Saturday, March 31, 2007

First Look: Sony Vaio UX-27GN UMPC

You wouldn't believe how hard it is to find a Sony Gallery or Sony dealer who actually has a Vaio UX-27GN UMPC (Ultra Mobile Portable Computer) on display. But I did manage to get my hands on one yesterday. What I didn't realise was that Sony doesn't allow customers to take photographs in their stores. So, since the staff chased me out quick smart... this will be a very brief first look.

For a list of specifications, go to Sony's dedicated Vaio website. Lot's of information there, so I won't go into much detail about the specs. I will tell you though that it's rather thick... as thick as a normal 10 or 12 inch notebook. So, while it's not quite a 'pocketable' piece of kit, it feels quite solid and robust.

The 4.5" widescreen LCD was very good at it's native 1024x600 resolution. Clear, bright (hence the Sony moniker of 'Clearbright' LCD) and very sharp. In the photo above, the normal Windows Vista desktop is UN-magnified. I had no trouble seeing what each icon was (including the tiny ones in the systray at the lower right corner), but I did have to squint to read the pop-up balloons when you hover your cursur above the systray icons.

All in all, I think there should be no problem surfing regular internet webpages without any magnification.

In the limited time I had before I was summarily reprimanded by Sony staff, Vista seemed to be acceptably fast. That's not surprising since the UX-27 is specced pretty much the same as a current average notebook computer. Intel Core Solo CPU, 1GB of DDR2 SD-RAM, 40GB Ultra-ATA 5,400rpm HDD (recovery partition takes away 5GB), Intel GMS 945 chipset, blah blah blah. What is amazing though, is it all fits into a 520gm package.

In terms of software, it is spartan. It comes installed with a meagre selection of programs... Norton AV, IE browser and a multi-media suite. There is no productivity software at all. I would have liked a light version of MS Office. Makes me wonder what kind of logic Sony employed to leave that out... since the only people who can afford to buy the UX are people who have to work all the time.

There seems to be 3 ways to navigate.

One, using the fully featured keypad which slides out like a slider phone. I found the keys rather stiff though, so no touch-typing here.

Two, using the trackpoint. The big grey, square button on the upper right side of the UX-27 is the trackpoint. Put your right thumb there and use pressure to move the cursur around. Use it exactly as you would an IBM/Lenovo Thinkpad trackpoint. The 2 buttons (for the left thumb) on the upper left side are the left & right mouse buttons. It took me a few minutes to get used to coordinating both thumbs to make single point and click actions.

The bigger implication of putting the mouse controller on one side and the mouse buttons on the other side however, is that you can't use the UX with one hand. Think about it, the ramifications could be larger than you'd think. For eg, you can't use this standing in a bus or train, and hold on to the support pole / hand straps at the same time. And you're pretty much screwed if you happen to have only one thumb... or none at all.

Three, using the nifty touch screen. Here's me dragging out a highlight box with my finger. Apparently there's a stylus pen supplied, but I couldn't find it.

But when I tried double clicking on icons by tapping the screen, nothing happened. I guess I was ejected before I could read the instruction manual.

A final verdict would be that this is a great gadget. Fully featured (if they include some productivity software), little compromise on computing power and memory (compared to a regular notebook), and provides a full range of connectivity options. Besides, it's an unrivalled head turner and conversation piece. You'll be a geekybabe-magnet if you turn up at your neighbourhood Starbucks and wifi using one of these.

On the downside, it still doesn't fit in your pocket, has no memory upgrade options and the price. It's a testicle shrinking S$3,499 (USD 2,300 or RM8,000).