Sony made big news at CES earlier this year with what it called the lightest netbook ever: the 618g (with standard battery), 8-inch VAIO P. Described as ‘the size of a business envelope and as thin as a mobile phone,’ the VAIO P (245×120×20mm) is also the world’s most expensive netbook. There are three models to choose from, starting with the VGN-P11Z at £849, the more business-oriented VGN-P19WN/Q at £969, and the flagship VGN-P19VN/Q at £1368. The VAIO P is undoubtedly the sexiest netbook on the market, but does it punch above its weight?

Similar to a lot of competing netbooks, the VAIO P is available in an array of colours, including garnet red, emerald green, onyx black, crystal white and classic black. Matching carrying cases and Bluetooth colour-coordinated mice are available to complete the look. The model incorporates a high-resolution (1600×768) LED backlit widescreen display that makes it easy to view everything from entire spreadsheets to full Web pages – no side-to-side scrolling necessary. Well, that’s the theory anyway. In practise, the resolution is so high on the 8-inch display that text and navigating is an eye-watering experience and in no time at all you’ll be increasing the dpi to at least 125% or dropping the resolution. On the plus side, Sony’s XBRITE-ECO LCD technology produces beautiful, razor-sharp images.

Usability has been a bit of an oversight too, and it is evident Sony has engineered the VAIO P for casual style junkies rather than those who actaully want to get stuff done. Although the QWERTY keyboard has been extended to the perimeters of the chassis to maximise the typing area, working for long periods on the machine was a real chore. This was due largely to the fact that the netbook was too small to sit comfortably between my thighs (it kept slipping down in between), and I constantly clicked the raised mouse pointers instead of the spacebar. The Scrabble-type keys didn’t have a lot of travel either (1.2mm stroke and 16.5mm pitch), which tended to make typing feel rather ‘dead’, and the lack of any wrist rests gave me an odd sense of detachment from the machine. The tracking ‘nipple’, or whatever Sony wants us to call it, was also annoying and not as good as a traditional trackpad. At least you can plug in a USB mouse!

Under the hood the VAIO P is underpowered and not much good for anything other than light chores, such as Web browsing and managing e-mails. The first two models share a specification that includes an Intel 1.33GHz Atom Z520 processor, 2GB DDR2 memory, 60GB hard drive, and Windows Vista Home Premium. The top-end business model uses a 1.66GHz Atom processor with 128GB SSD for storage, comes only in black, has Vista Business installed, and includes a port expander (£60 if purchased separately) which adds Ethernet and analogue VGA video out.

The VAIO P incorporates an ‘Instant Mode’, which uses a Linux build coupled with Sony’s XrossMediaBar interface to provide Web browsing and media player capabilities with a 20-second boot time. An integrated MOTION EYE Web camera is located on the upper right corner, and there is built-in GPS (destinations can be found by simply typing in an address or keyword and then following the turn-by-turn directions), Bluetooth, 802.11b/g/n wireless, 3G mobile broadband (requires a valid SIM card to get online wirelessly), and an Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 500 video card. Inevitable, it has no optical drive, like most ultra-portables and netbooks. Expansion slots are limited to Memory Stick PRO (Standard/Duo) media slot with MagicGate functionality and SD, while two USB ports allow for connecting peripherals.

The machine features up to 4 hours of battery life with the included standard capacity battery and 8 hours with the 6-cell battery (sold separately for around £120). These are disappointing operating times considering you can get fully-fledged ultra-portable laptops with 12-inch and larger displays that run as long as this. Also worth noting is that adding the optional high-capacity battery increases the machine’s weight to 708g. As you can see, the problem with the VAIO-P is that you don’t get a lot of features or performance for your money and the optional extras push an already expensive machine into the realms of stupidity. For a lot less financial outlay you can get a proper laptop that you can use to produce stuff on – videos, music, Web sites, blogs, novels, PowerPoint epics and other thrilling bits and bobs – rather than a small and not even affordable computer than you can use to browse the Web while you are out and about.