With a large, sharp 16.4in screen the Vaio FW is perfect for playing movies. But can it do much else?
While it’s fair to say that the Sony FW-series will please some of the people all of the time, it's not quite the all-rounder we expected it to be.
The problem is that the same chassis has been served up with a variety of different specifications.
It's not a bad looker: the £600 entry-level model is an outstanding example of value for money, full of excellent features and percolating with power, wrapped up in a swooping shell that evokes all the style for which Sony is rightly famed.
The more expensive FW31ZJ we've tested, though, doesn't feel quite as good as the competition at this price. The casing isn't quite high enough quality, and the features are merely good, not great.
Compared to the MSI GT725, for example, it feels heavy, plasticky and the graphics card is considerably slower, making the MSI a much better choice if you're likely to use it to play games.
The Scrabble-tile keyboard, too, isn't the best example of its type. Depending on your fingers, it can feel too large to type on accurately, as the keys seem widely spaced apart compared to, say, a MacBook or other Sony portables.
While that's a matter of taste and practice, though, what's more questionable is the decision to place a row of buttons on the far right – Home, Page up, Page down and End – where the carriage return should be.
It doesn't help the cause of cutting down typos if you're finding it hard to use the keyboard in the first place.
To be fair, the Vaio FW is billed as a multimedia machine rather than a games PC or a desktop workhorse, and thanks to the quality of the screen it does perform well here.
As long as you don't mind its reflective coating, you'll struggle to find a laptop with a better display. Every pixel in its 1920x1080, 16.4in panel is crisp, sharp and evenly lit. There's not a hint of backlight bleed or washed out colours anywhere. It's the perfect accompaniment to the built-in Blu-ray drive: this screen was made for playing movies.
It's a shame that the speakers don't match it for performance, though. They're a cut above most laptops’ cheap cones, but still lifeless if you're trying to enjoy anything with a bit of action on screen. The saving grace is Sony's software pack, with its DLNA-certified streaming features that are the best yet for moving media around the house.
The FW31ZJ isn't bad value for money, but you'd have to value the screen quality over the better build and gaming power of its rivals – otherwise you'd be better off with the slightly smaller, cheaper Vaio NS, or even a different FW model.
Sony FW31ZJ review
Aside from a remarkable screen that’s great for movies, this is only an average performer