Saturday, 19 July 2008

Sony Vaio VGN-UX17GP

A quirky UMPC, halfway between a full-blown laptop and the Origami concept.
Microsoft’s ultraportable ‘Origami’ concept copped a lot of flak when it was announced. We like the idea, but we’ve yet to see the usability hurdles the devices will have to overcome properly addressed.Sony's VGN-UX17GP is the first ultraportable to come through our labs. It looks very cool and is really just a 15x10cm laptop with matching amounts of grunt, which is useful because unlike a PDA it isn’t task specific and will run almost anything you throw at it.

Although the screen is touch sensitive, this Vaio comes pre-loaded with Windows XP Pro, not Tablet Edition. This also means it’s not an Origami device, just an indication of the form factor we should expect to see in the future. Unfortunately this almost completely sidelines the functionality of the stylus, although you can tap the screen like a mouse and scribble notes into Sony's proprietary software. The stunningly detailed 1024x600 screen, which is the size of a PDA, is easily the sharpest handheld LCD we’ve seen.

It's powered by a 1.2GHz Core Solo, 512 MB of RAM, a 30GB HDD, Intel 945 onboard graphics, Bluetooth and 802.11b/g. If you’re not doing anything intensive, you get two and half-odd hours of battery life thanks to processor throttling and the relatively low specifications of the unit. If you’re flogging it, expect one and a half hours.

The unit itself has one USB port, Compact Flash and Memory Stick Duo card readers, two cameras, a fingerprint scanner and headphone and microphone ports. Using a dongle, you can connect to a wired network as well as getting VGA and TV out; and if you dock it in the included cradle you get these and an additional three USB and Mini-FireWire port.

Instead of taking a cue from its own PSP and placing the mouse on the left, the small track point is nestled under your right thumb. The buttons are under your left thumb, instead of the underside of the unit, which is we would have preferred them. The touch screen provides a little relief, but finger accuracy doesn’t cut it on a screen of this resolution, so common tasks become a stylus-fiddling chore.

We're a little disappointed that there's no inbuilt GPS or mobile phone functionality. Ultraportables will need these if they're going to compete with high end mobile phones, because if you can’t find a killer app to suit you in this incarnation all they will do is turn heads when you use them. This is all well and good, but once the novelty wears off (which it will unless you're a midget who can write "this keyboard is too small" on a grain of rice) you may find it’s impossible to do anything productive on it at speed.

In short, you run the risk of your brand spankin’ new laptop turning into an expensive portable hard drive, video player and A2DP audio streamer unless you already have a purpose in mind for it. We’ll let you know how the Origami devices are shaping up on the usability front when we see them.

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