damn i feel for you MarkAM. i have the same problem with my a690(bought 7 months ago). when i realized that some of the silver finish was wearing off on the right side of the touchpad, i emailed sony support to find out what i can do about it. i also complained about how crappy sonicstage was too. i was disappointed when i got this reply from them:
Thank you for contacting Sony Online Support.
We regret to learn the difficulties you are experiencing. This issue can occur due to a chemical excreted in the perspiration of certain people. Depending on the usage of individuals, the silver finish may fade quicker for some people than others. In addition, using cleaning solvents on the keyboard will also attribute to this issue.
We have searched our support knowledgebase and found the following article that should assist you to troubleshoot when noise occurs when WAV files are played in the SonicStage software. Please click the URL link
below to review the information:http://www.iq.sony.com/srvs/autoresponse.asp?id=200285
We hope this information has been helpful to you. If you need further assistance, do not hesitate to reply to this message with any additional details you require.
TIP: If you want a more interactive support experience you may want to try our LiveAssist Chat support available at:http://www.iq.sony.com/srvs/conversation/liveassist.asp
Your Sony Email Response Team
man, they couldnt even tell me if there was some way to order another silver cover for it. thanks for nothing sony support.