Tech: Sony Vaio U750 Feature - The Next Level

Tech: Sony Vaio U750

We take one of Sony's latest handtops for a test-run.

Article by Louie Tran (Email)
January 26th 2005, 06:00AM

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 ever since the U50/U70 was released in the middle of 2004 and have been eying it for quite some time. Weighing at 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. There are a few simple design and interface flaws, however, that keep it from being a great technological innovation but it's still a great device nonetheless.


At first glance, the Vaio U750 looks like a simple portable media center device. It's very light and the buttons are actually laid out. There is an onboard joystick that functions as a mouse; a great alternative to the stylus for use on the touch screen. The left/right click and middle button are also present. Additionally, there are directional buttons which serve as the arrow keys, so Sony has pretty much covered ease of navigation without a keyboard. Other buttons allow you to control brightness, bring up the onscreen keyboard, zoom. and even rotate the screen.

The U750 unit itself has a single 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 like a kind of a port replicator, although there aren't many that it actually replicates. Rounding out the package, you’ll find 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. That is to say, if you want to use the keyboard, you have to also bring the dock with you otherwise it will be extremely difficult to type 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 adds yet another thing for road warrior extremists to carry, 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 separate cases for the Vaio and for the keyboard. Where the hell is the dock supposed to go? In your pocket? I think not...

One of the biggest criticisms leveled against the Vaio is 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 it with both accessories. This essentially defeats the purpose of having a small handheld. Hopefully all of these issues will be resolved in the next generation.

The first few hours...

The first thing that I did was check how much hard drive space the unit came with at factory default. It was a pitiful 12GB, with 3GB being used as a system restore partition. That’s not really that big a problem, as it also comes with a utility to back up the restore partition, but you can’t seem to delete it without using a program such as Partition Magic. Like everyone else, I'm surprised that 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 even read my messy cursive.

Of course, web use is one of the key aspects of a product like this, and surfing the internet was as quick as any laptop or desktop. Even better, 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 wouldn’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 slow down. 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.

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