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When Good Things Come In (Very) Small Packages

Laptops have grown up. Once wimpy, they now come loaded with features that make them fully functional alternatives to desktop PCs. But even a modest 6-pounder can feel like 60 pounds after lugging it around for a day. The solution: Laptops need to get smaller, but not so small that you can't actually work and play on them.
Laptops have grown up.

Once wimpy, they now come loaded with features that make them fully functional alternatives to desktop PCs. But even a modest 6-pounder can feel like 60 pounds after lugging it around for a day. The solution: Laptops need to get smaller, but not so small that you can't actually work and play on them.

If you need a truly portable portable, there are a lot of really sweet ultralight laptops, 3 pounds or less, out there. There's also bad news: First, they're expensive (half the size means twice the price); second, you need to make compromises, such as living with a small screen.


VAIO notebook
Still, with the Sony Vaio VGN, those compromises don't seem so big. And at 2.75 pounds and a minuscule 10-7/8 by 7-3/4 by 1-1/4 inches, it's more like carrying a paperback book than a PC.

While some other ultraportables don't come with optical drives (including models from Lenovo and Fujitsu), the Vaio does. A built-in optical drive may not be absolutely necessary, but because one of the major uses for an ultralight laptop is entertainment--playing music, DVDs, and games--it makes life easier. Besides, if an optical drive is there, you'll have it when you need it.

The optical drive isn't the Vaio's only appealing feature. Its audio system is a plus (this is Sony, after all). Of course, It doesn't compare to that of a larger laptop or desktop, but with other ultraportables, you'll probably want to use headphones or add external speakers.

A WORK OF ART
The Sony's small size is both an advantage and a disadvantage. It's almost compact enough to fit into a coat pocket, but that means the screen is very small. The screen is just 11 inches measured diagonally, and, at 1,366 by 768 pixels, emphatically panoramic. It's 5-1/2 inches high and displays text at about half the size of a 19-inch desktop monitor. The display is bright and diamond-sharp, but I found that zooming in on documents to 150% of normal size makes for more comfortable view- ing. Applications that couldn't be zoomed were sometimes problematic.

Despite its size, the Vaio finds room for the necessary connectors and ports: RJ45 Ethernet and RJ11 modem connectors, a PCMCIA slot, a Memory Stick Pro slot, an SD card slot, an IEEE 1934 connector, and two USB 2.0 connectors. And the Vaio's battery life is a plus: almost four hours with the standard battery. (An extra-capacity battery is available for a pricey $299.)

The Vaio's biggest drawback is its keyboard, which is designed for fashionistas rather than touch typists. The keys are smooth metal and perfectly flat, with no raised edges to help finger positioning.

In fact, the Vaio gives the impression of having been designed as much for style as for ergonomics. It's an art object, computer-as-jewelry--and when you buy high-quality jewelry, you don't expect it to be cheap. The current model, the VGN-TXN17P, is a slight upgrade from the VGN-TXN15P I received for review but has the same features, including an Intel U1400 processor. It will cost you $2,450--about a thousand dollars a pound.