Review: Vaio UX180P screen

This is the first of what will eventually become a series of feature-specific reviews of the Sony Vaio UX180P Micro PC.

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One of the first things you notice about the UX180P is its 4.5-inch wide SVGA touch screen.

Size
The screen is smaller than just about everything else in its UMPC/micro PC/handtop/small form factor PC (an umbrella name is sorely needed here) class, but that’s because the unit itself is smaller than just about everything else. Basically, it stacks up like this: 4.5 inches is bigger than the screen on most portable video and digital audio players (2.5" on the iPod and ZVM, 4" on Archos AV500), handheld gaming systems (4.3" on the PSP, 3" on the NDS, 2.9" on the GBA), and smartphones (2.4" on Motorola Q); smaller than the screen on most portable DVD players and all laptops; and about on par with the screen on Pocket PCs and other PDAs.

The bottom line is that the UX is not designed for consumers who value screen size over ultimate portability, and everyone’s perception of "how big is big enough" is subjective depending on eyesight, preference, and use.

Brightness
Screen

The display features XBRITE LCD technology, and it is literally extra bright and really quite stunning. I’ve read a lot of complaints about the screen’s size, but none about its appearance.

Screen brightness can be adjusted (using the touch panel) in eight noticeably different increments, from very dim and unreadable in low-light situations

Lowest_setting

to blindingly bright. Maybe my eyes are abnormally sensitive, but I squint and look away a bit when the screen is like this.

Highest_setting

I keep mine on the middle setting for the best compromise between a nice, bright screen and decent battery life.

Mid_setting

(In person, it doesn’t look as identical to the brightest setting shown above. I think my camera was compensating for the poor lighting conditions.)

Readability
With a native resolution of 1024 x 600, video and images are gorgeous. But on a screen of this size, don’t expect to be able to comfortably read text beyond a standard PDA-usage or paperback-reading distance (about 8 to 14 inches). If you want to use the UX as a desktop (docked and connected to a full keyboard and mouse), hook it up to an external monitor through the included port replicator or travel display/LAN adapter.

To improve readability for extended periods of time or when the UX is docked, there are better options than switching the resolution (you lose clarity this way) or using the built-in zoom utility (since it’s pretty ineffective, I reconfigured it to launch programs instead). One of the easiest solutions is to increase the font and icon size in "Display Properties" (accessible by right-clicking the desktop or navigating through the control panel). To increase font size, click on the "Appearance" tab and select an option from the drop-down menu beneath "Font size." To increase icon size, click on "Effects" and check "Use large icons."

Another (more effective) alternative is to adjust the DPI settings (Display Properties –> Settings –> Advanced –> General).

The normal size is 96 DPI:

96_dpi

But I bump mine up to 120 DPI:

120_dpi

There’s also a custom setting that will let you rescale up to 500% (for screens that cover the side of a building apparently). The 120 DPI setting I use is lovely for my eyes and thus extends the amount of time I can comfortably and enjoyably look at the screen when it’s in a docked position (my eyes don’t really get tired from reading text at a normal PDA distance). The increased DPI may cause a few programs to fall off the screen a bit, but everything else on my system looks great.

Navigating through Windows, clicking icons, and launching applications is easier with this setting if you rely heavily on the pointing device and mouse buttons. Even if you already make full use of the biometric fingerprint scanner (using your fingerprints for launching rather than swiping passwords), reconfigured your buttons, and activated the "Easy Launcher," the increased DPI is still a welcomed enhancement.

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Jenn K. Lee

Jenn K. Lee is the founder of Pocketables. She loves gadgets the way most women love shoes and purses. The pieces in her tech wardrobe that go with everything are currently the Samsung Galaxy Note II, Sony Tablet P, and Nexus 7, but there are still a couple of vintage UMPCs/MIDs in the back of her closet.

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