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01. 25. 2007

Face Time: Sony Vaio G1

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I did a small write-up on the company Dynamism.com a few months ago when I met up with the owner for cocktails. As a result of our intense negotiations the company agreed to loan me a Sony Vaio G1 when they received their first shipment. It's in my hands, and it's great. Laptops under two pounds donít normally come with all the bells and whistles, but the G1 isnít missing any features.

Always having a sweet little machine shoved into a purse for immediate business access is what the tech connected game is all about, and the G1 is as it should be: Feather light and fully featured. This is not a gaming laptop. Itís also not something that youíll want to use to edit video or crunch heavy numbers, but executives, bloggers, and developers might have a new favorite mobility machine.

For those unfamiliar, our buddies at Dynamism import the coolest gadgets from all over the world. Theyíre a dream come true for the early adopter as the company carries products that arenít available in the United States. Their specialty has always been the next generation laptop models that are only in the Japanese market. Alpha geeks, executives and celebrities come to Dynamism to pick up small, light, and fast machines that stand out.

Come below the fold and weíll run through this great little machine.

How big is it? 10.9 wide x 8.46 deep x 0.93-1.00 tall. It compares very favorably to the Panasonic W5 that Mia reviewed back in May. In the most basic configuration without an optical drive the G1 is 1.97 lbs (898g). The KgB (Kilogram Barrier) is a magical sweet spot for carrying a laptop all day, and the Vaio G1 is still within that range at 2.17 lbs (984g) with the dual layer DVDĪR optical drive.

A Dell D420 feels like a boat anchor after carrying around the G1 for a week, and the Vaio G1 has half the weight of Appleís MacBook. The secret to this weight drain is the carbon fiber body. Stronger than steel and seemingly lighter than paper, carbon fiber is a fantastic choice for consumer electronics. Just for comparison, you should know that I threw this laptop in my messenger bag and forgot that it was there.

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Rather than leave the raw carbon fibers exposed Sony opted to give the machines a standard silver or black finish. However, there is also a limited edition brown version that has the fibers slightly visible through the finish. Itís a fantastically subtle bit of ooh-la-la, and well worth the extra $100 if style is important.

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The G1 is available with either a 1.2GHz U1400 Core Solo, or a 1.06GHz U1300 Core Solo. Theyíre not the fastest processors on the market, but the low power consumption translates into longer battery life. According to the paperwork, battery life on the lightweight battery is six hours, and the extended life standard battery specs out at twelve and a half hours and adds a third of a pound.

My real life experience with the Wifi on and using the optical drive came out at a little over four hours, and I would expect the standard battery to be closer to nine. Either way, thatís a ton of travel time and better than most everything else in the hardware class.

The LCD is a 12.1Ē XGA at 1024x768, and the keyboard has 17mm pitch with a 2mm travel depth. The glass in the display is very nice. Colors are vivid, and the response time is snappy. The G1 I was playing with had a bit of backlight bleeding. Nothing obscene, and I didnít notice it until I tested the display for it.

Integrated features and ports:
SD/ MMC reader
Memory Stick reader
56K flex V.92 telephone modem
10/100 network
Integrated 802.11 b/g Wifi
Bluetooth
VGA out (up to 1600 x 1200 pixels)
Two USB 2.0 ports

The max RAM is 2 gigs, and the hard drives come in either 80 or 100 gigabytes.

Those models without optical drives also include a single i.Link port (Firewire) for connecting a DVD drive. Youíll need to make your drive decision before purchasing a G1; as models without an optical drive cannot have an internal DVD drive added later.

Great Design
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The headphone and microphone jack are mounted on the front of the machine which comes in handy if you like to listen to streaming radio while the laptop is still in your briefcase.

Above the keyboard thereís a dedicated eject button for the optical drive, and a software programmable shortcut button for those complex functions that need to be close at hand. One pet feature that Iím happy to see on the G1 is a hardware switch for the Wifi; there are still some manufacturers that donít include them.

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The SD/MMC and Sony Memory Stick reader is located under the touch pad. This isn't the most convenient space, but the slots are very tight, and seem to lock the memory cards into place. Anyone who ever carried a Treo 600 is sure to have discovered how important this is when cards would randomly shoot across the room when the phone was bumped.

Since the slots are under the touchpad, I have to lift the front of the laptop up to insert cards. In most laptops this is a very annoying problem, but not with the Vaio G1. All cabling connection are on the sides of the machine, and the power adapter was designed to roll with changes in the front altitude.

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See how the circular power adapter can roll with the laptop when I tilt it up? It's a great design nicety, and there's even a green LED at the head of the power adapter for finding it easier.

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And on the subject of the power adapter: This is the smallest power brick that I've ever had the pleasure of using. It fits in the palm of my hand, and feels as light as a feather. Many ultra portable laptops lose their weight advantage when the power brick has to travel along, but not the Vaio G1.

Just some slight concerns
The keyboard is a little too small for my big man hands (Iím 6í2Ē), but most woman (and smaller men) will have no trouble typing on the 17mm pitch keyboard. The 802.11 b/g wireless worked flawlessly with great range, the Bluetooth is great, and thereís a handy fingerprint authentication system for skipping passwords.

Just a word to the wise, these types of fingerprint scanners are there for convenience, but not security. If I have physical access to the machine no fingerprint scanner can keep me away from your data.

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A design decision was made to integrate the battery into the structural integrity of the laptop. Removing the battery requires flipping the laptop upside down to wiggle it free. Putting it back in is also a little awkward, and I always had to lay the laptop upside down on a table to line everything up right. I was terrified of accidentally dropping the battery while aligning it as the battery comes directly in contact with the screen if that happened. Is it a big problem? Not really.

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Anything requiring massive amounts of disk access is going to be on the slow side. To fit a higher capacity 1.8" hard drive into a case this thin and light required some sacrifices, and the hard drive speed was one of them. The hard drives in the Vaio G1 run at 4200 RPM, and my tests showed the burst speed to average out at 22.7 MB/s. Web browsing and office apps wonít notice the bottleneck, but anything that requires constant read and write to disk like video editing or local database searches will.

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And of course, when you buy a laptop thatís only sold in Japan you might expect to see some Japanese Kanji. Dynamism does a full English conversion on their machines, but occasionally there will be a piece of software that hasnít yet been translated. The only example on this G1 is the utility that governs the optical drive. I have no idea what it says, but at least it looks cool. I survived just fine without it, and most likely that utility has already been translated.

Wrap it up, Johnny.
A top of the line Vaio G1 will set you back $2,899, but the base models start at $2,000 so there's a bit of wiggle room to find a solution that meets everyone's needs. This is a solid laptop that seems to have an almost nonexistent weight.

I enjoyed using it, and would recommend it to anyone who has to carry a laptop all day everyday and is tired of having health problems from lugging around a desktop replacement in a purse.

Go get one at Dynamism, but be warned: Supplies are currently limited.

Posted by Johnny    Category: devices
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