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March 17, 2007

Sony VAIO TX series – laptops with battery life

Ads for laptop computers always seem to show smiling people sitting on the grass pecking away on their machines. As enticing as that is , my experience has been that most folks (including me) really treat laptops as portable PCs with the machines merely being easy to carry from one wall outlet to another. Therefore, I was interested to see Sony roll out the VAIO TX series ultraportables which actually have enough battery life to make true mobile laptop use a possibility. As is usual, there are a plethora of model numbers in the TX series, but here are some excerpts from CNET’s review of the Sony VAIO TXN17P/B:

The Sony VAIO TXN17′s biggest plus is its battery life. In our battery-drain test, we got 4 hours and 54 minutes from the system–making this one of the longest-lasting laptops we’ve seen. When we tested the previous model, the TXN15, last year, we got around 9 hours of battery life from it, but that was with an older, less taxing test. The included battery does stick out slightly from the back of the system, but it’s a fair trade-off for the extended running time. Working on tasks less battery intensive than playing a DVD will yield even more uptime, making this a great system for long plane trips or all-day on-the-road use.

(The CNET TXN15P/B review mentioned is here.) No matter how you measure it, it still seems pretty good for a laptop with a Intel Core Solo U1400 / 1.2 GHz processor, 2GB of memory, and a 80GB hard disk. These systems are clearly targeted at business with Windows Vista Business Edition installed and Sprint WWAN access (for the Sprint Mobile Broadband service) built in.

However, there being no such thing as free lunch, you have to pay a price for a 2.9 lbs laptop with good battery life and that is that the screen and keyboard are small:

Measuring 10.8 inches wide, 8 inches deep, and 1.2 inches high, the TXN17 is among the smallest ultraportables we’ve seen. It’s tiny enough to carry around without much hassle, but the small screen and the cramped keyboard will be uncomfortable for extended use. The Sony VAIO TXN17 weighs 2.9 pounds (3.6 pounds with the AC adapter), which is extremely light when you consider the system has a built-in optical drive, something many smaller laptops omit to save on weight and bulk. The Asus S6F features a similar footprint and an optical drive but is noticeably thicker.

The tradeoff with using an ultraportable laptop is the miniaturized keyboard, and the VAIO TXN17 is no exception. The flat-topped keys are an acquired taste, similar to those on a MacBook, and those without nimble fingers will find themselves hitting the backspace key often. The touch pad, by comparison, is plenty ample for every day use, and the media control buttons built into the hinge are accessible, even when the lid is closed.

The 11.1-inch screen has a native resolution of 1,366×768, which translates into small text and images when Web surfing, but not more so than other ultraportable systems. The display is nice and bright, thanks to new LED backlight technology, and displays video and image files nicely.

Finally, there is one other price to pay in that the models in the TX series are rather expensive with the TXN17P/B reviewed above currently running around $2450 at most retailers, although I see there there is a a retailer selling through Amazon that currently has it a couple of hundred bucks cheaper. One reason for that may be that the TXN27 models are now available with a U1500 1.33GHz processor and 100 GB hard drive, although they seem to be selling on Amazon, at least, for the manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $2700. As always, you may find a better deal at your favorite on or offline emporium.

Posted at 12:38 pm. Filed under Companies, EV-DO, Laptop, Mobile Phones, Notebook, Sony

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August 9, 2006

Sprint picks WiMax

Earlier in the year we covered Sprint Nextel’s push (in the USA) to take on the telco DSL providers with high speed wireless starting with EV-DO, but that was always just the first step. Now Sprint Nextel, not satisfied with just 3G (third-generation) mobile data, will roll out a faster 4G network using WiMax later this year:

The network, which will start to be rolled out by the fourth quarter and reach as many as 100 million people around the U.S. by the end of next year, will offer downstream speeds of 2Mbps to 4Mbps, Sprint said Tuesday. Combined with fast uplinks, WiMax will offer enough bandwidth for mobile videoconferencing, transfers of large enterprise files and other applications, executives said.

Partners Intel, Motorola, and Samsung Electronics plan to help by equipping notebook PCs and a variety of mobile devices to use the 4G network.

Sprint Nextel is the third-largest U.S. mobile operator. Its choice of WiMax is the first endorsement of the metropolitan-area wireless data system by a major U.S. carrier. Sprint holds licenses around the country for radio spectrum in the 2.5GHz band and had considered other 4G technologies. The carrier said it chose WiMax because it believes it could build an ecosystem of equipment makers around the technology, which is based on the IEEE 802.16e standard.

The 4G service will complement Sprint Nextel’s 3G EV-DO (Evolution-Data Optimized) services, executives said at a New York press conference, monitored via webcast. The carrier is already offering video, music and other multimedia services on 3G, but that technology doesn’t deliver the economics Sprint needs, said Barry West, Sprint chief technology officer and president of Sprint’s newly formed 4G business unit. The WiMax network can deliver four times the throughput at one-tenth the cost of 3G, he said.

Pricing of 4G services will easily meet Sprint Nextel’s frequently stated goal of offering customers 1GB of data per month for less than US$20, West said. “We are significantly south of that,” he said.

