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Wi-Fi-ing with the Vaio PCG-TR1A
Posted: 24-Aug-2003 [Source: MobileTechNews]

[Sony's recently released Vaio PCG-TR1A packs lots of power and capability into one of the new Centrino Wi-Fi notebooks.]

by Jean Panke, Reston, Virginia -- I had an opportunity to check out the new Vaio PCG-TR1A recently in Asheville, North Carolina. Amidst the live music and artwork of Asheville's annual BellChere festival was a traveling tractor trailer carrying the latest and greatest from Sony and Intel. This new system just became available in mid-June and really captured my attention as it had all the features I had been looking for including compact size, screen quality, long battery life, speed, capacity, and Wi-Fi capability.

The Vaio PCG-TR1A weighs in at just over three pounds. Its size allows me to fit it into just about any pack or purse I own. It has a truly awesome 10.6" TFT (1280x768) display and what Sony calls its XBRITE screen. Surprisingly, this screen can be viewed even in moderate sunlight. The long battery life is really phenomenal. The Pentium M 900Mhz processor, Intel's 855 chipset and 30 GB drive has this little machine cruising. You can watch an entire DVD movie or surf the Net for several hours with the screen at full power before you need to think about battery. Using the screen on lower power offers close to seven hours of battery life before needing a recharge.

The Wi-Fi capability has been terrific and lots of fun. The PCG-TR1A runs Windows XP which automatically searches and provides a list of available connections. Network Stumbler is another software program that sniffs out Wi-Fi connections and can detail signal strength via graph displays. Public connection fees at airports, restaurants, etc. generally run from a few dollars an hour up to $9.95 a day in some hotels. Wi-Fi monthly services like Boingo are also available at prices starting at $21.95 per month.

The cool thing is that more communities and public places are offering free open Wi-Fi access.. Data bases such as www.wifinder.com offer Wi-Fi location information if you're looking for free access. Even in out-of-the way places like Northern Wisconsin I was able to sniff out an open Wi-Fi access point. The PCT-TR1A had no trouble keeping a constant connection with excellent data rates at 120 feet.

Besides Wi-Fi, the PCG-TR1A has other interesting features like a built-in Motion Eye. There's lots of Sony software available to assist in maximizing usability of this built-in camera so you can do things besides emailing photos. With Picture Gear Studio you can load photos into your computer from your camera or memory stick, decorate them with pictures or stamps, organize them into digital photo albums and make prints. Image Station is Sony's online photo and video sharing service. Membership is free and includes unlimited storage of digital photos, storage for 15 minutes of video clips, along with tools to personalize the design and arrangement of your pictures in albums. The PCG-TR1A comes with Age of Empires II. After previewing the game, this Vaio certainly offers opportunity for a rich gaming experience with its high resolution screen and could keep any "kid" happy for a long time.

The PCG-TR1A truly is a personal entertainment machine. Besides gaming and photos and video, I can connect my Yamaha piano to it opening up a realm of creative possibilities. I can watch DVD movies or play CD's or surf the Internet or do anything I can do on my desktop. In fact, since I've had my Vaio PCG-TR1A, I don't even use my desktop. I just plug my large monitor into the Vaio, but I find myself doing that less and less due to the great screen on this machine. Backup copies are left to the server running the house W-LAN.

These days I spend almost no time in my home office thanks to Wi-Fi and my new PCG-TR1A. I spend most of my Internet and computer time sitting in my kitchen, on the deck, or laying back in a recliner.

One of the things I'm really enjoying is the availability of Internet radio via my Vaio. I have a set of computer speakers in my kitchen and just plug my Vaio into them first thing in the morning while I'm making my coffee and listen to RadioF from Nuremburg (which just happens to be my favorite radio station). I can also surf the Net and check the latest news while continuing to stay connected to Internet radio

I also have it set up as a mobile navigation system in my vehicle. Combining the DeLorme Street Atlas program and a portable USB GPS unit allows me the freedom to go anywhere with maps and voice directions at the ready.

One of the few drawbacks to the PCG-TR1A is the somewhat cramped keyboard. Anyone with bigger hands may struggle with the somewhat compact keyboard size. Also, listening to music via the Internet, playing CD's or watching movies via DVD does demand a pair of good headphones or speakers at the ready. The tiny speakers in the PCG-TR1A are one other drawback in this little system. But even they aren't bad considering the form factor.

Overall, convergence takes a leap forward with the new Vaio PCG-TR1A. After several weeks of use, I still haven't been able to find anything I don't like about it. The freedom to access the Internet from anywhere in my home, to carry my computer with me wherever I go with my personal settings, my bookmarks, my email, etc. really makes me feel more organized and more in control of the data and information I need when I need it. The small form factor makes it a tool rather than a burden to carry with me from office to home to anywhere I go. One of the best features of the Vaio PCG-TR1A is you can find them for less than $2,000.

Note: A reader contacted us reporting a bad experience with their Vaio. Read on...

The Vaio PCG-TR1A is indeed a wonderful machine. But it was built on very poor quality plastics, which break with normal use within a few months. Users are horrified to find themselves from computer heaven one day to warranty hell the next. Sony refuses to honor the warranty of its poor plastics, while other extended warranty companies specifically exclude their coverage. So, one can end up with a cracked case 3 months after buying this computer and have no warranty, no recourse, and a $500 expense. It might be useful to find out what is excluded in an extendede warranty. Typically any plastic parts are excluded.

Just make sure you don't ever drop it, the case will break in smithereens. And the top cover scratches very easily, also. I now see that it's not wise to have it in a backpack, just the act of compressing it with books sitting with it on your back may cause to break.

There is a treadeoff between sturdiness and size of course, but Sony has gone way too far on building a flimsy product. It's a shame. The product could be a few ounces heavier and much more durable.

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