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Summary:

I am pleased to publish this guest review from jkOnTheRun reader and forum member Chuck Davis who has graciously allowed me to post his in-depth review of the Sony Vaio U750P.  Chuck covers everything you want to know about the capable UPC and even throws in […]

Image_15_encarta_landscape_1I am pleased to publish this guest review from jkOnTheRun reader and forum member Chuck Davis who has graciously allowed me to post his in-depth review of the Sony Vaio U750P.  Chuck covers everything you want to know about the capable UPC and even throws in some battery and performance benchmarks.  Thanks Chuck for this great review!

The Little PC That Could        by Chuck Davis

Introduction

The diminutive Sony VGN-U750P proves that big things do come in small packages, in this case, very small.  In its bid to define the fledgling "handtop" market here in the United States, Sony has compressed business class computing performance to previously unheard proportions.   The U750P is a solid performer, weighing a little over a pound and slightly smaller than a paperback book.

This is no surprise since Sony arguably has more experience than any other manufacturer in the miniaturization of consumer products.  The U750P is actually a fourth generation product from the Sony U line of ultra portable, handheld computers previously available only in the Japanese market.

However, for as curious as the U750P is, it is equally curious for what it is not.

The promise of a computer small enough to comfortably fit in your pocket, has excellent battery life, uncompromising speed, generous hard drive capacity, and supports the major wireless standards is still elusive; but the U750P comes tantalizingly close.

For those that need a truly mobile powerhouse, the U750P will not disappoint, as long as you can accept the compromises the U750P imposes.  What some would consider standard fare for a mobile platform is absent, notably; the lack of built in Bluetooth, or irDA.  These compromises will undoubtedly cause some to wait for a fifth generation U, but for where I wanted the U750 in my mobile lifestyle, I was ready to try it out.  Here is what I found.

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Initial Impressions

I ordered my U750P from SonyStyle online the same day the unit was available, and within a week, it was delivered.  The first thing I noticed when I opened the shipping box was another box that presumably contained the U750P and a small box containing the high capacity battery I had ordered.  During the introduction of the U750P, Sony offered a promotion that included a SPOT watch and a $200.00 e-coupon, which was confirmed in my order.

After rummaging through the package material, it was clear that there was no SPOT watch, nor any sign of my $200 e-coupon.  After a call to Sony, I got my instant e-coupon via email, but after getting the major run around from Sony; no SPOT watch.

All that was left was to unpack the U750 and put it through its paces.

The unit comes well packaged, in a three tier setup, open the box and you’ll find a slick looking black box with the Vaio logo on top containing two soft cases, Setup Foldout, and assorted pamphlets and battery.  Once that box is removed, the U750P is nestled in the center of the original box, wrapped in a yellow, protective, anti-static pad bag.  Surrounding the unit are the headphones, AC adapter, VGA/Ethernet combo adapter, media control stick, ear buds, stylus, and replicator back plate.  On the very bottom are boxes that contain the replicator and the folding keyboard.  In short, not the Origami experience of opening an iPod box, but tastefully done nonetheless.

Image_1_u_unpacked

VGN-U750P Unpacked

Inspection

In setting up the U750P, I carefully decided to inspect the unit.  The U750P is well built, encased in magnesium, with a brushed aluminum face plate.  There are no gaps in the fit and finish of the computer.  The computer is light, but in no way feels flimsy.

On the underside are two screw down compartments that demanded inspection.  The first just seems to reveal the underside of the Memory Stick slot and it seems to serve no purpose, except if maybe a Memory Stick got jammed in the slot, perhaps it would ease prying it out.  The other slot was pay dirt, revealing a 512MB memory chip, although it looks to be proprietary. I can only hope that we’ll see Sony or some interested third party come out with a 1GB memory chip that the U750P can use.  The good news is that the memory module appears to be user serviceable.

The U750P has a single USB 2.0 port, CF slot, and Memory Stick slot.  The unit is covered with buttons, including some extras like a Standby switch, Hold switch to prevent accidental use of key buttons, a Wireless LAN switch with built in LED, and a recessed Ctrl-Alt-Del button.  The placement of them appears to be logical and the unit is comfortable to hold.  I’m left handed, but had no problem using the unit.  One thing I found interesting is the TrackPoint type stick right on the unit for mouse control.  While I have always liked these, and this one seems sturdy enough, it lacks a replaceable end cap; instead, the tip is hollowed and filled with a white, rubbery material.  My only concern is that over time the "tip" will get dirty.

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Right side view of U750P with Wireless LAN active.

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Top of the U750P showing the CF slot, MemoryStick slot, Standby button and battery locking latch.

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Left side view showing power switch, button hold switch and earphone/remote jack.

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Back of the port replicator.  The AC adapter plug an electroluminescent end cap that lights up green, sounds kind of cheesy, but it looks pretty cool.

