Take Note of Sony's Little Vaio Y

NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- Call it the smartphone effect for the business PC.

It's no secret that it is darn tough for something as mundane as a small notebook computer to fetch any sort of media love in the age of the Apple ( AAPL) iPhone, the Motorola ( MOT) Droid and the BlackBerry ( RIMM) Bold. After all, who could possibly care about a merely small computer when there is an avalanche of computerlike smartphones that are downright itty-bitty?
It's tough for a small notebook computer to get attention now, but Sony's Vaio Y deserves some.

So it's easy for businesses to overlook the value in smaller notebook computers in these mobile-phone focused days. That's too bad, because without much fanfare some terrific value has crept into smaller PCs as makers of these boxes attempt to keep them relevant.

One of the more interesting of these sleeper mobile business PCs is the Sony ( SNE) Vaio Y series notebook PC (prices start at $500). A Y showed up in the shop unannounced about a month ago. (That's what happens; people just mail them to me.) And I must say, though initially I was dubious -- and certainly there are some significant limitations -- overall I found real value in this box for businesses.

What you get
For $500 you get a darn nice fully functional, portable work computer.

Right away it's clear Sony has been beavering away at the Vaio thing for a goodly period. There is an overall sense of quality and solid fit and finish in this unit. The Y is is done in a mix of metal and impact plastic. It comes in three colors: black, pink and silver. Its 11.6-inch screen fits inside its overall 14-inch diagonal case. The keyboard is reasonably full-sized. There are enough connectors for business use, including three USB plugs, a display output and an HDMI connector. I also liked the SD card slot, 320 GB of hard drive and a surprisingly beefy AMD dual core processor that handles works apps such as Microsoft ( MSFT) Office and Web-based Google ( GOOG) Apps with ease. It has a reasonable half-business day of battery life. And while it is far from the lightest and smallest on the market, it is a perfectly reasonable 3.5 or so pounds and roughly 1 inch thick.

Considering that many so-called work PCs are chunkier, pricier and just plain more complex, Sony deserves credit for jamming a lot of value into what is really nothing more than a souped-up netbook.

What you don't get
By no means is this the lightest, cheapest or most elegant solution in this category.

The Vaio is a balance of solid features for getting work done. But to achieve that balance the thing gives up several important features: First of all, it is miles from the sveltest of ultralights. Two pounds is about average these days for computers this small, so you're adding some bulk here for the full mix of features at this price. Speaking of which, if cost is your singular need, you should know that $500 is real money. Now solid PCs run below $300, though they are bigger and not as well made as this Vaio.

Plus there are some annoying rough edges. Sony has installed PC management software that is so hard to use that it should simply be uninstalled. And I found the camera low quality and the keyboard not as well laid out as it should be.

Bottom line
If you are looking for a reasonably priced business PC, the Sony Vaio Y offers some real value. It is well built, light and flexible. And while purists may scoff, there is a solid utility to this computer that business PC users will immediately understand.

This Vaio Y is far from perfect, but it is perfectly ready to handle the average workload of the average on-the-go worker.

The Vaio is a nice little box.

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This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.

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