29.10.09

sony cw "notebook"/laptop first thoughts

[video here]

It's a bit early for a full review, but here are some of my first thoughts about this shiny machine. I decided I couldn't justify a mac this time, so I got a Sony CW with 4Gb memory, a nVidia GT230M and the Core 2 Duo T6600 2.2G. This is a replacement for my 12" PowerBook G4, so there'll be some unfair comparisions to a five year old machine. After not giving us Java 6 for powerPC's and having the mac repaired 4 or 5 times, I didn't think all the shinyness was worth the 50% price premium. For a 15% premium I can get a Sony machine! This was written roughly in the order that I experienced it.

sappy or appony?

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old mac on the left, new sony on the right (bigger)

Unboxing - okay, so sony isn't apple. The box was a little goofy - the logo on the top is upside down when you figure out how to open it. The box then unfolds like a crab, before throwing the power adaptor and battery onto the floor. A couple of slim manuals, but no CD's in the box - guess there's no chance of a windows reinstall then. Academic Alliance (aka "the please don't use linux fund") to the rescue.

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That's all there is in the box. On my bed ;)

I managed to fumble and push the "web" button on the laptop after installing the battery. After a couple of seconds pause, it booked to the spashtop (a linux distro running firefox?) very quickly. The browser was quite active and functional - happily playing youtube videos. Hopefully this will make running Ubuntu easier as there have to be drivers around.

The keyboard is great - not quite enough travel on the keys but very spacious and mac-esque (except the funtion and control buttons have switched place again!). The key-letters look a bit stuck on, and I'm sure they use too many fonts over the front of the computer for my typographic sensibilities. Just the usual range of garish stickers next to it. I wonder what it'll take to get them off... I've just come back to the paragraph, from the future to say I really like the keyboard :) Since this is going to be a coding machine, it's a good thing too.

Something strange about the delete rate - it removes entire sentences beforewith a light touch. I'm sure there's a setting somewehre to fix it. Ah yeah, in the Vaio settings, it's turned up all the way...


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So just the usual keys on the board, plus four little ones under the screen (photo above) - a display-off button that seems to kill the (LED) backlight, a "Vaio button" that when I pushed just now started installing Sony's Media Gallery software, that then started probing my network for new media...won't do that again. The "web" button in windows seems to close the tab that I'm using to write this blog post and take me to Chrome's homepage. When the computer is off, the web button starts the nix splashtop for quickie web browsing sessions. I think they can all be remapped.

Trackpad is a little unresponsive compared to the mac, and doesn't seem to do multitouch (edit: thanks anon commenter - it does multitouch - it's just well hidden, and no nice two fingered scrolling) gestures, but decent enough. The right hand side of the pad does scrolling, but it seems a bit unsensitive (and brings up a really ugly mouse cursor in windows). In Chrome scrolling jumps down the screen, but in IE it's smooth but feels like there's quite a bit of lag.

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Wifi reception is great, the splashtop found a bunch of networks I'd never seen on the mac and the reception seems decent enough. Seems to stay quite cool too, as long as you don't spin that graphics card up! There are some quirks with the splashtop setup - the keymapping is wonky (@ and " are reversed, but since I alternate between keyboards with both conventions, it's easy enough to ignore) and if your laptop is in hibernating (doesn't work at all if in standby), it doesn't record your history. Also (as noted in the comments) there's no brightness control.

After a restart the Windows7 desktop came up there was a nice suprise - google chrome was installed by default! Take that European Commission :)


Some random sony rubbish, like the choice to get the "Sony" theme on the default home page (is this the reward from google for bundling with chrome?). .

Windows 7. Not really a fan of windows in general, but it hasn't got in my way yet. It even looks quite pretty. Apart from a crash the first time it booted (well i did shut the lid as it was booting - i had to look at the shiny case one last time), I've rather enjoyed it. Still I'd rather not run the thing until the first service pack (50Mb of urgent updates already....), will get going on Ubuntu later today. I think windows is still running NTFS, so should be able to share a big partition between the two.

Next up was putting the graphics card through it's paces. It's a nVidia GT 230M behind that beast of a vent on the left hand side, since I do a fair bit of graphics I thought it was worth the $100 upgrade to a card that could at least pretend to do 3d. Best thing is it can run Cuda code - that might be useful in the future. DirectX wasn't isntalled (strangely enough - surprised it isn't part of window these day). The Medusa demo from nVidea ran at between 7 and 20fps. Tho mostly 7fps. I guess this would improve with some updated drivers, and after nVidia has a chance to figure out Windows7. But it still looked mighty impressive on screen.

Having some issues with the charger - after i installed some windows update it complained about low battery, and however i giggled the charger, and whatever i plugged/unplugged it wouldn't charge. I brought it into the kitchen, and restarted and it seems fine now. Ah, got it - the led on the power brick takes a long time to go out, just need to fight a tighter fitting wall socket!


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Screen is impressive, the LED backlight makes a real difference, and the brightness is comparable to the screen on my desktop machine. Not sure I like the glossyness, I suspect it's a ploy to get you to buy a screen filter, but it's what all the cool kids are using so I guess I'll have to get used to it. It's going to take a few weeks before I know that I like the widescreen format, but movies look awsome on it! The HDMI out is enough to drive my 24" monitor with the right cables.


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Hmmm.... all those little sticky labels that come on a new laptop have very different levels of stickability. The energy star and windows7 came off easily, the nVidia one was a bit more stubborn, but the intel one left a nasty glob on the glossy surface that's going to take some detergent to get off property.

So already it's covered in fingerprints, but that was expected, so I'm not too concerned. My gear tends to gets used, so I'm not going to complain again a few prints. It's also picking up white cat hair like there's no tomorrow, but I guess that's my fault for not ordering the white one. Who knows why i would want the red one - chronic nose bleeds?

Theres not much bloatware at all - jsut the usual MS office trial and a couple of antivirus trials. And there are actually useful apps like acrobat reader and Chrome already installed. But there is a fair bit of marketing pomp. I'm now fed up with the Vaio logo (it's everywhere) and there's a strange button on the start bar that brings up a screen that announces that it's a "Sony Vaio CW series with Virbrant color inside and out", and tells me how much it weighs. I don't think it's got a weight sensor (am now pushing on it to make sure).

Sleep works nicely - it suspends in a couple of seconds and comes back when you press the power button.

I can't quite get used to the two USB ports on the left hand side being toward the front of the computer. I'm used to holding onto the computer there. I guess they got moved forward to make room for the massive (gpu?) vent on theleft side at the back - This baby's much wider towards the back than the front, and this makes for nice photoshoots, and makes it feel smaller than it is. It also slopes the keyboard toward you a little, but this isn't really a bad thing.

Overall the build quality is decent, not quite a unibody mac, but I wasn't expecting it. It looks like it'll take the shocks and spills that I'll no doubt give it. Everything feels very rigid, with a bit of give in the wrist rest, but not a lot. Speakers aren't up to much. System is real quiet, so you really notice when that CD/DVD (there's no way i was paying for blue ray drive) drive spins up.

Final word: so far it's exactly what I hoped for. With a decent screen :)

Comedy quote from the control panel - "Using a white color for your desktop saves power" - Hold on, you're telling me that it uses less power to emit more energy?! This LED technology is going to take some getting used to!


[edit:]
Now have it set up nicely to boot Ubuntu as well as win7!