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VGA/Ethernet Dongle for the U750P

When comparing the U750P to most portable computers, one obvious omission is that the U750P does not include an IrDA port, but more notably, the U750P does not include microphone input of any kind.

As the unit was charging, I decided the first thing that I needed to do was make a Recovery DVD, since the Vaio does not come with one, but contains a software program pre-installed to create one.

Once charged up, I turned on the U750P and the first thing you notice, aside from all the buttons momentarily lighting up with white backlighting is an incredibly sharp, easy to read XBRITE screen.  The clarity and detail from the screen looks like what you would experience when viewing the highest end HDTV provided the HDTV screen was five inches!  But on such a small screen, the added clarity is invaluable.

One thing you quickly realize is that this great screen really begs for a screen protector of some sort.  I had previously ordered an Overlay Brilliant Screen protector, which is the clearest screen protector I have ever seen, you really can’t tell that there is a screen protector installed at all!  It is the only screen protector I have seen that is UV rated 90% and looks like pliable glass.

If you get one of these, a word of caution, they are produced in Japan exclusively and are hard to find in the US, so you will have to place your order with one of the better known importers like Dynamism, or Conics that offer the Japanese versions of the U series in the US.  Also, all of the Overlay Brilliant documentation is in Japanese, and while putting a screen protector on a machine should be easy, it took me about an hour to get it done.   You’ll find the Overlay Brilliant to be somewhat of a pricey import as well, about twice the cost of a domestic screen protector.  My only complaint about the Overlay Brilliant is that the high gloss finish adds to the reflectivity of the screen when the U750P is off, but when the unit is on, the screen looks great!

Setup

The initial setup is straightforward as you configure Windows XP.  First the program instructs you to plug in the supplied USB folding keyboard, which (and I have used plenty) is the most stylish, well built folding keyboard I have used; complete with mouse buttons and finger point mouse (modeled on the IBM TrackPoint).  Then, you are guided through a touch screen calibration, which you have the option of skipping, the rest of the setup is the standard Windows XP initial configuration.

Once the machine finished and booted into Windows XP, I noticed a slew of programs I felt I could do without. 

Before getting delete giddy, I decided to create a System and Application Recovery Disk for the U750P, as it does not come with one; just an application that gives you the option of creating one from the preinstalled image on the hard drive as a series of CD’s (6), or as a single DVD. 

I really think Sony could have sprung for the extra few dollars, if that, to include a CD Recovery Set, and/or DVD Recovery Disk.  Sony needs to realize that not everyone has a spare USB, Firewire DVD-RW, or CD-RW drive to create a Recovery Set.  To complicate matters further, you must use a bootable optical drive, like the Sony PCGA-DDRW2 to gain the option to delete the preinstalled image on the hard drive, netting you an additional 3GB of free space on the already overtaxed 20GB U750P hard drive.

Using a PCGA-DDRW2 DVD drive, I ran the Recovery Wizard to make a disc, and 20 minutes later, the DVD of the Application Recovery was complete, then the program prompted me for a CD-R for the bootable Recovery Disc; which was done in just a few minutes.

Before creating the Recovery DVD, a quick drive check showed a 15.6GB NTFS drive, 10.7GB free, and an EISA configuration partition of 3GB.  After deleting what I considered unnecessary applications, and reclaiming the recovery partition, I was left with an extra 5GB free.

Image_7_disk_space_chart_1

To load my applications I decided to connect the replicator to a 21" LCD monitor, and utilize the USB ports to hook up an external drive, mouse, and full size keyboard.  Everything worked perfectly, and the U750 output was exceptional at 1600×1200 at 32 bits.  A note about the replicator, it’s just that, a replicator; it is NOT a dock.  As such, you can’t hot dock the U750P, so you have to turn the unit off before you put it on the replicator.  Conversely, if you are using the U750P in a desktop configuration, you can’t just rip it out of the replicator, the machine must be turned off first.  What is amazing is at the present time, while Sony offers a range of accessories for the U series, it does not offer an additional replicator!  For a machine that so embodies mobility, the ability to have replication capability at home, the office, or anywhere else one chooses is obvious. 

Reportedly, Sony will be offering the replicator in limited quantities in the coming months and at a price that is expected to be at least $250.00, not including an AC adapter! 

The replicator is the only way to access the 4 pin Firewire connection; it also has 4 USB 2.0 ports (the USB port on the U750P still works as well when the replicator is in use), Ethernet port, analog VGA port, and AC power port.  A nice touch on the replicator is that the there are two, LED lit, depress switches on the front of the replicator.  Both are configurable via the Vaio setup program to run any application, but come configured to switch the display from the U750P screen to an external monitor, or invoke the Vaio Video Download Manager to automatically transfer video from a Vaio content server to the U750P.

