The large dimensions of the AR11S allow for a full size keyboard. But whereas some notebook manufacturers feel the need to use the extra space to squeeze a numeric keypad in, Sony, thankfully hasn’t gone down that route. The issue I always have with putting a numeric keypad in a notebook is that it means you’re not sitting central to the screen when you’re typing. However, Sony has made some good use of the physical space at its disposal. To the left of the keyboard are two programmable shortcut buttons, a hardware volume control, an eject button for the Blu-ray drive and a mute button. To the right of the keyboard is a round, mirrored power button.
Above the keyboard is a full set of multimedia controls. The AV Mode button brings up a selection menu from where you can launch Media Center, WinDVD, Sonic Stage or VAIO Information Flow – the latter being a screen saver type app, that feeds you BBC news stories, the time and date, your Media Player controls and other useful bits and pieces. Think Mac OS Tiger widgets and you’ll get the idea. The other multimedia buttons include channel switching, play/pause, skip forward/back and record.
The keyboard itself is very good indeed. I’m usually not a fan of notebooks with excessively large wrist rests, but this one doesn’t seem to bother me at all. The keys themselves have a healthy amount of travel and there isn’t the slightest hint of flex no matter how hard or fast you type. In fact it feels as if every single key is completely independent of the next – exactly the way it should be. The Tab, Caps Lock, Shift, Return and Backspace keys are all usefully large, while Sony has put the Ctrl key in the bottom left corner of the keyboard where it’s supposed to be, which should make any keyboard shortcut junkies happy.
Below the keyboard is a touchpad with a widescreen aspect ratio to match the screen. Bizarrely, even though there is plenty of space below the touchpad, Sony has decided to mount the selector buttons on the front edge of the chassis. This meant that every time I went to press a button, I ended up hitting nothing. Eventually I got used to this configuration, but I still think a more traditional layout would be preferable.