by Louie Tran, California USA
The Sony Vaio U750 is the American release of the handtop Vaio U series that became an overnight technological sensation in Japan and it's very easy to see why. I've been reading about this device ever since the U50/U70 were released in Japan during the middle of 2004 and have been eying it for quite some time. Weighing 1.2lbs, this is the smallest device to ever run Windows XP in the US market as of today and it does so very well. However, there are a handful of simple design and interface flaws that keep this from being a great technological innovation, but it's still a great device nonetheless.
Sony VAIO U750 Specs
At first glance, the device looks like a simple portable media center device. It's very light and the buttons are actually intuitively laid out. There is an onboard joystick that functions as a mouse which is an alternative to use the stylus on the touch screen. The left click, right click, and middle button are also on the device too. There are also directional buttons that act as the arrow keys so Sony has pretty much covered ease of navigation through the device without a keyboard. Other buttons on the device allow you to control the brightness, bring up the onscreen keyboard, zoom and rotate the screen.
The U750 unit itself has one USB 2.0 port, Compact Flash and Memory Stick slots, a hold button, a WiFi switch and a port for a VGA output. The dock acts sort of like a port replicator although there aren't a lot of ports that it actually replicates. It has 4 USB 2.0 ports, an iLink port, VGA output and an ethernet port.
The biggest design flaw that the Vaio U750 suffers from is the lack of an on unit stand. What I mean by that is, if you want to use the keyboard, you have to also bring the dock with you, otherwise it will be extremely difficult to type with when nothing is supporting the unit at a comfortable typing angle. It's true that the keyboard itself is portable and foldable and the Vaio itself is compact but dock is NOT. This makes another thing to carry for road warrior extremists and it is a major annoyance. I'm sure it wouldn't have been that hard to make a stand on the back of the unit or supply the included keyboard with a support. The funny thing is, the whole package comes with a case for the Vaio and one for the keyboard. So where does the dock go? In your pocket? I think not...
A lot of people criticize that it's too big to be a PDA and too small to be a laptop. You can't really put this thing in your pocket and since it doesn't come with a built in keyboard, you're going to have to end up carrying three things at once (the Vaio, the dock and the keyboard) if you want to make real use out of it which defeats the purpose of having a small handheld. Hopefully all of these issues will be resolved on the next generation.
Size comparison with the Dell Axim X30 Pocket PC
The first few hours...
The first thing that I did was see how much hard drive space that it came with at factory default and it was a pitiful 12GB with 3GB being used as a system restore partition. Oh well, that's easy to deal with because it comes with a utility to back up the restore partition, but you can seem to delete it without using a program such as Partition Magic. Like everyone else, I'm surprised why Sony didn't have the Windows Tablet PC operating system installed. However, the third party applications that it's bundled with makes it act like a tablet. The RitePen handwriting recognition software works pretty well and can read my messy cursive.
Surfing the internet was as quick as any laptop or desktop and reading on the U750 wasn't as big of an eyestrain as I thought it would be. Since the native resolution is only 800x600, some websites such as Cnet didn't display properly since the screen was too small. I downloaded all the necessary Windows Updates while making notes of my first impressions of the device using Word in the background and there wasn't any slowdowns. It's good to know that it can handle simple multitasking.
I was lazy and didn't want to install a whole mess of video codecs so I downloaded and installed VLC which plays DivX, Xvid, and whatever. Now this is where the U750 really shines, it plays video files bright and beautifully and the Sony Xbrite screen is unbelievable. I have never seen anime this sharp on anything this small and the picture quality is beyond both my Samsung CRT and LCD monitors. I watched an episode of Full Metal Panic while laying in bed and the video never jerked and stuttered.
While laying in bed and watching the anime, I was connected via WiFi 802.11g downloading 3DMark 2001SE. After the anime and download was complete I installed and ran the 3DMark benchmarking program. It came up with an error saying that it can't handle the default settings at 1024x769 resolution so it dropped the benchmarking test to 640x480. I decided to take a chance and make it run at it's native resolution at 800x600 and the program crashed right in the middle of the benchmark. I restarted and then ran the program again at 640x480 and it ended up with a 2989 as the score. It was decent, but not all that great for intense gaming. I wasn't even going to bother running Futuremark 2005 because I know it won't be able to handle it.
Around the House
Around the house, this device works really well because I can load up my anime and just watch it in any part of my house including the closet. It's not as uncomfortable to use in bed as my Toshiba M205 Tablet PC while laying down because it it's about 1/4 of the weight. It also makes a great couch buddy while I'm watching TV and then chatting online, even though my PDA is smaller and can already do that... The U750 also works great in the kitchen because it's small enough to sit anywhere and you can use it to read off recipes. Rotating the screen is also useful for reading and jotting down some quick notes.
I wouldn't use this as my main computer to do my more serious work at home and it certainly is not meant to be a desktop replacement, even though I am using it to write the review at this very moment. Just for kicks, I hooked this up to my Bose surround sound system to use as a media center to stream in music off the network and it works great. Again, the big advantage the U750 has is that it can fit anywhere and I can't stress that enough.
On the Road
Using the device on the road is where the U750 suffers. This is very ironic because it is such a small device. It was meant to be portable but design flaws keep it from being so. The U750 has only a 2.5hr battery so it won't really last on those long plane rides unless you ride first class and have an outlet available to you. If you are out in the field and work 8hrs a day like I do, then it will be rendered useless very quickly and you have to find a place to charge it and have it always plugged in. This will then force you to have ONE MORE thing to carry including the dock if you want to use the keyboard somewhere.
Using the U750 outdoors was no problem thanks to the transreflective Xbrite screen because it didn't have any real glaring problems like other portable devices. When using it to write quick notes or as an organizer, it sometimes became a bit frustrating to use because it was too big to be used as a PDA. There are a lot of situations where I just got tired of carrying this thing around no matter how cool the concept was and just left it in the car and took my PDA and phone with me. Costing $2000, a device like this shouldn't be tossed aside but unfortunately it is. It's also cool that it comes with a displayed remote but I wouldn't take this thing out jogging or use it to replace my MP3 player because it's just to big to be one.
A lot of people would be curious if the U750 was capable in playing any games. Surprisingly, it performs quite well in this department and it will blow the PSP and Nintendo DS away if one were to use this as a portable gaming device. Warcraft 3 ran beautifully on this without any slow downs or graphical problems. The U750 works best for Real Time Strategy games because of the use of the stylus.
Counterstrike ran really well too and the experience is actually a lot better especially for sniper fans. Just find your target, tap the screen and their dead. Also the built in WiFi is great because you can play online anywhere in the house or wherever there's a wireless signal. World of Warcraft ran OK but there is some stuttering in the game.
Excellent portable entertainment device, but not laptop or PDA
The Sony VAIO U750 is a lot of fun to carry around and play with if you want to take some movies or games on the road but because of some design flaws and battery life, it suffers as a laptop. This is actually a great idea by Sony but it wasn't well thought out enough for the average consumer. Sure it has a great XBrite screen and it's light but you're going to end up having to carry too many things for this to be truly portable. To me, the U750 is more of an expensive novelty item rather than being a serious business device. Hopefully, Sony will continue on with the U series concept and fix the flaws with the device.
Overall Rating: 5.5/10
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