With the new VAIO M, Sony has also slashed its netbook price-points to an all-time low. But it ditches the iconic chiclet-styled keyboard synonymous with Sony VAIO laptops and netbooks.
The Sony VAIO M series of netbooks looks pretty similar to the Sony Vaio W on the outside. The Sony VAIO M has a smooth matte finish on its screen lid with the characteristic VAIO logo at its centre. You have a choice of three screen lid colours - blue, white, and pink - on the VAIO M netbook. Our review unit had a metallic blue screen lid and a dull silver gray bezel - the white and pink color versions are definitely more attractive in comparison.
The Sony VAIO M may not have the best colour combo but it has pretty good build quality. Like the Dell Inspiron Mini 10, the Sony VAIO M isn’t the thinnest netbook in the market but it weighs a comfortable 1.4-kg (with a six-cell battery attached), and can be easily stowed away in your backpack or purse.
Like the VAIO W, the Sony VAIO M netbook also comes with a non-glossy 10.1-inch LED-backlit widescreen display - matte or non-glossy displays don’t act as rearview mirrors (like glossy screens) when used outdoors and are great for reading text. The netbook’s screen is evenly lit, sufficiently bright and offers average viewing angles. The microphone and 0.3MP webcam grooved into the VAIO M’s top screen bezel are quite good for video chatting on Skype.
The touchpad is pretty much unchanged on the Sony VAIO M (compared to the VAIO W netbook) - it is good to work with and the netbook’s isolated touchpad mouse buttons offer good feedback. But the biggest change is visible on the Sony VAIO M’s keyboard. Gone are the characteristic isolated, chiclet-styled keys - instead the VAIO M’s keyboard is inhabited by tightly packed, raised keys, and there’s a hint of flex while typing. But, overall, the Sony VAIO M’s keyboard is good to type on - just not as great as Dell Inspiron Mini 10’s or Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3t’s keyboard.
The Sony VAIO M comes with the 1.66GHz Intel Atom N450 processor and bundles in 1GB of RAM, a 250GB hard drive and onboard Intel GMA 3150 graphics processor.
The Sony VAIO M also bundles in the usual suspects - three USB ports, card reader, VGA port, headphone and mic jacks, and ethernet port. There’s no support for Gigabit Ethernet, but Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth 2.1 wireless connectivity standards are featured on the Sony VAIO M netbook. Sony also loads some useful proprietary Sony VAIO software on the VAIO M netbook - VAIO Gate, VAIO Recovery Center, and VAIO Control Center, among other things. It isn’t all fluff.
The card reader on the VAIO M netbook can read both SD cards and Sony’s proprietary Memory Stick Pro Duo cards as well - earlier VAIO W netbook had two separate card slots. Placement of ports is a bit of a mixed bag on the new Sony VAIO M netbook, though. There are some handy ports on the netbook’s front edge - Wi-Fi toggle switch, headphone and mic jacks. But the row of USB ports placed on the VAIO M’s left edge are a little too close for comfort and could possibly interfere with multiple USB devices when connected simultaneously - we connected three USB pen drives in a row and they really struggled to wiggle their way in.
The Sony VAIO M scored 35 on WorldBench 6 and PC Mark 05 and 3D Mark 06 scores are also in line with comparable netbooks. So having an Atom N470 1.83-GHz processor on the VAIO M doesn’t necessarily translate into greater performance compared to other Intel Atom N450 1.6-GHz processor based netbooks. But having said that, we could multitask with at most three programs - web browser, music app, and a productivity program - without any noticeable lag. As expected, the VAIO M’s 10-inch matte screen is great for reading text and good (at best) for watching cinematic visuals.
Watching HD 480p videos on YouTube went well, but the Sony VAIO M surprisingly couldn’t even play smooth, stutter-free HD 720p videos. But the netbook has pretty good onboard audio, compared to netbook standards - the VAIO M’s onboard speakers are situated between the keyboard and screen hinge. As long as you’re happy watching standard definition video, the Sony VAIO M will do a good job with accompanying onboard audio.
Battery life is where the Sony VAIO M disappoints, compared to other 10-inch netbooks we’ve tested. In our synthetic benchmarks, the VAIO M’s six-cell Li-ion battery lasted 2 hours 30 minutes - expect just under 5 hours of browsing the web over Wi-Fi on a conservative battery plan. That battery life number on the by itself isn’t bad, but it isn’t impressive compared to netbooks that offer close to 9 hours of battery life. In short, if you’re looking for a netbook with outstanding battery life, the Sony VAIO M isn’t for you.
The new Sony VAIO M sells for £299 inc VAT. For that price you get a standard netbook offering standard performance, with a large hard drive, useful proprietary software but unimpressive battery life. The VAIO M distinguishes itself from prominent netbooks (like the Dell Inspiron Mini 10 and Lenovo Ideapad S10-3) with its matte screen, build quality, and better-than-average onboard audio. Overall, the Sony VAIO M’s a good netbook buy. If you ever wanted to buy a Sony VAIO netbook but hesitated because of its high price, the Sony VAIO M should be a welcome change.