It seems like the Sony notebook department does things in extremes. It wasn’t so long ago that I looked at the VAIO X505 which was without a doubt the slimmest and lightest notebook I’ve ever used, and now I have the VAIO VGN-A117S in front of me, which is one of the largest notebooks I’ve ever used. But with larger dimensions comes the advantage of a large screen, and this machine has the best screen I have ever seen on a notebook.
The screen in question is a 17in widescreen affair, complete with Sony’s X-Black coating. X-Black screens really do look superb; producing an incredibly bright and vivid image with a truly stunning viewing angle. Whereas some TFT screens can look a bit lifeless, the X-Black screens look so vibrant that images practically jump out at you. Where X-Black screens really excel is when watching video or playing games - throw in a DVD movie and sit back and marvel at just how great this screen is. Of course, as always, I’ll qualify my love of X-Black screens with the note that they are more reflective than standard TFT displays, but I really do find this a small price to pay for the bright and vivid images that these screens produce.
But it’s not just the X-Black coating that makes this screen great, it also sports a breathtaking resolution. At 1,920 x 1,200 this screen sports more desktop real estate than a 21.3in desktop TFT monitor, making it ideal for anyone that needs multiple applications open simultaneously. Now I have seen notebooks with this screen resolution before, but they have used 15.4in displays, and I have to say that I found 1,920 x 1,200 too high on a screen that size. However, on this 17in screen, this super-high resolution seems absolutely perfect, and I find myself wishing that I could have this much space to work on my desktop PC.
I jumped right in talking about the screen on the VGN-A117S because it really is this machine’s crowning glory, but there is more to this desktop replacement than just a pretty display. There’s no denying that this is a large notebook, and with dimensions of 406 x 280 x 45mm (WxDxH) and a weight of 3.9kg, you’re not going to want to carry it around with you all day. But Sony has made good use of the large size and included an excellent full size keyboard. This is, without a doubt, the best keyboard I have ever seen on a Sony notebook, and that’s saying something since Sony generally does a good job with keyboards. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that this is the best notebook keyboard I have ever used outside of an IBM ThinkPad.
Sony has achieved what so many notebook manufacturers can’t - a totally independent feel to each key on the keyboard. While typing, it feels like each and every key is totally independent of all the others. As such, there isn’t even the slightest hint of flex, even when typing at speed or hitting the keys particularly hard. The Return and Backspace keys are large and the Ctrl key is in the bottom left corner where it’s supposed to be. Anyone who uses a lot of keyboard shortcuts on their desktop machine will always find it hard to use a notebook where the Fn key lives where the Ctrl key should be. The Spacebar is large and easy to strike no matter what your typing style, and it’s far enough away from the touch pad to avoid any inadvertent cursor placement. Despite the large dimensions, the cursor keys are not separated from the main keyboard, but they are positioned in the right configuration.