Sony Vaio UX380 (aka UX280) mini-review

February 25, 2007

Sony UX280 (UX380 cousin)

Sony Vaio UX380 is a close Canadian relative to UX280 from the States. Here is a quick list of impressions I gathered with my week-long tryst with the device. The hardware is top-notch and has many upsides:

  • The unit is amazingly small, almost the size of PSP, with full Intel Core Solo 1.3 GHz processor, 1 Gb of RAM and 40 GB of storage
  • Integrated fast USB port, fast Memory Stick Duo Pro slot and a CF slot (note I didn’t say “fast CF slot”, more on that below)
  • Kickin’ screen, with resolution of 1024×600
  • Runs Vista with support for full eye-candy and Aero, even when hooked up to external 1600×1200 monitor Vista remains snappy
  • As a game test I loaded up World of Warcraft on it (this is the most recent game I have, sorry) and the game run very smooth and it even offered to switch to native resolution in widescreen mode – although I haven’t played it for some time it was very cool to lay on the couch and run through WoW world on a device with PSP form-factor. I could see some people getting really hooked on that!

So what’s wrong with it then? Here’s the downsides, keep in mind that this device is $2500 in Canada (around $2200 USD) – at those prices I tend to be picky about fit-and-finish:

  • Battery lasts about 2.5 hours, not great for a unit meant to be this portable; doing stuff like playing videos or playing WoW will drain the battery even sooner
  • I had the device blue-screen on me 3 times in my first 60 minutes of using it, first when I pressed the Zoom button to zoom the screen, next when I tried to flip the screen into portrait mode and finally while I was playing with the camera; I stopped doing some of those things and the device was mostly solid.
  • Don’t count on the device being there instantly when you’re on the go – for example, if you want to take a quick photo of something it takes about 35 seconds from stand-by until the camera is ready to take a picture. Even if your device is powered on it takes some 15 seconds for the camera app to launch and ready itself. This is pretty normal for a PC, but I was hoping for a little better from such a mobile device. This of course gets even longer if Vista decides to hibernate the device because it spent too long in stand-by.
  • As an alternative, I left the camera app running then put the device to sleep; when I woke it I noticed I couldn’t login with fingerprint reader anymore (typing passwords is a bit of a chore on the small keyboard) – after I was logged in I realized that the camera app was locked solid and Vista gave me a “USB Device” error. The fingerprint reader was completely dead too. I had to restart at that point.
  • UX380 Screen CaptureThe camera app feels very unfinished in many ways: UX has two cameras, front and back, but it seems this fact wasn’t included in the original app design. Every time you launch the camera an ugly gray dialog box is shown on top to help you select the camera.
  • One of the reasons I bought this unit was the CompactFlash slot on the side: it would let me use it as a picture bucket for my real DSLR camera. With both CF and MemoryStick slots this device really gives you options. Unfortunately, CF slot performs at an abysmal 1MB/second transfer speed – hooking up a CF reader to the USB slot will outperform the internal CF slot by a few thousand percent.
  • Even more frustratingly, the CF slot will accept Type II cards and microdrives as it’s wide enough and keyed to allow you to insert such cards. But, the slot has no eject button – it relies on your fingernail to grab the lip of the CF Type I card to pry it out of the slot. I guess Sony forgot that Type II cards do not have that lip, if you insert your microdrive into the slot all the way you will not be able to pull it out unless you have some really thin pliers. Fortunately, I realized this before inserting my microdrive so I pushed it in just enough for pins to make contact yet leave the card sticking out enough for me to grab it. I was able to confirm that UX does indeed “support” microdrives as Vista recognized it.
  • I was able to reassign Zoom buttons on the side of the device to cursor up and down, which are more useful and won’t blue screen the device. Unfortunately, those buttons always make a very loud BEEP when they’re pressed, regardless of the function assigned to them.
  • Which brings me to built-in Vaio Touch Launcher, by default assigned to the bottom left key, next to the screen: I am not sure what tool Sony used to build this app (I’m guessing Director), but you’ll notice that ironically it’s not too sensitive to touch. I often had to click 2, 3 or 4 times on the buttons to register a click. This is a small nit but for some reason it really took away from the initial impressions of the device, contributing to the feeling that I wasn’t in control.