Image_8_dock_switches

Depress switches on the port replicator.

Handwriting Recognition

Unlike Tablet PCs that incorporate active digitizers in their screens, Sony chose to use a passive digitizer.  Since passive digitizers rely solely on pressure, no special pen or stylus is required for input.   The downside is that passive digitizers are about ten times less accurate than an active digitizer found on a Tablet PC.  As a result, I did not expect great handwriting results from the U750P.

Surprisingly the U750P has very good handwriting recognition due to Sony’s use of a modified version of Windows XP Professional, combined with an unusually accurate passive digitizer.  I felt so confident with the performance of the passive digitizer on the U750P, that I decided to load the Tablet PC operating system.  Combined with the FloatTip utility, the U750P was a whole different animal when running the Tablet PCOS.  My handwriting recognition went from roughly 80% to about 98%!

Heat and Noise

The U750P has a fan that is regulated by a number of settings; however, the fan is remarkably quiet.  I only knew the fan was operating when I put my ear right next to the unit.  As far as heat, despite heavy use utilizing both AC and battery power, the unit remained only slightly warm to the touch.   Using SpeedFan 4.0, I noted the CPU temperature never got past 127F, and hard drive temperature peaked at 124F.

Battery Life

Sony offers two batteries for the U750P, the standard battery that comes with the unit, rated at three hours; and a large capacity battery, rated at six hours.

Image_9_batteries   

The standard battery on the right is half the thickness of the large capacity battery.

I used the VAIO Power Management Viewer to set the unit for Max Battery configuration. Using BurnInTest 4.0, I set up a regimen of test to run continuously, simulating extreme usage, in other words; the worst case scenario for battery life.  I also continuously monitored CPU and hard drive temperatures using SpeedFan 4.20.  BatteryMon 4.0 was used to measure capacity and drain to 10% of capacity.

Image_10_power_mgmt_chart

The Max battery configuration dropped the CPU speed down to 595.4 MHz. 

I want to stress that this benchmark testing is not indicative of load one would experience in daily use.  My own experience with the U750P is that I can easily get through the day on a single battery charge with the standard battery.

However, these benchmark tests do show that the large capacity battery lasts three times longer than the standard battery, as opposed to only twice as long as the Sony specifications suggest.

Here are the results I obtained:

Standard Battery Test – 3 Hour Drain Test

Image_11_standard_battery_benchmark_1

Under heavy load, I was able to get 2 hours from the standard 3 hour rated battery.

Large Capacity Battery – 6 Hour Drain Test

Image_12_extended_battery_benchmark_1
Again, under heavy load, but this time, my run time was over the rated 6 hours for the large capacity battery. (click to expand)

Boot Up / Shutdown
Standby / Recovery Time

For a mobile computer, few measures are as important as the time to boot up, shutdown, suspend, and recover.  The boot and shutdown times are consistent with the Windows XP OS, but I was very pleased with the Standby and Recovery times.   The U750P has the fastest Standby time that I have ever seen on a portable computer.  I use this mode almost exclusively and the U750P rivals my iPAQ in terms of instant on/off availability.  One thing that I am disappointed in is the inability in Standby to hot swap the battery.

Cold Boot:                                   59.04 sec.
Complete System Shutdown:    31:91 sec.

Standby:                                         2.20 sec.
Recovery from Standby:               4.10 sec.

Benchmarks

The U750P had its work cut out for it in this test.  Though it was admittedly unfair, I put the U750P up against the Toshiba M200 Tablet PC, which in every category, began the test with a decided advantage:

The M200 has 1GB of RAM as opposed to the 512Mb of RAM on the U750P.  Processor speed for the M200 is 1.6GHz as opposed to 1.10GHz for the U750P, and GeForce FX Go5200 graphics on the M200 while the U750P uses the Intel 855GM chipset.

The results from the benchmark tests were in line with my expectations, but I was surprised at how close some of the results were.  Clearly the U750P delivers very solid performance, could easily compete with any midrange laptop in the market today, and at a minimum; is the fastest machine in the "handtop" class today.  (Click images to expand).

Benchmark_chart_top_1_1

Benchmark_chart_top_2_1

Real World Usage

l have used the U750P for almost two weeks straight, loading the Office 2003 suite and a host of specialized applications.  Every application I have loaded has run fine at the 800×600 native resolution on the U750P.  But what I am most impressed with is the rock solid stability of the U750P, not a single lock up to date, which I believe the U750P owes to its fourth generation pedigree.

After making a drive image the U750P, I’ve spent considerable time loading all types of applications to test, and then restoring my original image.  While I would hardly consider the U750P a gaming rig, it ran Half Life 2 reasonably well and had no problem with Flight Simulator 2004.  Compute intensive programs have run with no issues, including, MATLAB, and SPSS, which appear to run just as fast on the U750P as they do on the Toshiba M200. 

