While the majority of computer makers choosing to enter the netbook market have aimed to produce the most affordable device, Sony has chosen to differentiate itself with the P Series "Lifesytle PC" that retains the stylish form of its full-size VAIO lineup. The company also chose a unique form-factor, bringing 1600x768 resolution to an 8-inch display and omitting the common trackpad.
Sony does not describe the P Series as "netbooks," but rather "the world's lightest 8" notebook" weighing in at 1.4 pounds. Qualifying the devices as full-fledged notebooks seems a bit of a stretch, as the computers still run on the same Intel Atom platform as many other netbooks. The particular model featured in the review represents the base model with a 1.33GHz Atom Z520 CPU, 2GB of RAM and a 64GB SSD.
While the specs suggest a typical netbook likely running Windows XP, Sony instead chose Microsoft's Vista operating system. The newer operating system, however, can lead to inflated expectations of the device's capabilities.
Despite the compact housing measuring 9.65-inches wide by 4.72-inches deep, the keyboard is surprisingly familiar compared to the feel of full-sized notebooks. For users transitioning from a desktop or typical notebook, most of the other small netbooks require a fair amount of time visually hunting for keys to avoid producing gibberish while typing quickly. The P keyboard layout also places gaps between the keys, further contributing to the notebook feel.
The P carries the quality feel of other Sony products, along with an attractive finish. The review device features a metallic "Garnet Red" exterior aimed at the style-conscious, while the company offers a variety of other color choices. Users potentially can toss the P into a purse or back pocket, although the optional leather case adds an extra layer of protection.
The lack of a trackpad is awkward at first, as the P utilizes a pointing stick reminiscent of older Thinkpads. After a few hours the cursor becomes fairly easy to control, although the button placement below the spacebar is more difficult to become familiar with. Adding a trackpad, however, would add the extra bulk Sony is trying to avoid.
The display marks an element that does clearly separate the P from garden variety netbooks. The 1600x768 resolution is visually impressive, especially when showing pictures captured from digital cameras. The colors appear very rich and contrast is excellent, while the viewing angle is wide enough to share the screen with others. Sony also chose LED backlighting, which provides a consistent brightness and helps to reduce battery drain.
For those with less than perfect vision, the small text can be difficult to read without corrective lenses. Sony mitigates the issue with a hot-key combination, FN and F10, that magnifies the text if necessary.
With such a high resolution display, the P would be perfect for 720p video playback. Although Sony does not explicitly claim the tiny computer is capable of such tasks, placing the device in the full-featured notebook category could be viewed as an implication. Attempting to view streaming HD content from YouTube, however, proved to be unwatchable. The P did not perform much better with locally-stored video.
Despite the problems with HD video, the P was able to handle a large number of browser tabs and simultaneous applications. Sony's ultraportable does beat many of the netbooks if "notebook" capabilities involve running Vista with a variety of apps such as several browser windows, a chat client, media player and word processor.
Aside from arguments regarding the choice of Vista over XP, the P was surprisingly quick to fire up when using the quick-boot button. Switching between applications was also snappy, while pressing a dedicated button displays each app side-by-side. Battery life is claimed to extend through four hours, although testing achieved slightly less. The company does offer a high-capacity battery to double the life.
The P Series does not skimp on the extra features and connection options. The device offers a USB 2.0 port on each side, along with an adapter port that can be used to attach an external monitor or LAN cable. The front side integrates two ports for either Memory Stick Duo media or SD cards.
For video conferencing or taking self-portraits, the integrated webcam and microphone both worked as expected. Verizon's wireless broadband is built-in, eliminating the need for a dedicated USB modem, while users can also connect via 802.11n or Bluetooth. The P also features a GPS receiver, which does not require Wi-Fi or cell-tower triangulation. The device ships with Microsoft Streets & Maps for turn-by-turn directions and maps.
With the P Series, Sony has attempted to separate itself from the rest of the netbook crowd. While the review model with a 1.33GHz processor offered limited support for graphics-intensive processes, customers can now choose from a 1.6GHz or 1.86GHz CPU. Each model offers 2GB of RAM which cannot be upgraded, although the SSD capacities range from 64GB to 256GB. Performance upgrades do come with a price, however, as the base model carries a $999 price tag and the high-end model fetches $1999.