There are other small annoyances which didn’t really bug me, like an audible fan (though it is very quiet), no DVI port on the docking station and the fact that power adapter plugs into the bottom of the unit so if you don’t have your docking station with you the device can’t stand while plugged in.

It may sound that I’m really picky but these were all problems due to the way I wanted to use this device, as a mobile addition to my main computer (a trusty Fujitsu P7120 workhorse, just a tad larger than UX). If you are planning to use this as your main computer, mostly docked, then this device could make you very happy. I am also disappointed by the lack of testing Sony did with their Vista drivers – obviously there are serious compatibility problems with Intel’s video drivers and Sony’s camera drivers. Some report having no problems with Vista but that is the whole point of testing  – bugs like these don’t affect everyone, but those affected have just spent $2500 on a device that blue screens. I demand better in this age of Vista and integrated cameras – if you can’t make them work reliably then just leave them out.


8 Responses to “Sony Vaio UX380 (aka UX280) mini-review”

  1. Chicago User Says:

    Ahem. One look at Sony’s website, and you find that Sony has already posted updated drivers and software fix for the blue screen problems noted in the review. Given that the device has been out for barely a month and that Vista wasn’t out until this device was, that’s pretty good response by Sony. See, go to customer support section and you will find your way to the update, along with instructions on how to download and install. I would guess that Sony has probably already started shipping models with the updated driver installed. Re battery life, 2 1/2 hours is pretty good given the small size, but the extended battery barely weighs more in the device and barely increases size (actually helps because it provides a nice holding handle), and is said to go over 4 hours in hard use (reviews are out there verifying). Reviewer is pretty accurate otherwise on this device. Model UX390 is same but with 32gb solid state flash drive as its hard drive. Smaller storage, but more reliable, faster access, and uses less battery (but not much less). Con is it’s 500 bucks more than this model. I would guess price drops are in the works for Sony once the OQO +02 hits market and starts delivering (Sony has already dropped prices 50 bucks on both the UX380 and UX390 models in the past week alone). What Sony really needs to do is dump the pokey Cingular Edge and replace with Cingular’s new hsdpa broadband (called Broadband Connect, but actually true European style 3G that works in US, too), which is faster than EV-DO by Sprint and Verizon. Two other manufacturers have already figured this out in the umpc category, but their devices are not as small or sleek as this. Even Sony seems to have realized that Cingular Edge stinks in today’s world, as their new line of subnotebooks — the TX — use Sprint EV-DO Rev. A, rather than Cingular Edge. Samsung is rumored to be coming out with a 64gb solid state hard drive version of the Q1. If Sony could make those improvements — 64gb solid state hard drive and Cinguler hsdpa instead of Edge — they would have a hot machine and could get away with charging 1949 and 2449 retail. People would pay without reservation. Key to this over OQO is the faster chip — makes a difference in real world with Vista — and integrated webcam.

  2. slavior Says:

    Thanks for your comments – it does seem that Sony is making the right moves. In my case $2500 was a lot of money to spend and hope that “Sony will fix it eventually”. I’m really curious about what’s coming from Sony soon!

  3. Simon Purvis Says:

    Hi there,
    So is a UK Vodafone SIM unable to work in the ux380? I have ne and have unlocked the modual, the ux see’s my vodafone network, but i am unable to connect?
    Anyone with any answers? pleeeeease


  4. Rwanda Says:

    Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Rwanda.

  5. Brian Says:

    I thought that both the review here And the first reply to it is awesome. I have a ux380n Vaio, I’m typing on it right now. Anyway, I love my ux380n, and have no complaints at all about it but the battery life. I can live with that though, and I highly recommend this little computer gem, the Sony Vaio UX380N. Thanks

  6. Dave Says:

    I stumbled across this blog post looking for information on playing World of Warcraft on the Sony Vaio UX380 (actually the 490) and wondered if you’re still using the device. I saw that you loaded up WoW and played around, but was it just a novelty or did it turn out to be useful/fun long term?

  7. slavior Says:

    WoW didn’t really last long, but maybe I wasn’t patient enough. I think it all depends on how you play the game but I get used to all the keyboard shortcuts which are not easy to pull off on the UX.

  8. William Zwicky Says:

    The trick to the CF slot is to stick a post-it to the front or back of the CF card, and fold the loose end around the card. When you need to remove the card, you can flip out the loose end of the post-it, and pull to remove the card.

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