by Jack O’Neill, Colorado USA
The Sony VAIO S Seriesnotebook is designed to provide mobility via light-weight, excellent battery life and small footprint area. Mobility often means a user must sacrifice performance and extra features, but the Sony VAIO S260 proves this doesn’t have to be the case. Following is a full review of the 13.3″ XBrite screen VAIO S260 and an analysis of why this notebook is well worth looking at and considering.
Sony S260 Specs as received:
- Intel Pentium M 1.7 GHz w/400MHz FSB
- 500MB PC-2700 333MHz DDR memory in one of two memory slots (1GB max)
- ATI Mobility Radeon 9200 w/32MB dedicated RAM
- 13.3″ WXGA (1280×800) with XBRITE
- DVD-ROM / CD-RW (8X, 24X, 24X)
- Intel Pro/Wireless 2200BG wireless network card
- 60GB 4200rpm hard drive
- Integrated V.90 modem w/RJ-11 interface
- 10BASE-T/100BASE-TX Ethernet w/ RJ-45 interface
- 1×1394(firewire), 2x USB 2.0, 1x PCMCIA type II/type I card slot, 1x memory stick media slot
- VGA out w/ Smart Display Sensor, mono mini microphone jack, stereo mini headphone jack
- Weight 4.2 lbs with battery
- Size (WxHxD) 12.3″ x 1.16″-1.39″ x8.85″
- Full spec sheet can be found at:
Out of the box
The Sony VAIO S260 fresh out of the box (view larger image)
I was surprised by the small size of the S260 retail package as I’ve seen digital cameras that came in larger boxes. Like some of the other notebooks I’ve bought in the past, the contents were pretty sparse. The notebook was well packaged and besides the notebook itself and standard battery, there was a power cord and power supply brick as well as a 30-40 page quick start pamphlet, warranty card, fall 2004 accessory brochure and a key for the trial version of Microsoft office. The battery did not have any charge on it, so after charging for a couple of hours I turned it on and it proceeded to quickly boot into Windows XP home (with Service Pack 2). The OS had been completely installed and did not ask for any information such as a name, password or time zone. As this notebook was directly from Sony for the purpose of this review, it is possible that a new unit off the shelf ask for some information to complete the setup. It’s nice to be up and going with really no steps involved other than turning it on, but with all the security concerns presently, it should at least ask for a password to be set.
Left Side (view larger image)
Right Side (view larger image)
Bottom side view (view larger image)
Top side view (view larger image)
Front view (view larger image)
Sony VAIO S260 Keyboard view (view larger image)
Sony Vaio 260 & 15″ T42 size / screen brightness comparison (view larger image)
I found the build quality of the S260 to be well above average. It is fairly rugged for a non-IBM thin and light notebook. Like the ThinkPad its case is constructed of magnesium alloy, there is very little if any flexure or give when the case is squeezed or pressed. The little plastic port covers seem sort of cheap, but I’ve had this type of cover on Sony cameras in the past and they have taken a lot of abuse and held up very well. One thing I don’t like is the fact that there is no locking mechanism to keep the LCD securely closed; the only thing that holds the notebook shut is the tightness of the display hinges. The hinges are well built, but still they are plastic as well (they have a metal pin on the inside though), and with use if these hinges loosen up, then the notebook could flop open at any time. One other minor issue is that the battery fits a bit loose and can jiggle a bit; I’m not sure if all the units are like this, but it’s not a big deal as a bit of electrical tape along the batteries edge would tighten it up just fine, though a bit of a kluge
Hard Drive and Data Storage
The hard drive in this model is a 60GB 4200rpm Toshiba that comes formatted with a 54.6GB NTFS partition holding all of the pre-installed software as well as the XP Home operating system. The OS and installed software consume another 5.2 GB of disk space, leaving 49.4GB free for the user. There is also a hidden partition (5.4 GB) that contains everything needed to restore your hard drive to it’s original brand new state. Sony also includes software to create recovery CDs or DVDs (if your notebook has the DVD burner option) It would be a good idea to make these recovery disks as soon as possible, that way you can recover the 10% of your hard drive from that hidden partition and put it to good use.
- Adobe Acrobat reader 6.01
- WinDVD 5 for Vaio
- Quicken 2005 (new user edition)
- Microsoft Office 2003 student teacher trial edition (60 day trial)
- DVgate plus (1394 video importing & editing tool)
- Microsoft works (full version)
- Microsoft Office PowerPoint viewer
- Netscape 7.0
- Norton Interent Security (trial version)
- Mood logic 2.7(MP3 player and organizer) Trial version 100 song limit.
