Vaio UX180P: Gripes and grievances

Since the day my UX180P moved in, I’ve spent a pretty indecent amount of time exploring its features and hardware components. To say that I’m obsessed with the device is certainly an understatement (check the reviews listed in the sidebar for proof). While I haven’t devoted even a nanosecond to regretting my purchase, the past 10 weeks haven’t all been hearts and flowers and rainbows. That is, I’m not so blinded by love that I can’t see its flaws. In fact, I’ve even compiled a little list of them.

Taking my cue from jkOnTheRun and in no particular order, here’s all the stuff that bugs me about the otherwise lovely UX180P. Oh, and just so you know, the unit’s specs don’t bother me. A lot of people complain about them, but I don’t understand why. Who buys a computer without already knowing the details of its HDD, RAM, and processor?

Out-of-box storage capacity. Because of the hidden partition and all the preinstalled software, only 14.4GB of the 30GB hard drive is accessible when you first turn on the computer. Less than half of what it’s supposed to be?! People who don’t know about this beforehand will obviously think they received a defective unit, which instantly sours all of the unboxing excitement.

PlusSoft PenPlus for VAIO. To justify the inclusion of a touch screen without Windows Tablet PC Edition, Sony preinstalls a couple of applications that can make use of it (e.g., Touch Command, touch panel, etc.). The most Tablet-like program on the system is PenPlus, which—to put it mildly—absolutely sucks. It’s worthless. And my software standards are incredibly low; I mean, I think Microsoft Paint is great. PenPlus is little more than an on-screen doodling app, and who needs that?

SIM card slot. I like the addition of the EDGE/GPRS radio and SIM card slot (did it really need to be screwed in, though?); however, Sony shouldn’t have traded them for the CF slot built into the UX50 and UX90 models. Compact flash cards aren’t particularly useful, I know, but it’s never a good idea to get rid of an expansion option. Plus, given the recurring costs, I think more people would make use of a CF slot than of WWAN.

Windows XP Professional. I’m sure Sony had perfectly sound reasons for not licensing Tablet PC from Microsoft, but I can’t think of any of them. Even though an active digitizer (versus passive) touch screen is better for tablet functionality and handwriting applications work just fine with XP Pro (I have EverNote Plus), I still think Tablet PC makes more sense.

Battery life. I think my multipart battery reviews exhausted this subject. The extended battery, which I’ll be testing in the next few weeks, should yield much more satisfying results, but the standard capacity battery that ships with the UX is definitely disappointing.

Integrated USB 2.0 port. One measly port? That’s it? The included port replicator is equipped with three additional USB 2.0 ports, I know, but having to carry the replicator (or even a small USB hub)  everywhere defeats the purpose of the micro PC’s existence. It would be like saying the UX is an absolutely perfect computer…once you connect an external monitor, keyboard, optical drive, printer and external hard drive to it.

Exposed MS Duo slot. I don’t know of many gadgets that feature a door to protect an expansion card slot, but I wish the UX had one. Considering that the UX was designed with mobility in mind, some sort of hinged cover to prevent dust and outdoor debris from getting inside the slot would’ve been nice. I don’t suppose that a computer appreciates even a light drizzle.

Pointer caps. The little square caps for the pointing device are made of some kind of fabric-like material that gets dirty easily. I don’t pick up the UX after making mud pies outside or mixing chocolate by hand, but my cap isn’t as clean as it used to be. Sony does throw in a few spare caps, but they’re not any more resistant to invisible thumb filth than the included one. Plastic or rubber that can be wiped clean would’ve been a better option. Making the caps removable and washable would’ve also worked.

Keyboard. The keyboard and I are working through our love-hate relationship. So much about it is great (design, backlight, size, key spacing, StickyKeys, etc.), but it’s still not the most ergonomic set of keys I’ve ever met. The problem is actually with the rounded hand grips on the back of the UX, which make holding the device and using the pointer/mouse buttons quite comfy, but typing quite the opposite. To overcome the "bulge" of the grips, I need to stretch my thumbs to the point where they actually get a bit sore.

Most of the issues have simple solutions and workarounds (e.g., delete PenPlus), which is why I still think the UX180P is a fantastic little machine. It amazes me every time I look at it, pick it up, and/or turn it on. It’s been my primary computer for about a month now, and it will stay that way for a long time. Even after I get a UMPC (I still want a Samsung Q1), I’ll continue to use the UX every day.

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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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