Of the Centrino 2 systems through the doors lately, there’s no question as to which is the more instantly-striking out of the Lenovo Y430 and the Sony VAIO VGN-SR16GN. Where the Lenovo is all matte, light-absorbing black, the SR16GN has an elegant, charcoal-grey finish. Flip open the screen and you’re greeted by Sony’s now-standard Scrabble-tile style keyboard. This takes a bit of getting used to - the wide, deep gullies between keys makes typing more accurate, but we found ourselves needing to spread our fingers slightly more widely to maintain a decent typing speed.
The solid-feeling keyboard is complemented by an equally-competent trackpad, between the buttons of which is nestled a fingerprint reader. The relevant software can be used for logging on to Windows, as well as providing fingerprint security for password-protected websites. Security is bolstered further by a TPM 1.2 chip.
The SR16GN had no problems keeping up during our benchmarking. Our applications benchmark ran to an overall score of 0.95 - slightly less than the Lenovo Y430, but easily fast enough to handle media encoding jobs and light years ahead of what’s needed for normal office applications. And, like the Y430, there’s even a dose of 3D power - the ATi Radeon HD3400 produced a framerate of 27fps in Crysis at its lowest settings, meaning there are plenty of back-catalog titles available that will run beautifully.
Portability is the only area of the SR16GN that fails to stun. At a shade under 2kg it’s perhaps a little heavy for anyone who regularly manhandles their laptop across town. Battery life is a little more substantial - under light use the SR16GN ran for just under four hours, while intensive use saw that time drop to a still-reasonable 1:56.
It was almost inevitable that, as a consumer laptop, the SR16GN would have a glossy, reflective screen, but if anything the Sony’s 13.1in, 1280 x 800 panel is less reflective than Lenovo’s. It’s also bright and sharp, and our DisplayMate tests revealed a decent amount of colour accuracy - enough, certainly, for enjoying the odd DVD.
The ports around the SR16GN’s chassis are a solid selection, adequate to most tasks, but those adopting this as their main PC may wish for a docking station before long. You get just two USB ports, although video buffs will appreciate the four-pin FireWire port. ExpressCard/34 and slots for Memory Stick and SD cards are also useful. A physical wireless switch completes the set.
Internal storage is just as impressive. The 250GB hard disk is enough for a full run of office and creative applications, with space left over for a healthy media collection. The DVD writer is another welcome addition.
Bundled software is normally an area in which Lenovo usually earns plaudits, but the SR16GN is positively bursting with useful applications and tools. The standard gamut of Sony applications - including SonicStage Mastering Studio - are pre-installed, but the headline acts have to be Premiere Elements 4 and Photoshop Elements 6. Combined, the software represents our A-listed choices of both photo and video editing software, and their inclusion on the SR16GN is a massive plus.
Sony includes a few proprietary tools too, and this is the second machine we’ve seen this month to include a Mac OS X-style dock toolbar. Sony’s implementation uses a Linux-style multiple-desktop approach. Press the Mode button at the top of the keyboard and Windows’ wallpaper changes, and the five options at the bottom of the screen change depending on the Mode you enter.
Business Mode, for instance, produces icons for changing display output, network options and a shortcut to Windows Meeting Space. Personal Mode shows media playback buttons, while Entertainment Mode gives you shortcuts to the webcam application and media playback apps. The different modes can’t be changed - you only ever get three, but the icons in each can be changed by dragging and dropping new icons onto the dock.
The only problem is the price. While the Lenovo Y430 offers comparable features and performance, it costs much less than the SR16GN. Weighing up the extra features offered by the Sony versus its steep rise in price is sobering work - there’s very little the Sony can do that the Lenovo doesn’t at least equal. Fair enough - the Sony’s a little lighter and a little more impressive in the battery department, as well as being arguably better looking.
But, as fine a laptop as the SR16GN is, and as impressive as its bundled software is, it’s difficult to recommend when the Lenovo offers such obviously better value.
This Review appeared in the November, 2008 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine
Source: Copyright © PC Pro, Dennis Publishing
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