Sony's Vaio line of laptops has undergone its most extensive overhaul in years, resulting in new products, such as the T series ultrabook, and revamped ones, including the new E series. The closest Sony comes to making a mainstream laptop, the E line has always felt a bit too budget-minded compared with the other Vaios, but this new version makes some significant moves forward and, at the right price, is almost a steal.
This review sample, the Vaio E15116FXS, costs $749, but Vaio E laptops can be had for as little as $459. For that, you get a nicely redesigned body that looks good, and also feels good to type on, as well as Intel's latest third-gen Core i5 processors, a big 750GB hard drive, 8GB of RAM, and a backlit keyboard.
That makes this one of the very first systems with Intel's new dual-core Ivy Bridge family of chips, which should result in only modest performance and battery life gains, but importantly includes Intel's new integrated HD 4000 graphics, for better basic gaming.
The new design has a premium look, and the keyboard and especially touch pad are spot on. But, ultrabooks and thin ultrabook-like laptops (we call 'em fauxtrabooks) are getting closer in price, and that makes the Vaio E feel more than a bit hefty.
But if you don't mind a the extra bulk, this is a good way to spend less, but still get some of the high-end look and feel Sony has previously reserved for much more expensive laptops.
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$749 / 459|
|Processor||2.5GHz Intel Core i5-3210M|
|Memory||8GB, 1,333MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||750GB 5,400rpm|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||14.6 x 9.8 inches|
|Height||1.2 - 1.5 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.5 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||5.4/6.3 pounds|
The Vaio E series is still on the bigger and bulkier side, but that's par for the course in budget and less expensive mainstream laptops. The new design has a two-tone palette, with a gray keyboard tray and wrist rest wrapping around to the bottom panel and lid, contrasted against a black at the top of the keyboard tray, the screen bezel, and the side panels.
Viewed from the side, it looks as if someone has sliced into a stratified block of metal and plastic. This review sample is a bit drab, with a gray outer layer against black, but I've seen other color combinations that look more interesting.
Keep in mind, however, that this is a pretty big laptop by modern, ultrabook-influenced standards. Don't expect to make this your go-everywhere machine.
While Sony almost always has good-to-excellent keyboards on Vaio laptops, the keyboard in the new E series is especially pleasing, considering the price. The flat-topped, island-style keys (a style Sony used long before it was popular) feel solid and the keyboard try only flexes a tiny bit in the center under heavy typing -- which is typically a much bigger problem for budget laptops.
The keys on our review sample are backlit, a feature that should be standard on just about every laptop by now, and there's a full (also backlit) numberpad on the left side. Media control buttons still require that you hold down the Fn key, in addition to one of the function keys, which is a shame, as Sony prides itself on being multimedia-friendly hardware.
A row of three quick-launch buttons above the keyboard is labeled Assist, Web, and Vaio, and they launch a built-in tech support app, a Web browser, and Sony's multimedia software suite. Also included are full versions of Sony's Vegas, Acid, and Sound Forge programs, which are popular for audio and video editing.
The touch pad has made the jump to click pad territory, which means it has left and right mouse button functions built into the lower left and right corners of the pad itself, and there are no separate mouse buttons. Apple started this style a few years ago, and it's slowly becoming the norm, although no one yet has a click pad with gesture responsiveness that can match a MacBook.
The 15.6-inch display has a native resolution of 1,366x768 pixels. That's standard for smaller laptops, from 11- to 13-inch screens, and still very common in 14- and 15-inch midsize laptops. But in laptops of this size, having a 1,366x768 display is a marker of a budget product. Spend a little more and you can find a 1,600x900-pixel screen, which I think makes for a much better 15-inch laptop experience. Still, for a laptop in this price range, the image is bright and clear, with better than average off-axis viewing.
The stereo speakers are loud for a less expensive laptop with good midrange sound, but not surprisingly, they lack low-end.
|Sony Vaio E15116FXS||Average for category [midsize]|
|Video||VGA plus HDMI||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, 2 USB 3.0, SD card reader, Memory Stick Duo reader||2 USB 2.0, 2 USB 3.0, SD card reader, eSATA|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|