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It's easy to get excited when Sony delivers one of its many super-expensive ultra-portables, like the VAIO TT or Z Series, to our door, but in the past its mainstream laptops have been a little hit and miss. For all the lustre and acclaim its VAIO brand engenders in consumers, the reality isn't always the all singing, all dancing computing experience people imagine. However, in the new NW Series, we reckon Sony might have finally cracked the mainstream affordable laptop.
One thing we particularly like about the VGN-NW11S/S we're looking at today is the lack of one material that's so abundant elsewhere: glossy plastic. This is actually true of most of Sony's laptops, making it one of the few manufacturers that hasn't jumped on this particular bandwagon. You still get a glossy display mind, but this is nothing like as irritating as dealing with fingerprints, dust and grease adorning every inch of the chassis.
Instead, Sony has opted for a textured plastic finish - in this instance silver, though a brown version is also available. We dare say it won't be to everyone's taste, but it's very hard wearing and exemplifies the decent build quality seen throughout the machine. There are some nice touches dotted around the NW11, too. Particularly worthy of praise is the touchpad, which comprises a moulded clear plastic plate integrated into the palm rest. Not only does it look rather fetching, its textured surface offers great tactile feedback - the two buttons are very good, too.
Above the touchpad we have the now commonplace isolation keyboard. Sony is the company that started it all, though, so it can hardly be accused of imitation. Initially the white keys appear a bit jarring in contrast to their silver surroundings, but it's a foible one quickly gets over and the keyboard itself is a peach. Keys have a lovely firm and responsive action and the layout is perfect - we really can't think of a criticism.
Continuing our upward journey, above the keyboard there's a speaker grille, into which is inserted some shortcut keys, the power button and status lights for Caps Lock, Num Lock and Scroll Lock. A mute button is the only dedicated media control, with volume controls found on the keyboard, but there's also a button for turning off the backlight - handy if you use your laptop for listening to music. Most interesting, though, is the ‘Web' button, which launches a reworked version of the common Splashtop instant-on desktop.
Unlike other implementations, which feature a selection of applications, Sony has opted for just the web browser. It's not a bad idea either, since eliminating the other applications reduces the boot time even further (less than 30 seconds from cold to web page) and the web browser is arguably the most useful element of Splashtop. This makes it a neat feature for getting online quickly, but it is somewhat limited - you can't even adjust the display's brightness, so you're not going to use this mode for long periods.