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As anyone who read the Sony VAIO VGN-CS11S/W review will know, we were none too impressed with the last Sony laptop to pass through our doors. So it was with mixed feelings that we opened up the box of its NS20E/S, especially since at a measly £475 it's the cheapest Sony notebook we've reviewed.
Thankfully, initial impressions are very positive. Sporting a similar uniquely-textured finish as the NR21Z we reviewed last year, this silver laptop not only looks good in a chunky sort of way (no tapered edges here) but is also far more resistant to scratches than most with plastic finishes and of course doesn't pick up fingerprints at all.
Opening the NS20 up, the textured look continues on the laptop's lower half, though the screen bezel is smooth. Those who hate reflective bezels will be glad with the semi-matte finish, though unfortunately the screen itself makes up for it by doubling as a mirror.
Aside from one loose hinge-housing and a tad of flex if pressing down hard on the palm rest or the centre of the lid, the overall build quality is good - certainly a measure above some of the budget brands out there..
This quality extends to the tile-style keyboard, which is excellent. Keys have a nice amount of travel, a positive action and their shallow, flat profile is pleasant to type on. We had no problems with the layout either, leaving just a hint of flex as the only meaningful complaint here.
Likewise, the touchpad is first-rate. It is large, responsive and its smooth matte surface is easily differentiated from its textured surroundings. Its chromed touchpad buttons offer just the right amount of feedback and their flat profile prevents them from being slippery.
Above the keyboard is an unobtrusive speaker grille, below which are two physical shortcut buttons, a rarity in these touch-sensitive days. The first sensibly mutes the volume, while the second, marked 'AV Mode', calls up an XMB-like interface giving easy access to multimedia, Internet, the laptop's webcam and Skype - all simple to access in other ways, but some might prefer to use this.