The Sony VAIO VGN-FW198U/H is a speedy and desirable laptop sporting Intel's latest Centrino 2, Monevina processor.

Although the Sony VAIO VGN-FW198U/H is billed as an entertainment machine with a great display, its audio falls short. Not very loud or rich-sounding, the built-in stereo speakers were extremely disappointing. This is largely because the speakers are mounted just north of the keyboard. No separate subwoofer means weaker sound.

The volume tops out too quickly for audiophiles, and seemed flat as well. Which is a shame, because the Sony VAIO VGN-FW198U/H comes with some nice media buttons, including ones for Dolby audio tweaking and the usual pile of Sony entertainment applications. But then, that's why they invented headphones.

With its hard, dark titanium-gray lid and black lower casing, the Sony VAIO VGN-FW198U/H is sleek-looking overall and would glam up any office or make seat neighbours jealous on your next flight. Dropped hinges with no connections on the back add to the modern effect. And you're fixed for storage with a 320GB hard drive.

With its dedicated card slots, you can have a Memory Stick, an SD card, and an Express Card/34 card all plugged in at the same time - very convenient. An HDMI port is available to hook the notebook up to an HDMI-equipped TV for an even better Blu-ray movie experience.

Seamless build

The Sony VAIO VGN-FW198U/H is seamlessly manufactured - maybe a bit too much so. The battery is hard to lift out because the fingerhold is so small. The memory chips and the hard drive, though, are easy to access with a screwdriver, if you ever need to replace or upgrade a part.

Whether you like the keyboard will boil down to personal preferences. Sony has crafted a couple of generations of cutout-key notebooks, much like what Apple's MacBook Air now does as well. With each black key rising separately out of the silver-finished deck, the look is very distinctive, but the keys' action seems a tad wobbly compared with, say, the buttery feel and silent operation of a ThinkPad keyboard. The mouse buttons could be bigger and a little less stiff, too. Overall, though, the keyboard has a great layout and a dedicated number pad.

OUR VERDICT

If you're looking for a fast notebook with the latest in beautiful, functional screens, this Windows Vista Ultimate-equipped unit delivers the goods. And Sony will have 12 fixed configurations from which to choose in retail outlets and online. And while the built-in speakers are anything but entertaining, you'll have no worries if you're happy with headphones.