In terms of connectivity this VAIO is fairly average. All of the machine’s three USB ports are located to the right together with the DVD-Rewriter, though thankfully they’re well-spaced to leave room for ‘fat’ memory sticks. On the left we have Gigabit Ethernet and modem ports, while video is catered for with VGA and HDMI. A mini-FireWire port and 34mm ExpressCard slot make up the rest of the connections here, with the latter sporting a flap; a superior solution to the placeholder cards most manufacturers use.
At the FW48E’s front are headphone and microphone sockets, LEDs for battery, hard drive, wireless and memory card, as well as a wireless switch and separate memory card readers for SD and Sony’s MemoryStick. Using the wireless switch brings up VAIO Smart Network, a handy utility that lets you (de)activate not only WLAN and Bluetooth but also LAN and modem with a single click. One noticeable absentee from the list is eSATA, which is a pity but not essential, while there’s also no support for standby power on the USB ports – another non-essential but highly useful feature.
With the FW series, Sony claims you’ll get the “Ultimate Screen Experience”, so the “revolutionary” 16:9 16.4in screen has a lot to live up to. In reality it doesn’t even merit the tag of evolutionary – which is not to say it’s particularly bad either. Though other FW models come with Full HD displays, the resolution of the FW48E is a more modest 1,600 x 900. This is still an improvement on the 1,366 x 768 found on many contemporaries though, so caters well for productivity and multimedia tasks.
Due to its X-black finish the laptop’s screen is very reflective, yet it does help to give colours some extra verve. Depending on the viewing angle black detailing isn’t that great, but by lowering the brightness (muddying whites a little) you can get decent results if you’re careful about how you angle the screen. On the positive side there’s hardly any banding, backlight distribution is even and text invariably sharp. However, if you want the “Ultimate Screen Experience” on a consumer laptop, Dell’s Studio XPS 16 with its RGB LED display is still the only remotely affordable option.
We expected good things from what might be hidden under the impressive-looking speaker grill, and to an extent the VAIO’s speakers lived up to our expectations. Their maximum volume is disappointingly low, but within that range they produce audio with a genuine sense of depth thanks to a mix of clear trebles and a hint of bass – as long as you remember to turn on Dolby’s Natural Bass processing.
You see, whether you’re using the onboard speakers or – better still – external speakers or headphones, Dolby Sound Room (which we’re seeing on ever more laptops and even netbooks these days) makes a perceptible difference. Without it, the FW48’s speakers are not much better in the bass department than those on most laptops.