DVD playback is absolutely stunning using the included Vaio branded version of WinDVD 5.  The XBRITE screen makes watching a movie on the U750P a pleasure, with no pauses whatsoever, excellent color fidelity with black being true black, and a fast responsive LCD screen that never blurred during the fastest of scenes.

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Tom Cruise in "Collateral" on the U750P

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Taking aim in "Collateral"

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Encarta in regular landscape mode.

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Encarta in portrait mode.

The built in speaker is loud, but not annoyingly so.  Without trying very hard, the U750P is a very capable media machine.

Battery life is the pleasant surprise here provided you are using the large capacity battery, you can expect at least 6 hours of performance provided you use the power management features.

The U750P 802.11b/g wireless has worked perfectly for me and with very good range as well, in both my office and at home, connectivity was at least as good as what I have seen with the Toshiba M200, and much better than my iPAQ 4700

I did get a GPRS CF card, so the lack of Bluetooth has not proven to be a big deal for me.  For the Clie, Sony introduced a Bluetooth MemoryStick adapter.  It would be nice to see such a device make its way to the U750P.  Sony originally touted the MemoryStick format as a peripheral interface with benefits beyond simple memory.  I remember presentations from Sony that showed MemoryStick fingerprint readers, GPS, and security devices.  The U750P seems to me to be the perfect form factor to promote MemoryStick peripherals, but I’m hardly holding my breath.

Since I am using the Tablet PC OS, the handwriting recognition is working well enough for me that I really don’t have the need for a keyboard.

And yes, this review was written on the U750P.

Conclusions

Sony comes awfully close to my "ideal" PC, but misses the mark.  Nonetheless, and despite its compromises, the U750P has quickly become my "standard" computing device, proving that it is more mobile than my laptop.  When I decided to get a U750P, I knew well in advance how I intended to use it.  Since I don’t ask or expect it to do more than it is capable, I’m not disappointed.  The more I use the U750P; I began to wonder who constitutes the ideal U750P owner? 

Well, anyone that wants one of the smallest and lightest computers available today is a good start.  I can think of many vertical market opportunities for the U750P in medicine, sales, manufacturing, and engineering, to name only a few; but I don’t think these markets are what Sony had in mind when they released the U750P here in the States.

Sony is above all else a consumer electronics company and the operative word here is consumer.  I think that Sony believes that there is a trend toward smaller, personal computing and that the U750P is a trial balloon to understand consumer motivation.  I believe that Sony will watch, learn, and adapt; to eventually find the right formula to create the no compromise, "ideal" personally portable computer that we consumers can seamlessly integrate into our lives.

When that happens, I’ll be one of the first to buy one, but in the meantime I’ll use the gene pool from which it will spring; my U750P.

Technical Data
Out of the box specifications (as tested)

Processor:
Intel Pentium M Processor Ultra Low Voltage 733 (Dothan)
1.10 GHz, 2MB L2 Cache, 400MHz Front Side Bus

RAM:
512MB PC-2100 266MHz DDR SDRAM (512MBx1)

BIOS:
BIOS Version R0071G5/RK071G5

Operating System:
Windows XP Professional – Service Pack 2

Hard Drive:
20GB, 1.8 Inch Toshiba (MK2004GAL)
2 MB Buffer
Rated Seek Time 15ms average
Rated rotational speed 4,200 rpm

Display Size/Type:
5 inch passive touch screen with XBRITE technology, 800×600 native resolution

Video:
Intel 82855GME – 64MB Video RAM (shared with main memory)
Resolutions: 640×480, 800×600, 1024×768, 1280×1024, 1600×1200

Audio:
Built in speaker (monaural), Headphone Mini-Jack (Stereo), No Microphone capability

Networking:
Integrated 802.11 b/g wireless LAN (Sony Manufactured)

Battery:
Included "slim" battery, VGP-BPS1 (11.1V/1800mAh)
Type: Lithium Ion
Battery Life: Approximately 3 hours

Unit Weight:
Without battery (Clean):    .83 lbs.
With included "Standard" battery: 1.21 lbs. / with optional case 1.78 lbs.
With optional "Large Capacity" battery: 1.53 lbs. / with optional case 2.1 lbs.

Unit Dimensions:
1.03 in. x 6.57 in. x 4.25 in. (H x W x D)

  1. Very thorough! Great if you’re looking at gettting one, and good battery tests and other little bits for those of us that already are enjoying one!

    One thing to note: the higher cap. battery may have seemed to last 3x as long and not 2x, but the mAH (milliamphour) capacity on the battery is twice as much (3600 vs. 1800) so it really should be about twice as much on average.

    -arebelspy

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