The Sony VAIO VGN-N38E/W (£499 inc. VAT) is a large machine aimed at the entry-level market. The look is trim with a white lid and keyboard, while the main body is silver. The casing is made from plastic and while the lid feels robust and solid, the body is slightly less so.
At first glance, the keyboard looks rather small sitting in the centre of the main body, but it's of a standard size. The keys are square and well spaced, but we found they were rather light with a good deal of movement, so not so easy to type on when travelling.
When stationary at a desk, the keys felt far more natural and easy to use. The touchpad and mouse buttons are of a good size and feel solid to the touch when being used.
Perhaps the weakest feature of this machine is the screen. Measuring 15.4 inches, with a Super-TFT coating, which Sony calls X-black, it proved frustratingly dull. When out and about reflections caused problems, which were compounded by a narrow brightness range. This machine is not at its best when being used on the move and we'd suggest opting for the VAIO as a home-based laptop.
Weighing 3kg, this machine isn't designed to be carried around on a daily basis. That said, we found the battery life, under test, of 215 minutes to be acceptable. This was especially true considering the VAIO runs Windows Vista Premium, an OS that is resource-hungry.
When it came to performance, the VAIO took rather a long time to load, partly due to only 1024MB of memory being supplied with the machine. However, once up and running, it ran smoothly and, being powered by a dual-core processor, albeit it the budget Pentium Dual-Core variant, we found it handled tasks with a fair degree of competency.
Extras consist of the standard 802.11g wireless LAN and, while there is the standard Memory Stick slot found on all Sony laptops, Sony has also started including Secure Digital card readers, which means you can add a wider array of peripherals. Sadly, USB is kept to two ports, both of which are located on the right-hand side of the case.
With a view to future-proofing, you'll find a 34mm ExpressCard slot is fitted instead of a PC Card. The N38 may offer nothing exceptional, but you'll find enough connectivity options fitted to use this machine anywhere.
The Sony VAIO VGN-N38E/W offers value for money and while we found it lived up to expectations on the desk, this machine was let down by its mobility, largely due to a poor display.