Sony is yet to grace the market with a VAIO mini laptop, in fact Sony has been openly reluctant to produce and sell a netbook. Sony executives have said that the cheap notebook concept doesn't align with Sony's “premium” corporate image. That said, I've seen Sony make some pretty rubbish electrics before, my TV for example, so this could be taken two ways: snobbery or a joke.
But in recent years, Sony have come out with some very genuine very up-market products that support this claim. Sony's Bravia TV range is a market leader, they've continued the ‘Walkman' legacy against the might of the Apple iPod and iTunes and in gaming, it's extended its PlayStation brand, replacing the best-seller PS2 with the PS3 with a staggering £425 RRP against Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Nintendo's Wii. It's VAIO laptop line is also very good.
But have they left the netbook market altogether? Technically, yes. Try searching “netbook” on Sony's VAIO mini-site – no results. Sony doesn't and isn't going to be associated with the cheep and cheerful image presented by Asus when it brought out the Eee PC. But they do have a VAIO laptop that is small, light and portable: the VAIO TT.
The TT is an impressive product, offering an 11.1 inch screen, up to 9 hours battery life and weighing a petite 1.3kg putting it on par with the 8.9 inch HP 2133 mini-note and lighter versions of the Asus Eee PC 1000. All of the TT models feature a strong carbon fibre chassis in a choice of two colours, ‘intense noir' and ‘gold fever'. Sony proclaims carbon fibre is “used in racing car or aircraft manufacturing that's 200% stronger and 30% lighter than conventional materials used in computer chassis design.”
A bi-product of the larger screen is a larger keyboard which is very nearly (but not quite) comparable to that of a full size notebook. The keys are large and separated slightly, with the centre of each key indented marginally for better accuracy.
With Sony's TV background, the 11.1 screen comes with a lot of expertise. Viewing on its widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio and 1366×768 resolution, is delightful. Also, the ability to read blu-ray discs (or any disc) gives far more flexibility. You don't have to faff around burning DVD's or downloading films online – and the quality is such that the viewing quality isn't compromised either.
The huge battery life – up to 9 hours – lends itself to use whilst away on business, more than enough for a full working day. Sony has incorporated a variety of power-saving and efficiency features, such as the battery care function which prevents wear and tear on the batteries, automatic adjustment of LCD brightness according to the environment you're working in and the use ultra-efficient Intel Centrino 2 technology.
Connectivity is certainly at the heart of the TT, with embedded 3G ‘Everywair' on several models with speeds as high as 7.2mbps. A T-Mobile sim card is incorporated on a free trial. Luckily, you can remove it and use your own sim card so you're not bound to a new contract.
Perhaps then, Sony has very definitely entered the mini laptop market, but specifically marketing it as if they haven't. Oh yes, the website bangs on “slim and sophisticated design” and how portable it is, but Sony is very reluctant to use the ‘n' word. Perhaps it needs to be said for them, perhaps not.
The difference between the VAIO TT and a typical netbook like the Asus Eee PC or the Acer Aspire One is so profound. Are they in the same league? Price wise, certainly not; the VAIO TT is expected to retail at around £1,200 for entry level models, compared with a more modest £200-300 for your everyday mini laptop. It's certainly just as portable and useable; however, it is clear Sony's taken a different approach to portability.
Asus pioneered the netbook by starting afresh, building a small computer that could handle simple tasks processing, quick internet and making it affordable. Sony's answer was to reduce the size and weight to make it ultraportable whilst maintaining excellent performance. The result is a very high performance laptop, that has the size and weight properties of a netbook – it is, if you like, the sophisticated mini laptop.