A few weeks ago, I told you I would be updating you on some of the stellar designs Sony is bringing to market, and the Sony X505 is the flagship of the new line.
With impressive looks, this product has a graphite version that is just stunning. But there are shortcomings. The keyboard is different enough to require some training before you get comfortable with it, it doesnt have a modem, it doesnt have built-in Wi-Fi, and it requires a dongle to connect to a Category 5 Ethernet cable.
It also has one big problem: It costs about $3,000 for the basic model and about $4,000 for the slightly lighter graphite model, making this a very exclusive product.
Check out PC Magazines slideshow on the Sony X505.
Sharp recently released its new MM20m, which is similar in size, weight and battery life. It does have a built-in modem, which requires a dongle, Ethernet, which doesnt, and built-in 802.11b/g Wi-Fi.
It doesnt look quite as sexy as the Sony graphite X505, but it costs about $1,500. Thats $2,500 less, and there is a lot I can do with $2,500. The nongraphite Sony and Sharp actually look rather similar.
Dont get me wrong, if I were Donald Trump and wanted the sexiest notebook on the market, Id pick the graphite Sony. But Im not, which had me leaning the other way.
Both products have 1GHz processor; the Sony with Intel Corp.s Pentium M and the Sharp with Transmeta Corp.s Efficeon. Both seem to have more than adequate performance for word processing, business graphics and for viewing pictures and videos.
Both products have very nice, 10.4-inch screens, and both products have small, 20GB hard drives.
Both products also have 512MB of memory, and as we have learned, Microsoft Corp.s Windows XP likes memory, which is part of the reason both products seem to be more than adequate in terms of performance.
Some of the Sonys unique aspects are an included optical mouse with a memory stick reader, which is also gorgeous, a mini-1394 port, 64MB of video memory on an Intel Extreme Graphics video subsystem, and a Wi-Fi PCMCIA card.
On the Sharp, there is a mobile switch that puts the system in ultralow power mode—slowing the processor and dimming the screen to extend battery life—16 MB of video memory on an ATI mobile video subsystem, and a PC dock.
This last is one of the most important peripherals I have seen—and one that I think every notebook in this ultralight class should have.
This docking station allows the laptop, with the included software from Sharp, to sync with a desktop computer. This allows the laptop to perform as PC peripheral, and you can use a desktop computer for its performance and the ultralight for its portability.
You arent tied to a notebook-only experience, which doesnt give you the performance or expandability you might want on the desktop and may force you to carry a larger laptop than you need to get moderate desktop performance.
The pleasure of being able to put this inside a portfolio and not having to carry a laptop bag is one that Im sure many would like, and Im going to hate sending this back when Im done with it.
Be aware that you get a little better than 1.5 hours of battery life out of both products with the standard battery.
You get about three hours with the Sony and four with the Sharp on extended batteries (if the low-power switch is used, these times are significantly lengthened). The extended batteries are a good addition to both products.
Both Sharp and Sony have traditionally built high-quality products, and both products are impressive.
But with the price advantage and the syncing cradle, the Sharps usability and value trump the Sonys stunning looks. Surprisingly, this makes the Sharp MM20 the better product, which is good given that most of us cant afford the Sony anyway.
Rob Enderle is the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a company specializing in emerging personal technology. Full disclosure: One of Enderles clients is Microsoft as well as Advanced Micro Devices, Dell, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Transmeta, VIA and Vulcan. In addition, Enderle sits on advisory councils for AMD, ClearCube, Comdex, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, Microsoft and TCG.