When it was launched a year ago, Sony's Vaio P was a likeable but overdesigned folly. Since then there have been others: Nokia's 3G Booklet and Sony's own Vaio X have also put Intel's common-as-muck Atom processor into couture chassis.

But by revising the design of the Vaio P, can Sony finally transform the Eliza Doolittle of CPUs into a high society starlet?

Outwardly familiar

Physically, there's little difference between it and last year's model. They share the same pocket-book dimensions, weight, screen size and resolution.

The most striking detail on our review sample is the colour. Sony sent us a day-glo green model that could be used to summon rescue in the event of shipwreck, a signal that the business-oriented original is being reinvented as something more fun.

That's backed up by the only major external additions: a touch sensitive thumb pad to the right of the screen and mouse buttons on the left.

The idea is that you can carry the Vaio P more like a book or phone and control the mouse while walking. Most of the time we slipped back to using the control nipple in the centre of the keyboard because it's in a more natural place for augmenting typing, but it's a practical alternative for web browsing.

The screen is still more comfortable for writing than reading. Its unusual – possibly even unique – letterbox display of 1600x768 gives it a higher pixel to plastic ratio than any other device we can think of. Which means lots of desktop room, but tiny fonts and black bars down the sides when watching movies.




Better battery

To help with eyestrain issues, there's a resolution button below the keyboard that switches to 1280x600. It makes text more readable, but you're better off using Windows' built-in DPI scaling, which won't introduce jaggies on icons and images in the same way.

Speaking of which, a combination of Windows 7 (rather than Vista) and a slightly faster processor makes the new Vaio P much snappier than its predecessor.

Tasks launch quickly and there's not too much lag on the desktop, but for twice the price of an iPad we expect perfection, frankly, and this is still not as sprightly as it should be, and HD video is unplayable.

The new processor also helps to extend battery life to around five hours, although this can fall rapidly if you're using the built-in 3G modem or GPS sensor. We got three hours under medium to heavy use, which is a long way off the double figure achievements of some less ambitiously designed netbooks.

If it cost around £50-£100 more than a standard netbook, everyone in the office would run out and buy a Vaio P tomorrow. In order to really justify this high price, though, it has to be more than cleverly designed and attractive – it needs the performance to match. And sadly, even in its second incarnation, the Vaio P still doesn't.


Stuff says... 

Sony VAIO P review

Still the most elegant Atom netbook around, and still horrendously overpriced, too