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Style is a funny thing, especially in that functionality is often sacrificed at its altar. Case in point is the new VAIO CS Series VGN-CS11S/W notebook that's the subject of today's review. Now don't get us wrong, we love a bit of style, and as you can see from the recently reviewed Z Series (Sony VAIO VGN-Z11WN/B) and the range the CS Series replaces, the CR Series (Sony VAIO VGN-CR11Z/R), Sony is no stranger to marrying great form with great functionality.
Unfortunately, the VGN-CS11S/W looks likely to put a bit of a dent in the famed VAIO reputation. Initially, things don't seem too bad. Aimed primarily at teenagers and young adults, it's a moderately stylish notebook with a 14.1in screen that offers a nice balance between screen size and portability. With an Intel Core 2 Duo 2.26GHz, a 320GB hard drive and 4GBs of RAM it is hardly underpowered and a range of colours, including black, pink, brown, red and the white model we've got our grubby mitts on, mean you can make something of a statement with your choice.
Then comes the price: £800, or £880 direct from Sony. Even considering the reasonable basic spec this is a lot of money, but you expect to pay a premium for a premium product, right? Undoubtedly, yes, but the problem here is that the CS11 is far from a premium product.
Things start reasonably enough. It's fairly attractive when closed, with the white glossy plastic contrasting nicely with a faux-chrome trim and the curvy VAIO logo. It doesn't seem very slim, mind you, but it has just enough visual appeal that you might not mind. But the problems begin with build quality, or rather, the lack thereof. Indeed, if it weren't for the VAIO and Sony names on the chassis, you'd have a hard time believing this is a product from the same manufacturer as the Playstation 3 due to the shockingly poor construction. All the plastics used feel cheap, flexing and creaking under pressure, while the battery is so loosely seated that it rattles when you move the machine about.
Opening the lid up is accompanied by another healthy dose of creak, though the hinge seems sturdy enough - unlike the hinge housings. Like the rest of the notebook, style-wise it's pretty enough, with some clean and crisp lines, but it lacks the refinement and elegance seen in other Sony notebooks.
This is particularly evident in the perforated speaker surround that runs above the keyboard. It simply looks and feels rather cheap and this is a shame since the media controls inset within it form one of the better touch control implementations you'll see.
A good example of this prowess is the volume controls. Plus and minus icons are located six centimetres apart, enabling you to move your finger lightly anywhere between these to make adjustments. A trail of white LED lights will follow behind the movement of your finger, which is a really nice effect that makes using it more pleasant and practical. Unfortunately, the 'beeps' that accompany this use are not as appealing and can only be silenced by muting the laptop's volume.