This post is part of program called “Charged and Ready” by Sony Electronics and Microsoft, where a group of college bloggers have been given a Sony VAIO-S series laptop to test and review.

A couple of weeks ago, I received in the mail (after much turmoil which I won’t get into now) a brand new Sony Vaio-S series demo unit with an impressive sheet battery add on. Having spent a few days putting it through its paces, I have to say that it would make an excellent laptop for a rising college student.

My 13 inch model has some dashing good looks on the outside, with fewunnecessary lines or patterns adorning the back of the lid, a huge pet peeve of mine. The screen boasts an excellent 1600×900 resolution, though it feels unnervingly flimsy when adjusting its position. The keyboard sports very comfortable chicklet keys that reward you with a satisfying pop with each stroke. It’s very much like an Apple laptop keyboard with louder clicking, and that’s a good thing. The trackpad is decent compared to most Windows laptops, but the mouse buttons are a little stiff for my liking. Resting between the buttons is a biometric scanner that you can use to add an extra layer of security when logging into the machine or your favorite websites.

The Intel  i5 Sandy Bridge processor makes me shed a tear for my two year old Mac, and it consistently encoded video using Handbrake 50% faster than my MacBook Pro with 2.66 GHz Core 2 Duo. Combined with the AMD Radeon HD 6570M or 6630M, the Vaio should be more than adequate for most gaming, as well as any graphics and video work you need to do for class.

As with any Sony laptop, you’ll be blasted with crapware from the first time you boot up unless you order it with the free (how generous of them) “Fresh Start” option, though you can get it bundled for free with the ad-supported Microsoft Office Starter Edition, as well as Adobe Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements, which is a very nice touch.

You can pick up the extended life sheet battery for a reasonable $75 if you purchase before July 17, or $150 if you miss out. It sits fairly flush along the bottom of the machine, adding considerable, though not unbearable thickness and heft to the package. Luckily, you can charge the sheet battery independently of the laptop if you wish, so you only have to pop it on when your main battery is about to run out of juice.

Not sure this was quite accurate.Sony claims you can squeeze 15 hours out of the Vaio with the sheet battery, and while it’s been impressive for me, that might be a bit of an exageration. A hardware switch above the keyboard lets you switch the machine to “stamina” mode, which seems to cut down on the juice the graphics card is allowed to draw. With stamina mode enabled and Windows 7′s translucent window effects turned off, one could absolutely get over ten hours of regular use (a few applications open, browser with several tabs running, a few YouTube videos), which is basically enough to get you through the day.

I put the Vaio through its paces here at the Imagine Cup, taking it off the charger at 8:30 in the morning and using it all day. Even with my iPhone consistently drawing power over USB, the Vaio got me through three presentations, a few frantic writing sessions, some random browsing, and even a little light photo editing. This despite the fact that I accidentally had that aforementioned hardware switch set on “Speed” for most of the day.

Without the sheet battery, the Vaio S Series is extremely portable and ideal for taking from class to class. With the sheet battery, you could easily get through an entire day of classes, watching videos or playing games instead of taking notes, and still probably have some juice leftover when you go to bed. You really can’t say that about most laptops these days, and it’s a great selling point for rising college students choosing their laptop.

My demo unit runs somewhere in the neighborhood of $1400, but a stripped down model can be had for as little as $900. This is definitely in the higher end of Windows laptops, but it’s squarely in the neighborhood of Apple MacBooks and MacBook Pros. So if you’re willing to pay for a premium laptop, and you prefer Windows 7 to Mac OS X, I would definitely recommend the Sony Vaio S Series.

UPDATE: Microsoft is giving away one of these machines on their blog. Check it out for more details.