Sony Enters Netbook Market with Vaio W-Series

Sony's entry into the crowded netbook market finds itself competing with well-established brands such as Acer, Asus and Lenovo. Can a high-resolution display and the Sony brand name make its Vaio W-Series of "mini-notebooks" an able competitor?

Electronics giant Sony belatedly enters the crowded netbook market with the announcement of its Viao W-series "mini notebook," which goes on sale in Japan and parts of Europe in mid-August. The 10.1-inch-screen device is also available for pre-order via the company's Sony Style Website. The netbook is offered for 60,000 yen (approximately $629).

The Vaio W-series comes in a choice of three colors (sugar white, berry pink and cocoa brown) and with a high resolution (1366 x 768), 16:9 widescreen display. The W-Series is powered by a 1.66Ghz Intel Atom processor and runs Windows XP Home edition. Other features include 1GB of memory and a 160GB ATA Serial hard disk drive. The netbook also includes two USB ports, VGA out, an Ethernet port and multimedia slots for SD memory and Memory Stick Duo.

Sony is also touting the netbook's "green" features, including Energy Star certification, a mercury-free backlit LCD display, and halogen free flame retardants on all coverings, housings and plastic parts, as well as the motherboard. Recycled paper or certified paper is used for product packaging and extended user documentation is provided electronically on the hard disk drive to reduce paper use.

The company enters an increasingly competitive netbook market fueled by new models from companies such as Acer, Asus, HP and Lenovo, whose products retail for less than $500. While Sony does offer features such as an embedded Web camera and a higher-resolution display (most netbooks have 1,024-by-600-pixel displays, versus the Vaio W's 1366 x 768 pixel display), well-established brands, particularly Acer (with its Aspire line) and Asus (the hit Eee PC family), may prove tough competition for Sony's offering.

Netbooks are also gaining market share in the business world, where cost-conscious companies and small businesses are turning to less expensive, more portable mini notebooks to stretch IT budgets without sacrificing power or productivity. Research firm IDC, which tracks global PC market trends, released a report in June which predicted netbook shipments would slow later this year, though netbooks sold a combined 5.7 million units in the first quarter of 2009. The shipment of the netbook/mini-notebook PCs was valued at $2.2 billion, and IDC predicted mini-notebooks would grow to 9.5 percent of the total PC shipment market this year.

Research firm Gartner was also cautiously optimistic about the future expansion of the netbook market in a June 2009 report: While the company noted the netbook segment posted its first quarter-over-quarter decline in first-quarter 2009, it also reported the netbook market is cushioning a harder-hit PC market, and units remain on track to reach 21 million this year and 30 million next year.