Laptops have become something of a commodity item. While Asus has been re-defining the market with the Eee PC, it's easy to forget it has been possible to get hold of very cheap notebooks (albeit not as small) for quite a while now. Hell, there have even been some free notebook deals floating around and a quick look at our own shopping section shows a large number of notebooks available for less than £300. Of course, these are all very basic machines but spend a little more and you're still looking at a dual-core CPU, while upwards of £500 should offer up some very decent notebooks.
However, Sony is one company you wouldn't normally associate with great value notebooks. Sleek? Yes. Good looking? Yes. Desirable? Yes. Cheap? Not so much. Hold on, though, because it does in fact have a value line of notebooks, the NR Series, which starts at just under £500 and ends at the top-end with an SRP of £700. It's the higher end of this range we're looking at today, in the shape of the Sony VAIO VGN-NR21Z/T.
Billed as a no frills 15.4in notebook Sony has nonetheless tried to make it look a little more than ordinary, though in truth it's still no stunner. Our sample is the brown version, while there is also a white version with the exact same specification. Regardless of colour both systems have an unusual textured finish on the outside that continues on the inside, though the bezel surrounding the screen resorts to a fairly ordinary grey plastic.
From this description you might imagine this is an ugly machine but that's not the case, it simply lacks any of the flair found on the likes of the Dell Inspiron 1525 and rather goes for a more sleek and simple approach. This works, to an extent, but it's never quite as convincing as any of Sony's other efforts, or even the consumer friendly models from the likes of HP.
As far as size goes it's a 15.4in notebook, so it's neither the most portable or least portable out there. It must be noted, though, that it weighs more than the Inspiron 1525 at just a fraction over 2.9kg compared to the 2.7kg of the Dell. It's a shade thicker too, with a minimum of 31.4mm growing to 37.9mm at the thickest point in its wedge shaped design. This, compared to the 25 to 37mm of the Dell, makes it noticeably chunkier, though not unpleasantly so.
Indeed, though it is heavier and thicker than the Dell its rounded edges make it pleasant to handle. In use the large and friendly touch pad is great, though the keyboard is something of an acquired taste. It has an excellent layout but it has flat rather than tapered keys. Some people - myself included - may find this makes it easier to hit the wrong key by mistake, though equally others find the opposite to be the case. It's been the cause of some argument in the office, so unless you have experience of this kind of keyboard already and either love/hate it then it's worth seeking out a Sony retailer to try it out for yourself.