This review is a fun one to write because I have personally been using the Sony Vaio TXN27N for months as one of my main computers. It’s always great to be able to report back after using a system for some time rather than a standard testing period because I think it makes for a more complete review.
The market for ultraportables (sub 4-pound notebooks) is so hot right now and it won't be slowing down any time soon. Technology is advancing rapidly, and more and more power is getting put inside smaller and smaller packages. In fact, a June 12 report from IDC that found that shipments of mobile and ultraportable notebooks grew 28 percent in the second quarter of 2007, compared with the second quarter of 2006. That’s huge.
It’s important to note that while you can still purchase the Sony TXN27N, its successor has just been made available – the Sony TZ series (get aff link). At the end of this review, I will go over the changes, and will update this review when we have a review of the new model ready.
Now let’s face it – if you are looking at the 11.1 inch, sub-3 pound Sony TX series, you are probably looking for the most power that you can get out of the smallest laptop form factor available. Otherwise, there are far better choices that aren’t quite as small and light. The Sony TX series comes in at around [b]2.8 lbs[/B.] with the standard battery (and just over 3 pounds with the understated power adapter). A laptop this size is incredibly easy to carry around on a daily basis, as I have learned. It’s very easy to carry without a case, as I often do, by carrying like you would a book in one hand – with your hand by your side it would be perpendicular to the floor. The design of the of the back edge of the closed laptop lends itself well to the grip of your hand.
Personally, I knew I wanted a laptop as small as they come without being a QWERTY-less Ultra Mobile PC (UMPC). After being solidly in the desktop replacement camp for several years, I found myself wishing that I had a tiny laptop that fit in a tiny laptop bag that had battery life like I’ve only dreamed of to compliment the monster laptop that rarely left my desk. I found myself increasingly jealous of the little laptops sprinkled around my local Starbucks. After a trip to a box store, I was totally hooked. Even the 13 -nch screens started looking clumsy next to the tiny 11.1 inch beauties.
My search was a pretty short one – I didn’t have too many options in true laptop form. One of my main requirements was that if had to have at least 2 GB of RAM - which is a tall order for such a small laptop. That narrowed my choices down to only a handful.
If you are in the market today for an itty bitty laptop, here are a few of your choices if you are buying today:
(list) (can these all have 2 gb ram?)
Dell XPS M1330 - Core 2 Duo T5250 1.5GHz/160GB/2GB - while this isn't technically an ultraportable, it's small and it's got more power than its lighter counterparts.
Portege R400-S4831 - While not quite in the ultra category, it's also a tablet - which is unique. It does have 2GB of RAM, but it's got the same single core processor as our test unit, and a hefty price tag, too.
Averatec 1579 - One configuration and only 1GB of RAM, but still a great choice.
Lenovo Thinkpad X61 - While ThinkPads aren't all that glamorous, the X61 is an ultraportable with plenty to offer. Our gripes? No built in optical drive, and it's not a widescreen.
On with the review...
The unboxing of this laptop was a very minimalistic experience. In the small box came the laptop, some paper manuals, and the power supply. That’s it. Certainly not an overwhelming experience of cables and discs, but at the same time we found ourselves wondering what we might be missing…
Specs as Tested:
11.1” LCD with XBRITE
1.33GHz Intel Core Solo Processor U1500 ULV
100GB 4200 RPM hard drive
Windows Vista Business
Who This Laptop Might be Right For:
This laptop was made to be taken anywhere you go all day long. Its weight and dimensions make it possible to carry in a purse (as me how I know!). The Sony Vaio TX series is a great blend of power a battery life, though some may argue they conceded too much power. While I can certainly tell the difference between this system and my huge 17" desktop replacement, the TX isn’t so slow that it’s a bother to use during usual activities. I can open Paint Shop Pro and edit photos easily, and while the response time starts to get higher as more apps are opened, for me it’s definitely reasonable considering what you are getting in return.
This laptop would be great for a student who needs portability and battery life over anything else. If I were a student headed to school this fall, the little brother to the TX series – the TZ series (aff link) – would be my first choice.
It's important to note that if you are someone who needs to do taxing 3-D rendering or engineering applications, or if you are a gamer, this is NOT the laptop for you.
Sony makes some good looking gadgets, and this laptop is no exception. The case is a two-toned charcoal gray and silver, with the gray on the lid and framing the LCD, and the silver on the keyboard. The palm rest and keys are the same silver color, and the letters and numbers are black.
Native resolution for this widescreen laptop is 1366 x 768, and it’s very comfortable for me, but a handful of prior onlookers have expressed concern over the text size. The lid itself is incredibly thin and the LCD is very bright thanks to the LED backlighting (Sony calls this XBRITE). It’s plenty bright for me, and at it’s brightest setting it’s a bit too bright. The screen has a slightly glossy finish, though I would definitely preferred a more matte screen.
