Is it a netbook? Is it a laptop? One thing's for sure -- the Sony Vaio VPCX11S1E/B is the thinnest portable PC we've ever seen. But, at about £1,200, is it just an over-priced plaything for executives to pester their IT department about?
Remarkably thin and light
The Vaio P-series Lifestyle PC already showed us that Sony knows how to squeeze a quart into a pint pot, but this X-series laptop demonstrates even more impressive miniaturisation skills. This 11.1-inch machine is a mere 14mm thick, and we're not talking about its thinnest point. With a total weight of just 780g, it's hard to understand how the VPCX11S1E/B can be a working computer at all.
The VPCX11S1E/B is made from a combination of plastic and carbon fibre. Although there's plenty of flex if you grip either side of the keyboard and twist, the case doesn't feel particularly flimsy. The lid is worryingly thin and rather bendy, but it's almost impossible to put enough pressure on the outside to distort the screen.
Such a slim profile means Sony has had to compromise on ports, but it's still managed to fit a full-size VGA socket on one side. It looks totally out of place -- a mini DisplayPort socket would have been more suitable -- but at least it means this go-anywhere laptop can plug into any display with the minimum of fuss.
Sony has also compromised slightly on the keyboard. Although it's only around 10 per cent narrower than normal, the chiclet keys aren't much bigger than a fingernail. They're spaced out well, but they still take some getting used to, and the tiny shift keys are particularly fiddly.
There's plenty of empty space on the wrist rest, but, for some reason, Sony has seemingly slapped the smallest-possible multi-touch trackpad in the middle of it. Still, it works well enough and the buttons are of a more manageable size.
It's a surprise to see an 11.1-inch screen with a 1,366x768-pixel resolution, but it's certainly welcome -- low resolutions are one of the limiting factors on laptops of this size. Sony has sensibly opted for a matte finish, and the image is crisp, but the vertical viewing angles are very tight.
We've resisted referring to the VPCX11S1E/B as a netbook so far, but, with an Intel Atom Z540 processor, you should know what to expect when it comes to performance.
To its credit, the 1.86GHz chip does support hyper-threading and, with 2GB of RAM, Windows 7 runs pretty smoothly. There's some noticeable lag when running more than a couple of applications at once though, and a PCMark05 benchmark score of 1,511 puts the VPCX11S1E/B in the same league as netbooks that sport Atom N270 or N280 processors. The 3DMark06 test wouldn't run on the Intel GMA 500 graphics, as is the case with other Atom-based netbooks we've reviewed.
There doesn't look like there's much room for a battery inside the wafer-thin VPCX11S1E/B, but we still managed to squeeze 3 hours and 52 minutes out of it in Battery Eater's demanding Classic test. In the less intensive Reader's test, the laptop notched up 6 hours and 16 minutes, which suggests that it should be good for around 5 hours of typical use away from the mains.
Okay, so the Sony Vaio VPCX11S1E/B is a netbook, but it's unlike any netbook we've seen before. The sacrifices are surprisingly few for such a slip of a thing, but be warned that this is a luxury item with a price tag to match. It's too darned impressive to dismiss out of hand, but we can't see Sony selling many of them.
Edited by Charles Kloet