a well-executed app, but we're usually wary of investing the time to learn how to use a proprietary software package that's only used on one brand of laptops.
The real star is the 10.1-inch widescreen LED display. It has a 1,366x768-pixel native resolution, which is higher than the netbook standard of 1,024x600 pixels. We've also seen this higher resolution on a couple of 11.6-inch netbooks, such as the Asus Eee PC 1101HA.
While it's arguably a better fit on those 11.6-inch screens, it works nearly as well on the smaller 10.1-inch display, and we didn't find text or icons too small to see. Your experience with HD video files may not be great, though. We were able to load up HD versions of TV shows, but they stuttered in full-screen mode.
Being a Vaio, it's unsurprising that there's a second media card slot for Sony's proprietary Memory Stick format. And, being pricey, it's also unsurprising to find Bluetooth and 802.11n Wi-Fi included (but not HDMI, as found on the similarly priced Dell Inspiron Mini 10).
With an Intel Atom N280 CPU, the VPCW11S1E is slightly zippier than netbooks with the Atom N270 (or the even slower Atom Z520). The difference isn't major, but, in a netbook, every little counts. We found the VPCW11S1E perfectly usable for basic netbook tasks, such as Web surfing, email and working on office docs. It's also much easier to use than the P-series Lifestyle PC.