Sony Vaio L13 touchscreen PC
A touch of class?
Review The Sony Vaio L series of all-in-one touchscreen PCs launched last year, now has some new additions. The Vaio L13, L11 and L12 models share the same basic features including a 24in 1920 x 1080 multi-touch glossy screen, 4GB RAM and 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium.
Touch and go: Sony's Vaio L13
The L11 model costs £1019 and employs an Intel Core 2 Duo E7500 CPU and a 500GB hard drive. The more basic of the two L12 models (the L12M) is slightly more expensive at £1099 and has a 1TB hard drive, which doesn’t sound like much of an upgrade for £80. The L12S costs £1399 and comes with an Intel Core 2 Duo E8400  CPU, Blu-ray drive, DVB-T tuner and 1GB memory for the Nvidia GeForce G210M  graphics.
The new L13 model sounds as though it should sit at the top of the Vaio L tree, however, the specification of my review sample was almost identical to the L12M and the only change that I could spot was a move to Nvidia’s GeForce G330M  graphics. This chip is listed by Nvidia as a performance part and has 48 Shaders, 1GB memory and a 128-bit memory controller compared to the 16 Shaders, 512MB memory and 64-bit controller that lie within the mainstream G210M.
I would have liked to run 3D Mark Vantage but the Vaio's screen doesn’t support the required 1280 x 1024 test resolution. So I tried a bit of gaming with Far Cry 2 at maximum quality that delivered an average of 17fps. It seems to me that a more powerful GeForce GTS Mobile part might have been more appropriate for such a large screen.
This raises a fundamental question about the purpose of the Vaio L13. The VPC-L13 M1E (to give its full name) has a Core 2 Duo E7500, 4GB RAM, 1TB hard drive but no Blu-ray drive or TV tuner, so it has no obvious place on the HD movie and TV side of things, unless the files have been stored digitally.
Handy remote for DVD playback, alas there's no Blu-ray player
As the Vaio L13 comes without dedicated DVD playback software I used Windows Media Player to watch some regular DVD movies. Playback was flawless and the image quality of the display was superb. Alas, the 5.5W stereo speakers let the side down, as they are too quiet for DVD duties. On the plus side they don’t distort even at maximum volume.
In principle, you can move an all-in-one around the house and the Vaio L13 has the convenience of 802.11n wireless and is fairly compact. Yet it weighs in at 12.5kg, which makes it awkward to lug around the house other than once in a while. As I see it the Vaio L13 fills a gaping hole in the middle of the Apple iMac range , bookended by the £969 21.5in model at one end and the 27in giant that costs £1378 at the other.
PCMark Vantage Results
Longer bars are better
Longer bars are better
From a technical stance, the Vaio L13 and the small iMac have a certain amount in common as they both use a Core 2 Duo CPU with Nvidia graphics and they both look as pretty as a picture. When you get up close to the Sony you’ll see that some of the ‘aluminium’ is actually painted plastic but it still looks lovely. The wireless keyboard also complements the looks of the Vaio L13 but I feel that Sony took the styling a touch too far with the wireless mouse. It uses an ambidextrous design that looks ungainly and also feels uncomfortable in the hand.
Above the screen there are three tiny LEDS – green for wireless, amber for HDD and green for power. The two green lights are constant while the amber light blinks when the hard drive is working, which is most of the time you are in front of the screen, and gets damned annoying. In the centre of the top bezel there is a 0.3Mp webcam. On the left side of the screen there are five USB 2.0 ports and an S400 i.link (aka Firewire) port for connecting your digital camcorder or external drive, with the DVD drive on the right.
The cooling fan speeds up and slows down noticeably when the graphics and CPU are working hard and it is too noisy at the best of times. Running even the simplest application such as Microsoft Surface Globe increases the power draw from 70W at idle to 80W with a maximum of 100W when the Vaio L13 is under severe duress.
The feature that separates the Vaio L13 from the iMacs is the touchscreen. Sony has included its Vaio Gate software which is an on-screen launcher for applications and consists of a ribbon of icons across the top of the screen that auto-hide in that swoopy Windows 7 way.
More touchscreen apps would help show off its potential
Sony includes its Vaio Media Gallery application but the software that takes advantage of the touchscreen is the Microsoft Touch Pack for Windows 7. There are six applications in the pack  and while they show off the superb screen to good effect I found they were fairly dire.
Collage lets you move pictures around, Rebound is a touchscreen game, Globe is like Google Earth but less effective, Blackboard is a physics touchscreen game and Garden Pond is a pointless touchscreen game. You might possibly get an hour’s entertainment out of the lot but it does bring home the quality of the Sony screen and its lovely responsive nature.
Sony has conjured up a Vaio that is, effectively, a touchscreen iMac. Unfortunately, while I found that the touch screen works superbly well, it does seem a expensive gimmick given the applications on offer. ®
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