- Review Price: £676.84
Plenty of manufacturers offer their laptops in a range of colours, but Sony has been at it for longer than most. One can trace this all the way back to the C Series in February 2007, which was replaced by the CR Series in August that year and then the CS Series last year. Unfortunately, while the outgoing CR was rather smart, the CS was quite a significant step backward, so we weren’t surprised to see it swiftly replaced by the CW with the advent of Windows 7.
There are five colours available: white, red, pink, blue and black. As you can see we have the pink version which, regardless of personal preference, is probably the least desirable option of them all. Even those who like pink will find that the brighter, more vibrant shade seen on the lid and palm rest doesn’t sit well with the rather sickly, pale shade used on the rest of the machine. No real complaints can be made of the other choices, though, and we particularly like the red/black and white models.
As for the overall design, the CW isn’t a style icon, but it is another solid, very well put together machine from Sony. While competitors tend to over-complicate their designs in an effort to stand out, Sony manages to generate a sense of style in a far more restrained manner. Everything is in the right place and has a purpose, leaving your choice of colour to make the statement – if that’s what you’re after.
Choice isn’t restricted just to colour, either. Though we’re reviewing one of the retail bound SKUs, which go for between £650 and £700 depending on where you look, Sony offers customisation options via its website. Options aren’t that varied, but you can opt for less RAM, slower graphics, slower CPUs and a resultant £579 starting price or upgrades that include a 500GB hard drive and Blu-ray drives, giving you a little flexibility.
As for our model, it’s powered by an Intel Core 2 Duo P7450 running at 2.13GHz that’s supported by a plentiful 4GB DDR3 RAM. Sony has also had the foresight to install a 64-bit version of Windows 7, so all that system memory is being put to good use. A 512MB nVidia GT 230M graphics cards serves up the graphical treats, while for storage you get a 320GB hard drive. Gigabit Ethernet, Wireless-N Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are all present too, completing a thorough specification.
Connectivity isn’t too bad, either. While the CW does lack eSATA or USB ‘sleep and charge’ capabilities, it does have mini-FireWire – an increasingly rare connection on laptops of late. Everything else is pretty standard, including: three USB ports (2x left, 1x right); HDMI and VGA for video; a 34mm ExpressCard slot, audio jacks (1x headphone, 1x mic); an Ethernet port on the back and separate memory card slots for Sony’s proprietary formats and the more commonly used SD card format.
In common with all Sony laptops of late, the CW sports an isolation-style keyboard – an innovation Sony itself started. Indeed this is the exact same keyboard as found in the VAIO NW Series earlier in the year, which is good news since it had an outstanding keyboard. Sony has really nailed the key actions on these keyboards, eliminating the shallow feel of older efforts while retaining the snappy feedback. Allied to a faultless layout, the CW has among the best keyboards of any consumer laptop.
Similar plaudits can be given to the accompanying touchpad. For starters it’s large enough that the now fashionable multi-touch support is actually useful, unlike the recent Toshiba Satellite U500. Its surface is blissfully smooth, while the two buttons are individually hinged and thus offer excellent tactile feedback. If you’re ever in doubt about what you get if you spend a little more on a brand name like Sony, such finer detail ought to convince.
Another strength of the CW is its display. Measuring 14.1in and with the industry standard 1,366 x 768 native resolution it’s no masterpiece, it still suffers the relatively shallow viewing angles and glossy, reflective finishes of all laptops in this sector and price. But colours are just a little punchier, blacks a tad deeper and whites a tad cleaner than the norm, making it better than many we come across.
Similar things can’t be said of the speakers, though. They’re not terrible, producing reasonable clarity at decent volumes, but they lack the mid and low range verve of competing manufacturers. This makes them good enough for online video clips and the like, but anything else will demand some speakers or a decent set of headphones.
And what better way to enjoy such video clips than using your own instant-on web browser? It’s no Google Chrome OS, but pressing the ‘Web’ button above the keyboard takes you from cold to a web page in around 20 seconds. This is a very neat feature that’s well implemented, but Sony still hasn’t solved our one complaint of the same feature on the NW: you can’t adjust the display’s brightness! It’s a silly oversight and though it doesn’t render the instant-on web browser useless, it does mean you’ll be using more battery life than necessary when using it. Doh!
Sony isn’t always renowned for offering great price/performance, particularly in its mainstream laptops, but the CW looks to buck this trend quite comprehensively. In PCMark Vantage it performs very well, being only marginally bested by the similarly priced Acer Aspire 5738PG. An overall score in excess of 4,000, though, shows that this laptop will tackle pretty much everything mainstream users will throw at it.
Even more impressive is the gaming performance: an unexpected bonus. In our Trackmania Nations test it managed an excellent 63.1 frames per second (fps), ensuring casual games like Spore and The Sims should be handled just fine. Upping the ante a little, we ran our new gaming test, the STALKER: Call of Pripyat benchmark that was recently released by its developers. It runs four demo scenarios of varying degrees of complexity, the results from which we take to form an overall average. A result of 27.9fps is very good for what is quite a challenging benchmark and is over double that of the Acer.
This is all very encouraging, but the icing on the cake is some excellent battery life results. The Productivity test in MobileMark returned a healthy four hours of mobile use and though the DVD test was a comparatively poor one hour and 50 minutes, reducing the screen’s brightness would improve this considerably. As such this is a machine that could be used on the move, even if its 2.4kg weight is on the heavy side for all-day comfortable transportation.
The good news continues, as this is a very good value system. You might get a little more bang for your buck from Acer, who tends to undercut everyone, but the Sony has the material quality and personality that Acer’s efforts tend to lack. Anyone who values such qualities will appreciate the value they add.
Sony appears to have righted the wrongs of the outgoing CS Series. This is a very capable laptop that strikes a great balance between performance, affordability and style. Anyone looking for a powerful all-rounder with a little personality should find it the perfect tonic.
For general computing, the CW Series is more than capable, producing high scores in all of PCMark Vantage’s range of tests. Its 64-bit OS and 4GB of RAM certainly help here, ensuring it will cope with memory intensive applications like Photoshop with aplomb.
This is also a good gaming machine. Trackmania Nations is dealt with very easily, while the more intensive ”STALKER: Call of Pripyat” produces decent results, too. With a little compromise, most recent PC titles should be playable.
The CW matches its excellent raw performance with very good battery life, as well. There’s a slightly surprising disparity between the Productivity and DVD tests, but reducing the screen brightness would improve this markedly.
Score in detail
Battery Life 8
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