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Sony VAIO VGNG11VN vitals

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   9 July 2007
   Lawrence Latif

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A true road warrior
Sony's G11 is every road warrior's dream, marrying elegant design, extreme portability and high performance. Lenovo X-Series users definitely have a new machine to consider for their next upgrade.

Sony take their thin 'n light notebooks seriously with several designs in Japan laying claim to being the lightest notebook in the world. Sadly the rest of the World is left with the G11, but don't worry it's a compromise that has very few downsides.

The G11 is a thin 'n light notebook, which means it is going to be used by people who spend most of their lives sat in aeroplanes or waiting to sit in an aeroplane. This usually means a small screen, lacking performance and features and a horrendous keyboard. The G11 covers most of those superbly.

Where the G11 shines is through it's use of new technology and materials allowing it to weigh in at only 1.1Kg and sport a screen so thin that it can visibly be bent. The weight is thanks to a chassis made completely out of carbon fibre and the screen's waif like structure is attributed to the LED backlight.

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Sony say the styling has come from Lenovo's hugely successful X-series notebooks. The angular lines certainly remind me of my X40 but as this is Sony, they've added a few design “tweaks” to make the G11 more fashionable than Chinese maker's model. This special edition which is only available through their SonyStyle outlet comes with a brown lid and a matching brown leather “wrap” which makes the G11 look like a FiloFax. It seems to manage design flare and boardroom chic quite well.

The innards don't pack quite the jaw dropping characteristics of the screen or lack of weight, but the Intel Core Solo processor running at 1.33GHz is more than capable of handling the typical business workload of word processing, email, Internet browsing and PowerPoint presentations. Everything is helped along by a generous 2Gb RAM and a more than ample 100Gb hard disc drive.

While the processor may seem a trifle underpowered, especially considering that Intel's Core2Duos are seemingly power efficient enough, in typical business workloads you just don't notice any slowdown. Even though the G11 comes with Microsoft Vista Business Premium, all the eye candy does little to slow this thing down.

The omission of a inbuilt Web-cam is interesting. While some will see this as a mistake others will find that it helps the notebook fall within their company's security policy. Personally I thought it was a glaring omission, especially considering that it is not a build-to-order option.

Connectivity is all there, from 802.11g WiFi to two USB ports and wired LAN and modem sockets. Another very impressive feature is the inclusion of a DVD writer which makes this notebook extremely handy for watching movies when on a plane. And thanks to the battery you will be able to watch the whole movie and then some.

As any writer will tell you, the two most important factors in a notebook is; good battery life and a good keyboard. The G11 seems to be powered by a nuclear reactor. That isn't to say it provides a mighty bang like some Sony batteries but it can easily power this notebook for eight hours in typical use. Even with the WiFi enabled, I regularly got over seven hours of work time. There's no doubt it knocks the latest Lenovo X60 for six when it comes to battery life. Sadly on the keyboard front it's not so good.

Sony has gone for a touchpad, which most people should be familiar with, except migrating X-series users. I personally like touchpads as pointing devices but there's one large problem with them on a notebook of this size. In order to fit one of decent size within the chassis, you have to compromise on the keyboard's height, that is to say the distance between spacebar and function keys. That's exactly what's happened on the G11.

The keys aren't actually that small but if you're coming from an IBM/Lenovo X40 then you'll be disappointed. However it's not the size that's the most annoying thing, it's the feeling you get when you press down on a key and feel like it's set in thick custard.

Some may like soft keys but real typists (i.e. anyone who can hit 50+ words per minute) will probably hate this keyboard. Certainly my colleagues (most of whom are very good typists) were dismissive of this notebook just because of the relatively poor keyboard. If you want a responsive keyboard the G11 doesn't have one.

The last clanger from Sony comes in the form of warranty, or rather lack of it. The G11, a £1600 notebook only has a single year's cover. Although it can be extended the option costs a further £200. Compared to Lenovo's standard three year warranty on the X-series the G11 becomes a costly option.

After living with the G11 for a considerable amount of time I must say that apart from the spongy keyboard, the G11 is an outstanding bit of kit. Every person who saw this notebook thought the screen was impossibly thin and were astounded that something so light could contain a working computer. Quite frankly the engineering behind this notebook is stunning. It's just a shame they couldn't spend 10 minutes on fitting a decent keyboard.

The G11 is expensive, especially compared to the Lenovo X60 base model. However you are getting a DVD drive and much better battery life and upgrading both will not only cost but add weight. Factor in that at standard configuration there is a 200 gram weight difference in favour of the G11 then you're really starting to see were your extra Pounds are spent. Compared to the X60, Sony's G11 is several rungs higher up.

If you are in the need for extreme portability then there's no question that Sony's Vaio G11 should be on your shopping list.