Not a desktop replacement, lightweight Vaio 505 is a traveling machine

The guard behind the airport X-ray machine opened my bag suspiciously and pulled out a
slim silver computer no bigger than a 300-page spiral notebook.

“That’s a PC?” he demanded. I brushed the switch on the ultralight Sony
Vaio 505, and the 10.4-inch thin-film-transistor screen lit up. The guard balanced it on
his palm as the line came to a halt behind me.

I told him the Vaio weighed less than 3 pounds, had a 233-MHz Pentium MMX processor,
4.3G hard drive and 32M of RAM, and would work on the airplane assuming I got to my flight
on time.

The Vaio doesn’t function well as a desktop PC replacement, however, even with a
separate keyboard and monitor. There’s only one Type II CardBus slot, so you have to
choose between a CD-ROM drive and an Ethernet connection.

But the Vaio would be great as an office’s shared traveling machine. It has an
infrared port for wireless data transmission, built-in V.90 modem, external floppy drive,
headphone and microphone jacks.

It comes with a port replicator for full-sized serial, parallel, monitor and mouse
ports, so you can use standard cables. Sony Electronics Inc. built recesses into the
external devices for cord storage. I found the tiny AC adapter hard to plug into cramped

An external 14X PC Card CD-ROM drive is $299 extra from Sony, but you can find 24X
alternatives on the market for about half that much.

Government offices that do mobile distance learning or videoconferencing should be
aware that Vaio stands for video-audio integrated operation, and the computer comes in
tower as well as notebook formats.

For serious mobile conferencing, there’s the $2,199 Vaio 505FX, which has an
Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers 1394 FireWire interface, 266-MHz
processor and 64M of RAM. A 200-MHz Vaio 505G comes with a 2G hard drive for about $1,699.

Sony calls the 1394 port an i.Link. It accepts compatible video devices such as
Sony’s digital cameras for fast image transfer. An i.Link is supposed to transfer 32
frames per second, which will overflow the notebook’s hard drive pretty fast. Sony
limits transfer to about 10 frames/sec—much better than a serial port for stills but
too choppy for animation.

The keyboard is only about 80 percent as big as standard notebook keyboards. I dislike
using half-sized chiclet function keys, and furthermore, the Delete key is located above
the Backspace key. There’s a programmable Power key that can automatically launch
Microsoft Outlook and retrieve e-mail when you’re on the road.

Sony still has some work to do on the overall design. Although the 505 doesn’t
come with a CD-ROM drive, its recovery and application software inexplicably arrive on CD.
The ear-shaped optional speakers, priced around $100, attach to the sides of the display,
blocking access to the stylus for writing on the large trackpad.

Sony calls this a ScribblePad, and that’s about all it can do—scribble.
It’s not accurate enough for writing recognizable characters.

There’s plenty of bundled software, from Microsoft Windows 98 and Outlook to voice
recognition software and Adobe PhotoDeluxe. I didn’t like Microsoft Works, whose
files aren’t necessarily compatible with Microsoft Office 97. I couldn’t read my
Excel spreadsheets on the Vaio, for example.

Once in the air, I set up the Vaio to write. The flight attendant gasped when Outlook
97 popped up via the instant-on feature, which eliminates battery-wasting bootup time.

She reached for the Vaio, asking, “That’s a real PC?” I rolled my eyes
and started the spiel again.  


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