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Unsurprisingly, multimedia systems and desktop replacement laptops are one of the most popular categories for the average consumer, especially for those short on space. Today we're looking at the 16.4in Sony VAIO VGN-FW48E/H, part of Sony's FW Series that launched last year.
As far as the FW48E's design goes, it has opinions in the office divided. Some reckon it has style and panache, while others think it's just trying a little too hard. Either way the styling is unique, lending more credence to Sony's claims that getting a VAIO will help you express your individualism - provided you ignore all the other FW owners, that is.
While the gunmetal grey lid is reminiscent of Acer's Timelines, any similarities fade quickly when you open the Sony up. Inside the styling is aggressive, with the rounded hinges forming a sharp contrast to the raised rectangular speaker and control section.
One circular end of the hinge section gives access to the power plug, while the other end is dominated by a brightly backlit power button, which also has a thin lit-up section in the hinge. This feature does make things look a little unbalanced since it's not mirrored on both sides, but it looks nice and the green 'active' colour switches to a pulsating orange when the machine is on standby.
Overall, build quality is decent, with just a slight hint of creak here and there but nothing alarming. Another major positive is that the semi-matte overall finish doesn't pick up any fingerprints, so doesn't require much attention to keep looking its best.
Above the keyboard are media controls, which are a bit of a mixed blessing. Because they're physical buttons they're less finicky than touch-sensitive ones, but since they're all the same size, identically spaced and lack any backlighting they're difficult to use in the dark when watching a film.
In addition to the usual volume and playback controls, there is Sony's signature AV Mode button, which calls up an XMB-like interface similar to that found on the company's consoles. While this is quite handy for switching between various media activities 'on the fly', it's nothing you can't do through Windows. Handily there's also a customizable shortcut button marked S1, which is sensibly set to calling up the Dolby Digital Center by default.
Isolation keyboards are becoming ever more common, but Sony was one of the pioneers and it shows here. The matte black keys are just a little too far apart for ideal comfort, but nonetheless this is one of the best implementations we've come across. Layout is spot-on and the sparse shortcuts are sensibly spaced. The wrist rest is raised so that your fingers lie comfortably on the keys and feedback is truly excellent, with none of the shallowness that often afflicts isolation keyboards.
Likewise the FW48E's touchpad leaves little reason for complaint. It's large and very sensitive, while two nicely-integrated buttons below it are easy to reach and offer feedback on par with the keyboard - though if we were being particularly picky we would mention they're a tad noisy.