Crossover Chic

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Laptops vs. desktops – the debate rages on. While one offers the convenience of anytime-anyplace computing and entertainment, the other is miles ahead on economy, expandability and ‘real’ entertainment options. The lines are drawn, and the war for computing dominance is far from over.

And just when you had finally picked sides, Sony comes along and turns conventional thinking on its head, with the release of its line-blurring panel PC – the VAIO L (model VGCLA38G).

Sony has dubbed it a ‘panel PC’ but the jury is still out on whether this fusion machine is a notebook or a PC. Our take is that it slots in nicely between desktop replacement note-books and a full-fledged desktop PC.

It has been built using notebook components such as a Core 2 Duo T5600 1.83GHz dual-core CPU, a 120GB (5400rpm) notebook hard drive, a capable GeForce Go 7400 graphics card, 1 GB RAM and a notebook battery (for mobile use). As a result the L series offers a light portable alternative to a desktop without conforming to the standard notebook chassis design.

The first thing that strikes you about the L series is the eye-catching from. Sony has attached a 15.4 inch wide screen LCD display with a glass-like transparent polycarbonate frame directly on top of the main PC chassis, forming a slickly unified main piece, which is held upright by a built-in stand at the back.

A flip-out keyboard with notebook touch-pad completes the visually stunning package. It measures a mere 470.2×289.9×141.7mm, which means that the all-in-one will fit compactly and even handsomely on your office desk, kitchen counter or bedroom table. Its sleek eye-catching form factor marks out the L series from the legions of other XP Media Center-enabled PCs that are crowding the market.

Owing to the crossover design, when the AC power is disconnected, the VAIO L series seamlessly switches to the battery just as any other notebook would (though with a battery life of less than two hours, I’d consider the battery more as a UPS), so changing rooms in the middle of a task is quick and easy, and a handle mounted at the top rear of the unit means it can be easily carried with one hand.

One of the best features of this Panel PC is the half screen display, which instantly turns on when the keyboard flips up and stylishly displays the time and a calendar.

That’s not all – positioned down the side of the flipped up keyboard (and parallel to the screen when in the half-screen mode) are a set of basic media controls (play/pause, stop, next and previous). Hit play and any music that’s loaded in the Sony Sound Flow software will start playing.

When music is playing, the track details and an animated equalizer join the clock and calendar on-screen – and voila, you have an entertainment system that fits right in with your living room décor.

You can, if you wish, change the default media application that loads up. The speakers produce a good, clear sound and are loud enough for music and movies within a reasonable distance. But let’s be practical here – an external pair of speakers would really enhance the experience, as would the addition of a sub-woofer.

With the keyboard down, the VAIO L isn’t just a pretty face, a powerful combination of components means that it is more than capable of running the installed Windows Vista Home Premium edition – although the graphics score on the Vista Experience Index was a tad on the lower side (at 3.2). Enough to run the Windows Vista’s Aero interface, but only just about to play some newer games at lower graphics setting.

The display, a widescreen 15.4 inch LCD, has a resolution of 1280×800 pixels and is bright and crisp, though it has a very limited viewing angle. With an abundance of USB ports, Wireless LAN, and a fixed web camera, the L series is as ‘specced’ out as any high end notebook.

If you’ve been thinking iMac all along, yes the comparison is fitting – the VAIO L edges out the iMac if you love your Windows, plus this PC is more designed to be used in the main spaces at home, and elegant (and un-PC) enough to accompany the classiest furniture.


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