Sony’s Flyweight Vaio Enters the Ring

Sony on Thursday announced specs for its super-light Vaio X laptop, which was first unveiled in September at the IFA trade show in Berlin.

Sony Vaio X Series notebooks

Sony Vaio X Series notebooks
(click image to enlarge)

At 1.6 lbs with a standard battery, the laptop, which has an 11.1-inch screen and a carbon fiber body, is claimed to be the lightest in its class. Prices start at around $1,300.

Vaio X Features

The Vaio X has a carbon fiber body, an 11.1-inch scratch-resistant LCD screen and a built-in camera and mike for real-time video chats.

It has a multi-touch touchpad and comes with both a standard battery that offers up to three and a half hours of life and a large battery that runs for up to 14.5 hours. The larger battery doubles as a tilt rest for the Vaio X.

Three and a half hours of life on the standard battery is not enough, Leslie Fiering, a research vice president at Gartner, told TechNewsWorld.

Once users plug in the larger battery, they’ll find the Vaio X is much heavier. “The only way you get more battery life for a given processor and power draw and usage pattern is to throw more cells at the battery,” Fiering explained.

The Vaio X comes with Windows 7 Home Premium preinstalled. It also has the following preinstalled applications, all on a trial basis: Microsoft Works SE 9.0; AOL; Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007; and Norton Internet Security.

With the Vaio X, Sony is trying to leverage a new category of portable computers with 11-inch screens. “These 11-inchers are opening up a whole new market between the 12-inchers, which are pretty much mainstream, and netbooks, which have screens of up to 10 inches,” Fiering said.

“A lot of vendors are hoping to provide serious competition to the 10-inch netbook by providing more screen real estate and maintaining the light weight,” explained Fiering.

Digging Down Into the Vaio X’s Guts

The Vaio X measures 10.95 by 0.55 by 7.29 inches. It has a 2GHz Intel processor, 2 GB of DDR2 SDRAM, a 533 MHz front-side bus and a solid-state drive up to 128 GB in capacity.

Communications capabilities include built-in access to Verizon Wireless Mobile Broadband, Fast Ethernet, 10Base-T/100Base-TX/1000BaseT, WiFi Atheros 802.11b/g/n, and integrated Stereo A2DP Bluetooth technology.

The Vaio X’s multimedia capabilities are built around Intel technology. For graphics, it uses the Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 500 and the Intel System Controller Hub US15W chipset. For audio, it uses Intel High Definition Audio.

Expansion slots consist of a Memory Stick PRO standard or duo slot with MagicGate functionality, as well as an SD memory card slot.

MagicGate is a copy protection technology Sony introduced in 1999 as part of the Sony Digital Music Initiative. It encrypts content on the device and uses MagicGate chips in both the storage device and the reader to enforce digital rights management. The technology is used in Sony PlayStation 2 memory cards and in all Sony’s Memory Stick products.

Ferrari Prices for Chevy Vegas?

Prices of the Sony Vaio X line start at $1,300.

That might appear a bit steep when you consider that users who want to use the Verizon wireless service have to pay $60 or so monthly, and that netbooks with a similar service retail at as low as $200.

It could be that Sony’s banking on the device’s design to pull in buyers. “Sony has always been noted for its design capabilities, and the Vaio X is a beautiful box,” Gartner’s Fiering said. “People used to pay a premium for Vaios because we saw them as executive jewelry.”

Beauty may not be enough, however, contended Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group. “This is certainly a nice piece of personal jewelry, but in a market class that’s being defined at under $400, a product at this price is going to be very difficult to sell,” he told TechNewsWorld.

For buyers in the United States, the Vaio X is no comparison to the MacBook Air and Dell Latitude Z, which hover around the same price point but are much bigger and more capable, Enderle said. “We tend to have bigger hands and like larger products, which is why the MacBook Air has a 13.3-inch screen, not a 10-inch one,” he explained.

While using carbon fiber for the body has made the Vaio X very light, this is not the first laptop with a carbon-fiber body, Enderle pointed out. “We’ve had laptops with carbon-fiber bodies before, but that was when small laptops were selling at $3,000 and up,” he said.

“They never sold well anyway, even though people accepted that laptops were expensive,” Enderle added. “The difference between the carbon-fiber laptops and the others was the difference between a Ferrari and a Jaguar. Today, the entire category has been reclassified as Chevy.”

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