Re(al)view: Sony VAIO AW 18.4" Laptop

Re(al)view: Sony VAIO AW 18.4" Laptop

Gregory Han
Nov 13, 2008

If we were to describe the Sony VAIO AW 18.4" Laptop with just one word...we'd ask you to reconsider, because this piece of hardware deserves more than the obvious "big", "huge", "Texan", or any of the other adjectives that describe how impressively expansive these machines are. And yes, this laptop with its stunning 18.4" optional Adobe RGB color compatible full 1080 HD LCD screen is an impressive offering, specifically designed for photographers, designers, video editors and anyone else who doesn't like to use the word "compromise" in their vocabulary. We've spend a good amount of time with this portable juggernaut and give our insights and observations below...

Okay, we know we've already mentioned the Sony VAIO AW is noticeably large and in charge, but let us immediately revisit the topic of size because everything about this laptop is related to its form. We've only recently switched over from a desktop configuration to a new laptop ourselves, which was shock to our workflow already. But then finding ourselves moving over to an 18.4" portable computer reminded us that bigger is indeed better when it comes to screen size and workflow.

Where our 15" MacBook Pro is ample enough for general everyday tasks (our girlfriend's MacBook seems one step away from being an iPod Touch), we still hook it up to a 24" monitor to churn out posts, answer emails, chat and whatever else ends up littering our screens with hundreds of icons and to-do labels. The Sony VAIO AW's 18.4" screen on the other hand is practically large enough to handle most of our tasks without that annoying wish for additional real estate (we say "practically" because we're coming from working on dual 24" monitors, so we're still getting used laptops in general).

Colour reproduction is excellent, with rich and deep contrast, thanks to three separate LEDs inside to handle the red, green and blue that make up the RGB gamut. Many times screens are described as "brilliant", but we'd describe the AW's display as impressively "natural", which we think is superior in regards to colour reproduction, whether we're discussing photo editing or watching HD content. And thankfully the monitor doesn't suffer from the reflections that occasionally hamper our MacBook Pro, thanks to the 16:9 display's matte finish.

Hooking up our Nikon D90 and reviewing images with the preinstalled and included copy of Adobe Lightroom 2, we were pleased with the performance the Intel Core 2 Duo T9600 processor and 512MB NVIDIA GeForce 9600M GT was able to provide while resizing and fine tuning snapshots of our felines or psychedlic Angeleno sunsets. One important note is this laptop drains battery like your Uncle Jeb drains a 12 pack at a tailgate party: quickly and with no remorse. We found ourselves plugging the AW back in after just under 2 hours of untethered use.

Storage wise, our test unit's 1TB drive was both a blessing and a bane. We found ourselves extremely envious of the wonderfully capacious optional terabyte drive...until we realized the platter was spinning at a sluggish 4200rpm, which certainly wouldn't hack it for anyone working in the video editing realm. A dual 64GB solid state drives (SSD) with RAID technology option is available, alongside a 500GB HDD and a 64GB SSD, so one could trade in some space for additional access speed according to their requirements and depth of their wallets. The AW's professional cred is exhibited with an impressive array of ports/inputs, including three USB 2.0 ports; HDMI, VGA, S/PDIF output, FireWire, Ethernet and modem jacks; and headphone and mic ports. An ExpressCard/34 slot, an SD Card reader, and a separate 4-in-1 memory card slot compatible with CompactFlash further reveals the AW's aim at high-end DSLR photographers. Take that Apple...you've been served.

Using the Sony VAIO AW took some getting used when compared to our recent migration over to the MacBook Pro, not only because we found Windows Vista Ultimate clunky (not so impressed), but also because of specific hardware details. Due to its size, moving the Sony VAIO AW felt like lifting an infant...one very expensive 8lbs infant we didn't want to ding or drop, so we only moved our shiny-sheened "baby" when we absolutely had to, and relegated it to the safest corner of the office. That didn't prevent the laptop from seemingly attracting every bit of dust and hair onto its case, so OCD types beware, you'll be wiping this laptop down regularly. Admittedly, the AW is designed to be a desktop machine with the option to be moved like a laptop, so if this machine was our own, we'd likely keep it stationery 90% of the time (the other 10% would be spent showing it off to anyone and everyone we could). Even when considering the Sony VAIO AW's target audience/use, comparing it to the unibody aluminum frame of the MacBook Pro, we did feel the flexible plastic construction of the Sony weaker than its smaller fruit-branded rival. The shiny piano black finish exterior is eye catching and also a finger print magnet, but we rationalized the top would be mostly open and out of sight in normal use. We do hope that Sony upgrades this line with an aluminum or carbon fiber construction to strengthen the feel and durability, since a large laptop is an unwieldy object at best.

One detail which we really loved was the faux leather section that spans across the wrist rest section near the track pad, small but notable touch that distinguishes itself upon first use. The track pad is positioned left of center which was fine, but we found it's diminutive size a letdown compared to the tracking real estate on the MacBook Pro. The keyboard is composed of separated, chiclet-style keys that feel great with each keystroke; strangely, despite the size of the laptop, the keyboard itself felt small/cramped, partially because of the inclusion of a full number pad.

The Sony VAIO AW was also designed to be used in conjunction with a larger HD monitor source, providing an HDMI out port alongside an integrated TV tuner with external antenna. Unfortunately our poor over the air reception location limited us to non-HD programming, but the system worked without a hitch with HD content from online or Blu-ray sources. The Blu-ray drive/burner tops off the Sony VAIO AW's multimedia capabilities, making this a computing sibling to the PS3 in regards to multimedia playback options.

Priced at over $3000 for our test unit's specs, this laptop is not an impulse purchase by any means. But the Sony VAIO AW is likely a purchase one would not regret considering all the options and features the big, black ninja of a laptop provides (a more affordable $1799 spec'ed version is available when you cut back on some of the oh-so-nice features). With the AW's size, performance and flexibility as both a computer and multimedia Swiss Army knife, we feel comfortable recommending this to anyone looking to streamline their home office and entertainment center with a laptop that could replace larger discrete equipment, all in a decor-friendly package. Price your own VAIO AW Series Notebook PC here...if only to dream.

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