Sony’s stylish PC is more about looks than function

It is very pretty to look at and well above average performance-wise, but might not be the right choice for hardcore gamers, coders or designers

Sony’s Vaio L-series VGC LA38G looks a bit like a notebook with its fold-up keyboard, general flatness and carrying handle at the back, but it’s not a notebook. It’s not quite a desktop either. I’d call it a notebook-desktop hybrid with aspirations to also be a piece of furniture. Sony calls it a portable panel PC.

Sony has definitely invested in the form factor department with this one. The LA38G looks minimalist, slim and elegant. It seems to be designed to blend in with modern, sparsely decorated living rooms, bedrooms and kitchens. It is easy to pick up and carry from room to room, thanks to the handle. However, measuring 470.2 by 289.9 by 141.7mm, with the keyboard folded up, and weighing 4.5kgs, it is too big to be carried to the office or other locations. It has a built-in battery that lasts for around two hours.

The computer has a 15.4 inch widescreen LCD, which is surrounded by a stylish, transparent polycarbonate frame. It features a 1.83GHz Intel Core Duo processor, a 120GB hard drive and 1GB DDR2 SDRAM. It also has a microphone and a cool built-in camera. The LA38G is pre-loaded with Windows Vista Home Premium.

It is equipped with integrated wireless LAN (IEEE 802.11b/802.11g), four USB 2.0 ports, DVD writer, memory stick slot and SD card slot.

This hybrid also doubles up as an audio player. It has something called Sound Reality audio chipset which drives two integrated 3W speakers. On full blast the sound is decent, but the LA38G wouldn’t quite cut it as a party sound-system.

Using the provided SoundFLOW software, the screen automatically switches to display track and artist information, a clock and a calendar when the keyboard is folded up. A very cool feature is that the media control buttons are placed on the right edge of the keyboard. They can be used when the keyboard is down or folded up. Volume can be controlled from the keyboard or using the buttons on the right behind the polycarbonate frame.

A possible downside is that the computer doesn’t exactly encourage an ergonomically correct working position as the attached keyboard is too close to the screen — a laptop problem that the panel PC couldn’t get away from. I also thought that the screen would sit too low to be comfortable to use for a long period of time, but thanks to the stand behind the screen, it can be tilted at your preferred angle.

A nice detail is that the mouse pad is located to the right of the keyboard, which I thought felt more natural than having it in the centre.

So, this slightly confused notebook/desktop/stereo/DVD player is very pretty to look at and takes up little space, but while it is well above average performance-wise, it might not be the right choice for hardcore gamers, coders or designers. But then again, it never claimed to be. It just wants to sit in your (de-cluttered) bookshelf or on your glass coffee table and play lounge music.

The Vaio VGC LA38G RRP costs $3,299.95, including GST.

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