Once a popular choice for on-the-go laptop shoppers, the 11-inch laptop has fallen on hard times of late (aside from the $999 11-inch MacBook Air). It's not quite as steep a drop-off as we saw with the 10-inch Netbook, but you could count the number of 11-inch laptops we've reviewed this year on one hand, and still have a few fingers left over.
Sony has a new 11-inch Vaio E that makes a decent case for reviving this category, with usable performance and a sharp design, and coming in at $449 thanks to a new AMD E2-1800 processor (an Intel Core i3 version would doubtlessly cost more).
The recent trend toward thin ultrabooks has largely made 11-inch laptops unnecessary. They still have smaller desktop footprints, but usually weigh more and have thicker bodies than super-slim 13-inch laptops, which end up being more useful all-around travel machines for most people. But, those 13-inch and larger ultrabooks (or ultrabook-like systems, such as HP's new Sleekbook line) still cost more, at least $599 and usually closer to $1,000.
With performance that's acceptable, but not exactly zippy, and a body that feels a bit plasticky and clacky, I'd be more comfortable with the 11-inch Sony Vaio E at $399, rather than $449. But for portable Web surfing and basic productivity, it does the job. And, thanks to AMD's insistence on including decent graphics hardware from the former ATI (now just AMD's GPU division), this system actually does a decent job of playing games.
|Price as reviewed||$449|
|Processor||1.2GHz AMD E2-1800|
|Memory||4GB, 1,333MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||500GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||AMD Radeon HD 7340|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||11.4 x 8.0 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||11.6 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||3.3/3.8 pounds|
This 11-inch model is not the only Vaio E series laptop Sony makes. We previously reviewed the 15-inch Vaio E15, which has a similar look and feel (although it has an Intel Core i5 CPU). This E-series design has a two-tone palette, in this case a white 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.
It's a smart look that belies the system's budget price, and part of a trend I'm seeing with lower-cost laptops getting attractive makeovers, including the HP Envy Sleekbook 6 and the Dell Inspiron 14z.
While this is a reasonably portable 11-inch laptop, there's a lot of competition out there in both thickness and weight. Apple's 11-inch MacBook Air weighs about one pound less, and Acer's 13-inch Aspire S5 is close to that. Both are also much thinner. In fact, this Vaio E is as thick as Dell's high-end midsize XPS 15.
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, with very little flex, even under heavy typing. The key faces are smaller than what you might be used to on a 13-inch or larger laptop, but Sony does a good job of making sure important keys, such as Tab, Shift, and Enter, are large enough to hit easily. The four directional arrow keys get a little squeezed, however.
My two biggest complaints are that the keyboard is not backlit -- a feature found on even budget-price laptops now, and the multimedia control keys, such as audio volume and mute, are relegated to Fn+F-key assignments, making them hard to use on the fly.
The long, rectangular touch pad reminds me of what you used to see on 10-inch Netbook laptops. To keep the system's overall size down, a longer, almost letterbox-style touch pad is used. This one is not as shallow as some I've seen, but its dimensions do make scrolling down long vertical Web pages more difficult. That said, the matte surface has the right amount of grip, and two-finger scrolling was pleasingly responsive.
Sony loves to develop and include proprietary media and sharing software with its laptops. Here, you get an app called PlayMemories, for managing photos and videos, as well as a different app called Media Gallery, which, well, manages photos and videos (and music). There's also the Vaio Gate quick-launch bar, found on every recent Sony laptop, which can point your to specific apps and settings menus. I always end up turning it off, because by default it sits behind a floating tab at the top edge of the screen and invariably activates itself whenever I put the cursor near the top of a Web browser page (to type in a URL, for example).
The 11.6-inch display has a native resolution of 1,366x768 pixels. That's an arguably overused resolution, found on laptops from 11 inches all the way up to 15 inches (I've even seen it on a couple of budget 17-inch laptops), but it's best suited for this screen size. Sony is known for excellent displays, and this one has good off-axis viewing from the side, although it still has a narrow vertical optimal field of view.
|Sony Vaio E Series SVE11113FXW||Average for category [ultraportable]|
|Video||VGA, HDMI||HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||2 USB 2.0, 1 USB 3.0, SD card reader||2 USB 3.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet (via dongle), 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
With a body thicker than many 12-inch laptops, the 11-inch Vaio E can fit in some of the ports left out of slimmer systems. There's a full-size Ethernet jack, for example, which is often relegated to an external dongle in ultrabooks, as well as a VGA video output, another space-hogging connection frequently dropped .
This is the first laptop we've tested with AMD's dual-core E2-1800 processor. That's a separate line from AMD's flagship A-series CPUs (although AMD calls them APUs, or Accelerated Processing Units, combining CPU and GPU in one unit), which we just saw in the HP Envy Sleekbook 6.
The more advanced A6 chip in the HP Envy was slower than, but still a reasonable match for, comparable Intel parts. The E2-1800 was not even in the same ballpark performance-wise, and fell well behind in our benchmark tests. Looking back over the laptops we've tested this year, only the Lenovo ThinkPAd X130e, with an AMD E-300 CPU and a Toshiba C655, with an Intel Celeron processor, had somewhat similar scores.