- Picture gear studio (import, organize and print your photos)
- Sony Sonic Stage (tool for playing and backing up music to CD)
- AOL (trial)
- AOL instant messenger
- Various other Vaio utilities
I thought the feel of the S260 keyboard was average to a little above average, there was not quite as much tactile feedback to the S260 keyboard as I like (slightly mushy), but overall the keyboard feels well built and solid. As for the layout of the VAIO S260 keyboard, the one item that stands above the rest for me is that Sony puts a switch on the front of the keyboard that controls power for the wireless LAN, I really wish IBM and everyone else did this. Many people will find the Sony keyboard layout just fine, but I like a full sized keyboard and this one is just a little small for me. The keyboard size has been reduced to 95% of full size and if you have smaller hands this would work great for you and with time I might be able to get use to it as well. I guess when you start getting into the really thin and light models; key pitch has to be reduced at some point. The S260 does not have a pointing stick either and I use this almost exclusively, so not having one is really slowing me down. They do include a windows key, so that is a plus for those of you who use it. The one thing I think Sony could have done with the S260 keyboard is to add page back and page forward buttons to the layout, in fact there is a place for them right above the left and right arrow keys where dummy keys are presently
TouchpadI’m not much of a touchpad user as I prefer to use the eraser head/pointing stick, but I’ve been trying to become proficient with the touchpad on this notebook.
The touchpad software is very programmable. Both touchpad buttons can be programmed to many different functions as well as areas of the touchpad can be setup to perform various other functions or launch applications. I found that for instance you can setup the touchpad to perform the back/forward command while using the internet by doing a left/right drag at the top of the touchpad. I thought that since they did not design the keyboard to include the back/forward buttons, that I would use this instead. After using this for some time, I decided I like having the buttons much better. The reason is because I found that quite often while moving the cursor on a web page; I would unintentionally be taken to the previous page. This is probably as much my fault as theirs, with some time I would learn not to do that. On to the touchpad buttons, to be honest with you, I don’t really like the ergonomics of the entire touchpad area. The reason I say this is the buttons are recessed and also although wide enough, they are pretty thin vertically; so nearly every time I try to click, I end up just pressing above or below the button. It looks very sleek and stylish, but your thumb just does not fit quite right; so instead of laying the side of my thumb down on the touchpad button like I’m use to, I have to keep my thumb up somewhat and use the tip of the thumb to click.
Another thing that does not affect the function of the touchpad, but in my mind makes it seem kind of….I don’t want to say cheap, but I can’t think the word to use; is that the touchpad itself is not recessed into the notebook at all nor does it have any beveled edges. This just be the Sony style, but I think they should have put the same bevel on the touchpad as they did the buttons, it would have made it look nicer in my opinion.
ExtrasTwo programmable buttons (S1, S2) each can be set for muting, Ext. Display, Stand by, Hibernate, Max brightness, Bass Boost, Vaio Power management viewer or to launch an application. I setup the S1 button to bring up the Vaio power management application and left the S2 button unused.
I found the sound output from the Vaio 260 to more than adequate for my needs. It was at least 2 notches above the sound from my T42; of course anyone wanting the best in sound quality will want to use some high quality ear buds or head phones and be even an add-on PCMCIA sound card.
The display is very bright and crisp, guess that’s why it’s called XBRITE . It has brightness levels from 0 to 8 and most of the time during daylight hours, I found level 6 to be bright enough for my liking and in the evening under low light conditions level 4 worked well for my web surfing. The response time of the LCD seemed a little quicker than my ThinkPad T42 and watching fast action movies was a pleasure. The viewing angle was more than adequate and there was no issue of anyone not getting a good angle on seeing the movie if they were watching at a reasonable angle. Reviewing a display is very subjective as everyone has their needs, likes and dislikes. When I first saw the display I had mixed feelings, it was very bright and crisp, but it has a high gloss finish to it which causes a lot of glare and reflections to be seen in the display; and this is something I didn’t like about it. I then took it outdoors on a bright sunny afternoon and I was amazed by how well this display worked outdoors( even with the sun shining directly into it), this is something Sony did right that’s for sure. It really beat the pants off my T42 for it’s outdoor use ability. My T42 in case your not familiar with them, has a sort of Matte finish to it which totally eliminates indoor glare and any reflections, but outdoors on a sunny day you will have a hard time even seeing where the cursor is.
