Windows 8 isn’t all about flipping, touching, and transforming, although to most people it might end up being the defining feature of new Win 8 hardware. Despite the crazy-looking laptops and tablets you’ve been getting glimpses of, there will be indeed be regular, plain-old normal Windows 8 laptops and desktops, too.
Sony’s Vaio E171290X is just such a machine. A 17-inch expansion to Sony’s midrange E-series line, this is a high-end desktop replacement computer in a pleasingly curved white-and-black plastic body. It’s not overly heavy (7 pounds), or overly expensive (base configurations start at $650 for a Core i5 processor, 320GB hard drive, 1080p screen, and 4GB of RAM). In its upper echelons, like our review sample, it’s packed to the gills: a quad-core Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, a 750GB hard drive, AMD Radeon HD 7550M graphics, a Blu-ray drive, and a 1,920x1,080 display, costing $1,020. That’s actually a pretty good price, considering what’s under the hood.
That’s enough to cement the E17 as a very good computer, but as a Windows 8 laptop, it falls short. It lacks a touch screen, and its included touch pad just isn’t up to the task for Windows 8’s gestures. The battery life is also very short, although that’s common for big-screen laptops. However, if you’re looking for a good value in a full-featured laptop with plenty of upgrade options, the E17 is a solid bet. It’s the other side of Windows 8: the conventional one.
|Starting price / Price as reviewed||$650 / $1,020|
|Processor||2.2GHz Intel Core i7-3632QM|
|Memory||8GB, 1,600MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||750GB 5,400rpm HDD|
|Graphics||AMD Radeon HD 7550M/Intel HD 4000|
|Operating system||Windows 8|
|Dimensions (WD)||16.1 x 11.0 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||17.3 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||7.0 pounds / 7.3 pounds|
I have no real fault with the E17’s design from a distance: it looks sleek, its wraparound white outer shell curving into the keyboard surface, as if it was a folded-over piece of candy. The two-tone look with its black plastic underpinnings is striking, although you can opt for an all-black version, too.
It’s not actually all that sleek, though. At up to an inch and a half thick at its thickest point, this doesn’t have any of the design savvy of an ultrabook or any of the futuristic convertible Windows 8 laptops you’ve been reading about. This is meant to sit on a desk, although it’s just portable enough to slide into a very large backpack.
The upper lid is weirdly thick, although it affords the E17 a solid feel. The screen hinge opens smoothly and doesn’t wobble. Inside, a wide silvery-white expanse of palm-rest space surrounds a smallish touch pad.
Above, the island-style backlit keyboard has tall, square, solid keys with just a bit of flex. An adjacent number pad doesn’t crowd the main keyboard.
The multitouch clickpad below, however, I have serious issues with. The amount of space afforded by the pad’s real estate isn’t all that bad, but it’s small compared with a MacBook’s trackpad, and feels tiny in its off-center, to-the-left alignment. The pad is finicky and not all that responsive, based on the time I spent with it. The clicking action happens on a slight lever, so clicks register better on the bottom than the top. The touch pad is also inset, just slightly. That’s the difference-maker.
On Windows 8, gestures made off the edge of the touch pad are a big deal. Swiping off the right side brings up Charms, which helps swap between the tile-based App view and the old-fashioned style of Windows interface underneath. I found it hard to pull off on the E17, especially compared with other systems. Is it a deal killer? It depends on how much you’re planning on taking advantage of the Windows 8 experience. The E17 already lacks a touch screen, so the touch pad takes on greater importance. It isn’t ideal. You can access Charms and flip between tile and old-school Windows 8 using physical buttons or by pointing the touch pad at the top of the screen, but the point is that this touch pad isn't all that fun to use.
The big, crisp display is a bright spot. The E171290X comes standard with a 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution, and off-axis viewing angles are very good. Whether watching Blu-rays (I looked at "Sucker Punch"), streaming video, or playing games, this Vaio reproduces vibrant color. It’s one of the better Vaio screens I’ve seen on a laptop.
Stereo speakers above the keyboard are also loud and have decent definition, enough to make a movie feel alive. They’re not enthusiast-level, but they’re definitely a step above standard.
The Vaio E171290X comes preloaded with a bunch of software: some of it Windows 8 app demoware, the rest of it being largely a suite of Sony media software (Sony Imagination Studio) that amounts to a nice value. Vegas Movie Studio HD Platinum, ACID Music Studio, DVD Architect Studio and Sound Forge Audio Studio plus PlayMemories Home are like Sony’s version of iLife, with lots of useful features.
|Sony Vaio E171290X||Average for category [Desktop replacement]|
|Video||HDMI||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers with subwoofer, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||1 USB 3.0, 3 USB 2.0, SD card reader, Memory Stick reader||2 USB 2.0, 2 USB 3.0, SD card reader, eSATA|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||Blu-ray player||DVD burner, optional Blu-ray player|
You’d expect a large-screen mega-laptop to have all the necessary ports and features, and the E171290X has them, although there’s only 1 USB 3.0 port to 3 USB 2.0 ports. Like most Sony laptops, there are separate card slots for SD cards and Memory Stick Duo media. This Vaio also has Bluetooth 4.0 and a 1.3 megapixel Webcam.