The speed is great, but $20 per GB seems a bit pricey to me. Maybe that’s just the first GB and subsequent ones are much cheaper? They’re competing with fixed price “all you can eat” services like DSL to fixed locations or mobile services like their own EV-DO offering and can only charge so much for speed before customers will choose the lower speed option as “good enough.” And yes, prices will undoubtedly drop with time.

Posted at 9:32 am. Filed under Companies, EV-DO, Intel, Mobile Phones, Motorola, Samsung, Sprint, WiMax

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April 6, 2006

Sprint to take on DSL providers with EV-DO?

Marguerite Reardon at ZDNet:

Sprint Nextel is preparing to take on the big phone companies in the broadband market.

The assault on DSL is coming quietly, but recent announcements and development in Sprint’s technology indicate that the company believes it can be the third pipe into the home–a pipe that would challenge the phone companies’ DSL service and perhaps would rival even faster-than-DSL cable-modem service.

On Tuesday, Linksys, a division of Cisco Systems, announced the Wireless-G Router for Mobile Broadband (WRT54G3G-NA), which allows Sprint mobile broadband customers to plug their broadband card, used to connect their laptops wirelessly, into the PC Card slot on the router. The EV-DO mobile broadband connection is then turned into a shared 802.11g Wi-Fi connection. The companies are showing off the new router at the CTIA Wireless 2006 trade show here this week.

Initially, Sprint and Linksys are marketing the product to businesses that require network connections in areas where wired broadband access is not readily accessible, such as construction sites, special events, offsite consulting, and at events focused on public safety. But Sprint admits the product may appeal to consumers and could be viewed as a harbinger for much larger ambitions, especially as the mobile operator deploys a faster version of its wireless broadband called EV-DO Revision A, which will be available in early 2007.

Ah, but the data rate and price are the deal makers or killers for home or regular office use. See this PC Magazine EV-DO review:

Sprint’s prices have come down, too. The company charges existing voice subscribers a maximum of $59.99 a month; data-only customers pay up to $79.99 for unlimited use. That’s the same as Verizon’s price, and at press time, Sprint was giving away free PC Cards with a two-year signup. Sprint also sells a 40MB bucket plan for $40 per month that scales up to a maximum of $79.99 per month as you use more data.

The price isn’t out of whack although obviously more attractive for current Sprint mobile subscribers. The free PC Card offer is here.

In recent tests in Washington, Baltimore, and New York using the Novatel S620 PC Card Novatel S620 PC Card, Sprint’s network blazed. We got average downlink speeds of 821 Kbps over 26 file transfers, with one test peaking at 1.14 Mbps. Upload speeds averaged 136 Kbps. That’s in line with our earlier August results in Hartford, Connecticut, and Newark, New Jersey, where we got an average of 772 Kbps downlink and 134 Kbps up.

And back to the ZDNet article:

Today, average EV-DO speeds are slightly slower than the lowest tiers of DSL broadband service. EV-DO Revision Zero, the current version of technology, provides downloads between 400 kilobits per second and 700kbps with upload speeds of about 50kbps to 70kbps. The new version of the technology, EV-DO Revision A, is likely to offer average speeds between 450kbps to 800kbps for downloads and 70kbps to 144kbps for uploads. These speeds are comparable to Verizon’s lowest-speed DSL option, which offers 769kbps downloads and 128kbps uploads.

It looks like the PC Magazine tests are beating the nominal rates, but still it’s just OK compared to DSL. Another big consideration is coverage – the speed will be real slow outside Sprint’s coverage area. Sprint’s coverage maps are here. But that raises another point – how sensitive is this router to placement inside a house? It’s not like a mobile phone or even a laptop that can be expected to be moved around. Since the router is completely wireless, it can go anywhere there is a power plug, but somehow I envision a customer wandering around trying to balance Wi-Fi and EV-DO reception, presuming there is good EV-DO reception anywhere inside a particular structure. I doubt it is hardened enough to go in the average residential attic and certainly not outdoors.

It’s too early for any real tire-kicking reports on the WRT54G3G-NA (although there are some for its cousins for other types of wireless networks outside the USA), but I’d suggest waiting unless you can’t get a DSL or cable broadband connection and basically have nothing to lose. There’s hope for the future though – again from the ZDNet article:

But EV-DO is only the beginning for Sprint in the mobile broadband arena. The company is looking to its large holding in the 2.5GHz frequency band to provide new 4G wireless services. Sprint is still testing several technologies, but a front runner in the race is WiMax, which supports peak data download speeds of about 20 megabits per second, with average user data rates between 1mbps and 4mbps. The company will start offering 4G wireless services sometime in 2009, Tishgart said.

Now they’re talking!

Update 4/13: A press release for the WRT54G3G-NA finally showed up on the Linksys web site with more details including availability:

The Linksys Wireless-G Router for Mobile Broadband (WRT54G3G) is scheduled to be available this summer through distribution channels and select mobile broadband providers in North America for an estimated street price of $199. A Mobile Broadband connection PC card and mobile broadband service is sold separately.

Posted at 7:05 pm. Filed under Companies, EV-DO, Linksys, Mobile Phones, Sprint, Wi-Fi, WiMax

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