VAIO SR-Series: VGN-SR19VN
Strengths: Popular brand, light and portable but spacious controls and screen, feature rich, as secure as off-the-shelf Windows laptops get
Weaknesses: Potential helpdesk guidance required for some users, build quality not as robust as some
Verdict: Continues the VAIO tradition of style and quality
From the outside, the VAIObook looks as you would expect, a sleek silver case measuring 315mm x 233.8mm x 34mm, with a particularly slimline screen. This last is visually impressive, a la Mac book Air, but feels on the flimsy side. Connectivity options include USB 2.0 sockets, Ethernet jack, modem connection, card readers for SD Cards, readers for Sony's proprietary memory format Memory Stick & Memory Stick Pro, and microphone and headphone sockets.
A physical Wi-Fi switch graces the front of the case, a handy safety precaution when working on confidential information in a public area. Additionally, a Kensington wire lock attachment point is included for hotdesk-type environments. An integrated 'Motion Eye' 1.3 Mega pixel camera for face-to-face videoconferencing is mounted atop the 13.3" WXGA+ (1280 x 800) screen, which features both low power consumption LED illumination and Sony X-black LCD display enhancement. The spacious keyboard is a new isolated design, in theory increasing the clearances between keys, a concept that works well.
Increased security comes below the standard-issue track pad, where a fingerprint reader is mounted. The actual swiping must be undertaken with a certain amount of caution. Our testers found the registration process straightforward and smooth, but users not used to the 'swiping' technique would do well to read the help section.
The biometric management software included, Protector Suite QL, enables a range of functionality to be enabled by the swipe of a registered finger. This includes a handy desktop lock feature, which sets the laptop in hibernation until a recognised digit is presented, or a backup password entered. Additionally, the VAIO's five physical 'Quick Switch' buttons just below the screen can be operated by biometric shortcut. The Quick Switch buttons - a new VAIO feature - can be assigned as shortcuts to any application within Windows and appear as a small dock of icons at the very bottom of the Windows desktop. This feature also allows up to three desktop environments to be configured.
The VGN-SR19VN comes with Windows Vista business pre-loaded, and has the much touted Trusted Platform Module (TPM) built in. This means Vista's full-disk encryption technology, Bitlocker is available in its most secure form, where the encryption keys can be stored in the TPM to prevent tampering with the hardware. Bitlocker can also be controlled by the fingerprint reader, and file encryption is also possible to manage through the device. Encrypting files and folders using biometrics is a straightforward process using the Microsoft wizard, and setting a backup password as default is a good feature.
However, a trial with a 1kb text file produced an encrypted file of two megabytes, so heavy users might want to be choosy as to which files they encrypt.
Overall, the VAIO performed almost faultlessly, with only one system freeze in a day's simulated business usage. Unsurprisingly for a manufacturer of Sony's experience, the controls are ergonomically presented and function smoothly and predictably. With the default-installed Vista OS presenting a new attack vector for malware writers that has yet to be exploited as widely as XP, along with the biometric authentication and TPM-based Bitlocker encryption, this should be among the most secure Microsoft-running laptops on the market. However, many businesses have been slow to migrate to Vista wholesale, and to do so with only a small number of biometrically enabled laptops may prove an administrative challenge.