To test the general overall performance of the S260 I ran a few of the more common benchmarks. The first test was the super pi test which calculates pi to various digit lengths, since we have been using the 2 million mark in the past, that’s what was used here (view the forum thread Let’s measure our notebooks CPU speedto see more regarding this). The VAIO S260 turned in a time of 1:59 for both powered and adaptive when under battery power. Setting the power scheme to Max battery, which clocks back the CPU to a much lower speed, increased the time required to calculate Pi to 2 million digits to 4:16. More than twice the time while under powered conditions.
Next was AquaMark 3 benchmark, the results were:
The last benchmark ran was the 3D Mark 03, it was ran under default conditions (powered and power scheme set to performance mode) just like with the AquaMark test. I ran the test two times because the 1st run seemed to produce a number that seemed too low, but the 2nd run was close to the 1st. Here are 3D Mark 03 results:
- 1st pass = 677
- 2nd pass = 690
These results show that the S260 is definitely not a machine for running the latest 3D games, the Radeon 9200 is just not up to that task.
HeatBesides the low numbers in the graphics benchmarks, running these GPU/CPU intensive programs produced an incredible amount of heat in the right rear section of the notebook. This is where the fan exhaust ports are. I got out my Fluke digital thermometer and held the thermocouple right next to the exhaust port for the fan and recorded a peak temperature of 140.4 F for the air leaving the notebook. The bottom of the right side was also very hot during these benchmarks, probably too to keep it comfortably in your lap. During other normal use like working on this document, using the internet and such, heat was not an issue and the notebook remained fairly cool at all times.
The only real source of noise in this notebook is the cooling fan, the 4200 rpm hard drive is very quiet. The fan is louder than what I’m use to with my T42, but I’m sure it is much more quiet than a notebook trying to cool down a Pentium 4 or AMD processor. The user can somewhat, but not entirely control fan through the use of the power savings modes. The one thing I found a little irritating was that the fan was pretty unpredictable; instead of running at a smooth, constant speed that the user could become accustomed to. It would be turning on and off and speeding up and down, sometimes in the timeframe of only 10-20 seconds. It seemed like the feedback control loop for the fan really needs some work, the fan would slow down and or shut off only to come back on at an increased level only a few seconds later with no change to the CPU or GPU load.
The Intel 2200BG in the VAIO was very easy to setup, in fact there is nothing to its setup for connecting to unsecured networks, just turn on the switch and you’ll be connected. Even the setup required for a secure network was quick and easy; all I needed to do was put in the passphrase and set the wireless router to accept the MAC address of the notebook. Performance was very good, just not quite as good as the 2200BG in my thinkpad, the distance that the wireless network would work was about 10-15% less. This is probably due to the IBM having a better antenna.
The battery in this notebook is great! Depending on the power settings, the user can get close to 6 hours of use from this notebook. For instance one evening I spent 3 hours just surfing the internet over it’s wireless connection (which works very well by the way) reading articles and such and when I decided to call it quits, it still was just the display was at about the 62% brightness level. Another test of battery life was to watch a DVD and see how that faired. I chose to watch the prisoner of Azkaban, the brightness was set 2 notches below maximum and power was set to maximum battery savings and a fairly high sound level. The running time for the movie was 2 hours 21 minutes and when the movie was finished, the battery had 36% remaining charge (1hour 24 minutes remaining)
I must say I’m much more impressed with this notebook than I thought I would be due to the fact that the T42 I use daily is hard to beat…at least in my mind. I really liked the extra bright display that worked unbelievably well in direct sunlight and the super battery life. The price of the Vaio S260 currently ranges from about $1650-$1900, a bit high for the specs of this notebook, but I’m a big believer of you get what you pay for when it comes to things like this and remember it’s got the magnesium alloy case and is built very well; when you look at the big picture I think the price of $1650 is a fair one. Even though I’ve gotten pretty good at using the touchpad during the last 3 weeks, for me the deal breaker for me is the lack of a pointing stick. I just can’t be that productive without one unless I were to start toting a mouse with me everywhere and that puts a big damper on being really mobile if I need to be connecting and disconnecting a mouse every time I use my notebook. I do truly have a much greater respect for Sony’s notebook quality than I did before. This is a notebook well worth looking at and considering.Pros
- Great battery life
- High contrast, extra bright display which works great in sunlight
- On/Off switch for wireless card
- Memory Stick Pro slot is a bonus for anyone owning a Sony digital camera.
- Good software bundle
- Stylish and Sexy
- Does not have a pointing stick/eraser head.
- The fan can be fairly loud at times and is unpredictable.
- High gloss LCD screen can be irritating to some.
- No serial or parallel port
- No latch to hold notebook closed.
- Higher than average selling price
Availability and Pricing
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