The keyboard feels nice – it’s not at all spongy and there’s no flex at all for me. It’s not quite full size, so it can take come getting used to for people who have trouble adjusting, but I have no trouble switching back and forth between a standard keyboard and the TX keyboard.
It’s not a leap to assume that on such a small laptop, the touchpad surface won’t be huge. I admit that using the touchpad took some getting used to, but that may have had more to do with my love affair with using a mouse more than the small TX touchpad. The surface is slightly textured and the edge created by the palm rest area means you will likely not trek off the touchpad easily.
There are seven buttons across the top of the keyboard for controlling multimedia and power. I much prefer these buttons here, and because they are on a little bit of a bump (see photos), it actually creates a nice hand grip when the lid is closed.
There are also three buttons across the front of the TX for controlling the volume (up, down and mute), a sliding switch for the wireless on/off, and the jacks for the mic and headphones. There are times that I have hit these buttons accidentally, which can be annoying if you accidentally un-mute at the wrong time, but they are rather inconspicuous in the design and they do provide easy access. I rarely use the jacks, but I hear a fair share of complaints when they are placed across the front. It's easy to knock them when they are sticking out facing you, which could cause damage.
I find this laptop to be pretty quiet. I have used my 17 inch desktop replacement in a meeting setting before and the fans were embarrassingly loud. That was part of the motivation to get an ultraportable laptop.
In a classroom setting, this laptop would be very inconspicuous. Because of its size there is the obvious quandary of cooling a small device with little room for fans and heatsinks (as well as a lack of space to more the air through), but I think Sony has done a nice job because fan noise is managed well.
Ah, this is my favorite part of this laptop. While you often read about DVD drain tests and other simulated battery workouts, I can speak from experience in real life use that this laptop rocks on battery life. With the included standard battery, I would get typically 4 hours of battery life using the “Sony Vaio Optimized” setting. For the most part, this would mean a constant Internet connection, using Trillian for chat conversations, loading web pages, and probably a few other applications like Word going. I would classify this as standard to heavy use.
But the best part is the extended battery. This battery is bigger, of course – it adds a section the same height as the standard battery (bit not quite as wide) to the bottom of the battery – actually creating a lift on the back of the laptop as it sits on a flat surface. It also creates a nice grip for your hand when you are carrying it. It’s important to note that this battery does NOT fit in the standard Vaio zippered case because it increases the thickness. It should not affect most other flexible cases.
I have never actually fully drained the extended battery in daily use, though I have tried. I easily get over 8 hours of constant work. That includes web surfing, word processing, chatting, and image editing. If it’s on, I am working it. This laptop should easily breeze through a full day of classes with battery to spare. If you have never used a laptop with this kind of battery life, it’s incredibly liberating! With the combination of the internal Sprint EV-DO card and the amazing battery life, you will rarely be tethered anywhere. I find people asking me all the time when I am out working asking me, “Wow, are you online?” They want to know all about it. The freedom that comes with such a small package with so much connectivity and battery life is worth the current power tradeoffs, and in the future as technology improves and more power can be put in a smaller package, we will see some really great things in the ultraportable space.
NOTE: The extended battery for the TZ series costs $299, but there are third party replacements for much cheaper. Beware: You MUST use a Sony battery. Because of Sony’s proprietary settings and BIOS, any non-Sony battery will not be recognized. Ask me how I know. ?
The speakers are what one might expect on a laptop of this size. They get the job done, but they aren’t anything to write home about. The volume controls are easily accessible, and the sound is clear. If you are watching videos or listening to your MP3s, the speaks in the TX series will get the job done, but not much more than that.
- Size, it’s tiny
- Weight, it’s easy to tote around at less than 3 pounds
- Battery life rocks
- Keyboard is solid and not spongy
- Integrated Sprint EV-DO means Internet anywhere.
- 2GB of RAM in higher end configurations
- Slow single core processor (though successor, the TX series, adds a slightly more powerful Core 2 Duo)
- In low light, the light keys with dark letters can be difficult to see (the new TX series sports a Mac-like keyboard with dark keys and light letters)
- WWAN antenna is vulnerable to popping off (internal on the new TX series)
- Limited configurations available (6 in the new TX series)
While this tiny laptop isn’t perfect, and there is certainly room for improvement, if you are in the market for a very portable laptop with the potential for a ton of battery life, the Sony TX (and new TZ series) is a great choice. I have been using this laptop daily for a couple of months now, and been a great experience. Though the processor could certainly be improved, having 2GB of RAM is certainly a great improvement over the 1GB offered by most ultraportables.
The Sony ultraportables would make an excellent laptop for the student who does not need the extra processing power for large graphics processing or other demanding tasks, like gaming. We look forward to what’s to come in this
Changes between the TX series and the new TZ series:
- built-in .3 mega-pixel webcam (not that useful for snapshots)
- integrated WWAN with no external antenna
- three new colors (champagne gold, Bordeaux red, and a carbon fiber case (in limited quantities), and 6 configurations
- Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, though it’s Ultra Low Voltage, so its performance won’t blow you away