updated 08:50 pm EST, Fri January 7, 2011
We tour Sony's VAIO computers at CES
We visited Sony's booth at CES to get a closer look at a number of devices, including not just existing computers but a pair of concept notebooks. The PC builder had a unique 13-inch prototype that had what it called a "sheet" battery. Possibly like those on modern MacBooks, it could trade some accessibility for longevity; Sony claimed twice the battery life of normal notebooks.
The 13-inch also had a relatively wild, textured copper surface on the palmrest and LCD bezel along with a glossy black outside; a safer all-black model was available. It should ship in 2011 and will use some version of Intel's newer Core mobile chips.
A 14-inch concept was also on show and looked like a successor to either the CW or E series. The design was wrapped in translucent, neon-colored plastic and had and much more rounded front and back edges than most notebooks. It too should use new Core chips and will be available as a real product before the end of the year.
Among actual shipping systems, the most unique is the VAIO L all-in-one. It much more closely resembles a regular TV -- appropriate for the TV tuner -- and looks especially polished with both its chrome stand and seamless glass front. It's fast, with a quad Core i7, 8GB of RAM and dedicated NVIDIA graphics, but its real trick is its support for gestures beyond the main touchscreen. It was surprisingly easy to wave a hand in front to skip or pause music, and the bezel serves as a way to scroll without having to smudge the main display.
We're not completely sold on the idea of a touchscreen all-in-one with an upright screen, as it can get tiring. The custom (but optional) VAIO touch layer also felt somewhat superfluous and pretty more than it was functional. Still, new L did stand out from the crowd. Pre-orders should start February 20 with a base $1,200 price.
The VAIO F 3D edition is largely a refresh of the existing model, though that's not necessarily bad for those who like desktop replacements. We liked the 3D screen's relative vividness, albeit in somewhat dim light, and the interchangeability of Sony's regular TV 3D glasses with the display. The move to Core i7 and the GeForce GT 540M gave it a needed boost to stay on top in performance. Virtual surround speakers are new as well and give it an extra edge for those who can't plug in a better speaker set.
Our only misgiving is with the price, which at a minimum $1,700 puts the 3D model at the high end for most. Its preorders begin February 6.
The other two models at the booth were mostly conservative updates. The VAIO Y received the biggest update by helping Sony get away from netbooks. Like many of the new notebooks at CES, it used AMD's Fusion E series chip and thus dramatically lowered the price without cutting back on the subjective speed: it felt dramatically faster than the current VAIO Y simply because its Radeon HD 6310 graphics too much of the load off the otherwise comparable processor. It should still last for six hours on battery in stock condition.
The price drop was for us the real selling point: droping from roughly $800 to $550 instantly makes it a much better second computer or even a main one for those with light needs. Its preorders go up on February 6 as well.
Finally, the VAIO S is a straightforward update to the new Core i5 family and updated graphics. Sony didn't give out many details, but the 13-inch system has been its usual balance between portability and speed; we didn't notice any changes on the outside. It starts at $900 but will be available on Sunday, January 9.
VAIO F 3D edition
VAIO Y 2011 update