If you remain confused by the Apple iPad, spare a thought for the Sony VAIO P Series. It was first unveiled at CES 2009, but its promising beginnings belied a device that was slow, cumbersome to use and lacking in the battery life department. It was, to use an oft heard complaint of late, a product without a point. Despite its obvious issues, however, Sony has come back to have another go at this 8-inch, mini-netbook device.
We'll deal with the obvious first: it's very green. Luckily this lime green version (VPC-P11S1E/G), not to mention other colourful options like orange and pink, are joined by less retina searing white and black versions. Moreover, colour aside, the P Series is quite a funky looking device. Its combination of matt plastic, smooth lines and a compact, slim chassis that weighs 600 grams - 80 less than the iPad - is a strong reminder of why the device drew such admiring glances in the first place. It looks cool.
Sony has also made some less cosmetic additions in the shape of a small, optical touchpad and accompanying buttons either side of the screen. These are intended to make the device more usable when held in two hands, but are only effective to a limited to degree; should you need to input text you'll still need to put the device down, or awkwardly hold it in one hand and type with the other. Scrolling in this position is also tricky, as you have to hold down the two buttons to activate middle-click scrolling using the pad. It's a far cry from the fast, streamlined experience of the iPad, but then the P Series is a more a proper mobile computer than an up-scaled mobile device.
This much you can glean from the presence of a keyboard and also from quaint things like the trackpoint and mouse buttons, which you'll need to navigate the installed version of Windows 7 Home Premium. They're joined by the same 8-inch, 1,600 x 768 pixel display as the original P Series, and it remains a frankly insane resolution for such as small device. So wide is this aspect that videos have vertical black bars either side of them, while text is extremely small and difficult to read.
In what can only be a tacit admission of this weakness Sony has added a 'resolution change' button, which switches the resolution to 1,280 x 800 pixels, effectively zooming in. This makes the screen more readable, but as it's a non-native resolution - it's not even the correct aspect for the screen - it doesn't look too clever and smacks of a half-hearted fix to a fundamental problem.
As for the screen itself, in true Sony tradition it is very good. A slightly mottled look and ordinary viewing angles do let it down a little, but colour production and detail levels far exceed those found on any netbook and many laptops. It's not a patch on the excellent iPad screen, though, which could easily be construed as an alternative device to this.