Pretty much since the mouse and keyboard were put into mainstream use people have been looking for alternative ways for input that would be more flexible, efficient or fun. As of yet they’ve all pretty much failed (head tracker anyone?) but perhaps the latest idea will slowly start to slip into general use, the touchscreen interface – and here it is implemented in the Sony Vaio L Series.
Now they have been around for quite a while, but as we look at the Sony Vaio L series we’ll not only look at the machine by itself but also at the use of the touchscreen and how practical it actually is.
But firstly: the Vaio L Series. It works on the same principle as the Apple iMac in the way that it’s an ‘all in one’ PC, with a 24” screen surrounded by a glossy black frame which has an integrated ‘U’ shaped bottom and stand on the back both of which come in the standard silver colour that you can expect to see along with anything black!
It’s a pretty sleek design which is helped by the fact that it’s pretty thin meaning it can easily sit at the back of the desk and not get in the way of anything, and the ‘U’ shaped stand is specifically designed so you can house the keyboard and mouse underneath it when not in use — in fact the keyboard nicely hooks onto the back so you can still type the odd word easily even when it’s tucked away!
Whilst we’re on the subject of the mouse and keyboard it’s worth pointing out that the two supplied with the PC were both very good. The wireless worked out the box (and even if it didn’t it looked incredibly easy to set up), the keyboard was very nice to type on and whilst the mouse was a little oversensitive and small it definitely looked nice! In fact it came with two mice, but I have no idea why the second one was there as the first one was more than fit for purpose.
Moving onto the inside of the PC and it’s a fairly impressive set up: It has an Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 processor at 3GHz, 4GB RAM and a 500GB HDD, supplemented by an Nvidia GeForce G210M GPU. It also has a TV card (not all that surprising as it is, at its heart, a multimedia PC), HDMI in and (depending on the model) a Blu-Ray disk drive.
All of this is pretty neat, and combines to make a great media PC which really does make the best out of Windows 7 — I personally think the biggest step forward from Vista shows through when using it in a multimedia context!
But the real highlight of the Sony Vaio L Series is its ‘multi-touch touchscreen’ which pretty much does exactly what it says on the tin: allowing you to add that extra dimension to your PC experience by dragging things around, quickly opening up windows, scrolling through text and internet pages with ease and generally having a happier and more productive time. At least that’s the theory.
Unfortunately the reality isn’t quite like that, as there are a few flaws that really mean the touchscreen experience isn’t all that it promises to be. It turns out that it is in fact incredibly difficult to press the exact part of the screen that you wish to (especially ‘close’ buttons on web browsers which are infuriatingly small relative to the size of your finger) especially if you aren’t sitting at exactly 90 degrees to the screen as you start to suffer from parallax errors.
Also the fact that you now no longer have a keyboard in your hand automatically means it does in fact take longer to do certain tasks (such as ‘alt tabbing’ which if you use PCs enough can become almost second nature) and you eventually get tired arms and just go back to the mouse and keyboard. Also selecting text or multiple documents (as there’s no Ctrl button on your fingers) isn’t really worth trying as it just takes too long and invariably messes up as you get to the last one.
However perhaps the most redundant feature is the fact that you can use multi-touch which, with the exception of the programmes that are there specifically to show off its possibilities, I didn’t use once in the week I was testing it. This technology was really made popular on the iPhone where the fact you could easily zoom in and out of pages, and play two player games, was a real plus — but you really don’t need to be zooming in and out on a 24” HD screen (especially when you aren’t sitting more than an arm’s length away) and your arms get tired after about 60 seconds of Pong anyway! Perhaps touchscreen technology will work better on handheld tablet devices such as the Apple iPad?
That’s not to say there are no benefits at all: it is a lot more natural and enjoyable (although no more quicker) to scroll by stroking the screen, and the programmes put there to use were quite fun; the best one was by far the ‘Google Earth-esque’ world map which you could move around on, zoom in and out of, and rotate using the screen. This was incredibly fun and addictive — I’ve never spent so long looking at maps — but ultimately there wasn’t much practical use to it!
So maybe touchscreen PC’s aren’t the way forward, and perhaps the ease and practically of them is a little overhyped, but putting that aside the Sony Vaio L Series is still a great PC. If you have the money to spend on a multimedia PC (the top-of-the-range Blu-Ray inclusive model sells at £1,400 whilst the slightly cut down version is £1,000) and you want quality along with a bit of flair to show off then this is definitely for you.
This is the sort of thing that futurologists were predicting a few years back, right down to the glossy colours and stylish design, and really Sony haven’t disappointed, definitely have a play with one and see what you think if you’re at all interested in this kind of technology!