Sony VAIO Micro PC VGN-UX390N
At a Glance
In designing its VAIO Micro PC VGN-UX390N, Sony has condensed a standard notebook computer into a device only a little larger than--and about twice the weight of--a BlackBerry. And it did a good job, with two critical exceptions: The 4.5-inch display is too small for easy viewing even at arm's length, and a finger on the keyboard is a typo waiting to happen. If you plug in an external monitor, a keyboard, and a mouse, however, you'll see the better half of the UX390N's split personality: An ultramobile PC that's right at home on your desktop.
Measuring just under 6 inches wide by 4 inches high by about 1.5 inches deep, and weighing approximately 1.2 pounds, the VGN-UX390N is too large to fit in your pocket. But even when enclosed in the included padded nylon carrying case (excluding the bundled port replicator, which is slightly larger but much lighter than the computer itself), it fits easily--and nondescriptly--in a backpack. The UX390N comes with a 32GB flash-memory-based drive, which is more durable than a standard notebook hard drive because it lacks moving parts. It may also improve boot-up and application startup times.
It's big on features, offering Bluetooth, 802.11a/b/g wireless, support for the Cingular's EDGE cellular data network (for an extra monthly fee), a Memory Stick slot, and one USB 2.0 port on the device itself. The port replicator contains three additional USB 2.0 ports, a VGA port, an ethernet port, a four-pin FireWire port, and audio/video out. A smaller adapter (also bundled with the PC) has ethernet, a VGA port, and A/V out.
The device includes a front-facing, 0.3-megapixel camera and a second, 1.3-megapixel camera in the back. A fingerprint scanner built into the front of the case let me log on to Windows or quit the screen saver with a wave of my finger.
To access the device's keyboard, you slide the LCD screen up. The keys are laid out in five rows on a flat surface that has tubular handles on the sides. Anyone with average-size fingers will have trouble entering text quickly and accurately via this keyboard: The keys nearly flush with the surface, and there's little tactile feedback indicating that the key has indeed been pressed.
After a few minutes of thumb-wrestling with the UX390N's keyboard, I decided to give Vista Business's handwriting-recognition app a try. Once I activated the Tablet PC Input Pad via the Control Panel application, the Input Pad icon appeared in my system tray; and after I opened it for the first time, the pad's outline remained visible on the left edge of the screen. Tapping it slid the handwriting window into view. You can use the device's built-in stylus to write in the pad (in cursive or block letters), or to connect a Wacom drawing tablet via one of the machine's USB ports, as I did.
Unfortunately, even after about 20 minutes of training, Vista's handwriting recognition made for slow going. When I wrote a URL in a browser Address bar or sent off a quick IM or e-mail message, the Input Pad worked well enough, but my attempts at extended composition in a Microsoft Word document were slowed by the many corrections I had to make. I found cursive to be more accurate than printing, primarily because the more I lifted the stylus off the pad, the more errors I made.
With its 1.33-GHz Intel Core Solo Processor U1500 and 1GB of RAM, the UX390N scored a 32 on our WorldBench 6 Beta 2 tests--the same mark posted by a Fujitsu LifeBook P7230 with a 10.6-inch screen, 1.2-GHz Core Solo U1400 processor, and 1GB of RAM, but pretty pokey nonetheless.
Still, it responded quickly as I opened applications, browsed the Internet, and changed system settings. And despite its relatively high price of $2500, I liked the UX390N better than two other UMPCs that I recently reviewed, the OQO Model 02 and the FlipStart E-1001S (find.pcworld.com/57313). But if you're looking for a lot of PC in a very small package--and you don't mind typing with your thumbs--it could serve as a less-bulky laptop alternative. Sony rates the device's battery life at 2.5 hours to 4.5 hours, though the PC World Test Center obtained just under 2 hours from it.
The UX390N would strain your hands and eyes if you used it for an extended period of time without an external monitor and full-size input devices.
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