City wonks may be tempted to celebrate the return of their bonuses by treating themselves to Sony’s ultra-stylish but hideously overpriced Vaio P, but most of us need to be more careful when it comes to getting a netbook.
Because we're buying netbooks in ever increasing numbers, for Sony not to have a design in the 10in standard has been to miss out on the closest thing to a bonanza computer manufacturers are likely to see for a few years.
That oversight has now been rectified, thanks to the Vaio Mini W. It's going head to head with the similarly specced Asus Eee, MSI Wind, Toshiba NB and Samsung NC series machines. The question is, what has Sony done to differentiate itself from the masses?
There is undoubtedly a flair to the Vaio W’s design. The silvered plastic chassis and hard-wearing matt lid have the usual touches of Prada-esque seriousness about them we're familiar with from Sony. And while the chiclet keyboard may have small buttons, they’re well-spaced and comfortable to type on, at the same time conferring a hint of minamlist class to the looks.
The issue isn’t with the styling, though – it’s with the size. Netbook technology has been stagnant for a good 12 months now, with only a couple of machines like the Asus N10J and Packard Bell dot m/a veering away from the base template of an Intel Atom CPU and Intel GMA graphics.
The nearest we've had to a 'big breakthrough' this year is the slimming down of earlier models, with Asus' Seashell series, Acer's D250 and Toshiba's NB200 all trimmed with elegance that belies their price.
The Vaio W is behind the curve on this one. It’s one of the lightest in its class, but the wide girth makes other feel better designed overall.
The other areas Atom-based netbooks differentiate themselves are by battery life and screen quality. For the former, the Vaio W is pretty awful, it's two-and-a-half hour longevity more in common with ultra-budget models like the MSI Wind than premium machines.
The screen, on the other hand, is superb – not physically larger than most, but sharp thanks to its proper 1366x768 HD resolution.
However, if that’s the defining characteristic of the Vaio W then things aren’t good for Sony. The Dell Mini 10 and Packard Bell dot m/a can both be kitted out with similar panels and bigger batteries for £50 less, leaving Sony with only the Memory Stick reader and Vaio media software to justify the expense.
It’s not that the Vaio W is a bad netbook – in fact, it’s very likeable. But Sony hasn’t made it distinguishable from the masses and the price is just too much. It’s a lesson all netbook manufacturers should be aware of as prices continue to creep up.