Sony Vaio EB Series VPC-EB44FX/WI review: Sony Vaio EB Series VPC-EB44FX/WI

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MSRP: $799.99

The Good Sony makes some of the best-looking and best-feeling hardware in the industry, which is especially welcome in a budget-minded system such as the Sony Vaio EB44FX. Intel's Wireless Display is included, and optional keyboard skins add a bit of flair.

The Bad Why, halfway into 2011, is Sony still selling laptops with 2010 versions of Intel's Core i-series CPU?

The Bottom Line Sony's Vaio line of laptops, including the midpriced EB series, look great and include some high-end features. We just wish the CPU had been updated for the sake of better battery life.

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7.5 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7
  • Battery 7
  • Support 7

There's no denying that Sony makes great laptop hardware. Its Vaio brand is often a go-to choice for design-minded shoppers, and the brand's relative scarcity in retail shops (compared with HP, Dell, and others) makes it desired by those wanting to stand out from the laptop crowd. Add in the fact that most Vaios are in the upper registers of the price spectrum, and you have one of the only laptop lines that can make Apple's MacBook Pro feel populist by comparison.

The Vaio E series is one of the less expensive Vaios, and this particular Vaio EB (the reasoning behind the Vaio naming scheme still eludes us after years of study) clocked in at $799, but can be found for $50 to $100 less online. For the sheer quality of the physical hardware you get--this system looks slick and feels rock solid--it's a great deal. However, the EB44FX is sadly saddled with an outdated CPU.

Related links
• Sony Vaio Z 13-inch shows up in Europe
• Sony intros new Vaio E series and C series laptops
• Is Intel's Wireless Display a game changer?

For a laptop released halfway through 2011 to have a late 2010 Intel Core i3 CPU is inexcusable. This isn't just a case of keeping up with the Joneses; the current Intel chips bring not just a reasonable bump to performance, but also significantly better battery life and better integrated graphics. Most laptop makers have phased out the older parts (except, perhaps, for the lowest-end budget systems), and for a midprice laptop such as this, Sony should do the same.

Price as reviewed $799
Processor 2.3GHz Intel Core i3 380M
Memory 4GB, 1,066MHz DDR3
Hard drive 500GB 5,400rpm
Chipset Intel HM55
Graphics Intel HD
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
Dimensions (WD) 14.6x9.8 inches
Height 1.2 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 15.5 inches
System weight / weight with AC adapter 5.2 pounds/6.3 pounds

From our anecdotal conversations with laptop buyers over the years, it's safe to say that next to Apple, Sony is probably the No. 1 laptop brand choice for design snobs (a term we use without prejudice, as it probably applies to us). While not as fancy as the high-end Vaio S or Z series laptops, the E series model is still quite a looker.

Our review unit came with a pearlescent white interior, offset by a light gray lid and black base. Sony being a big proponent of laptop colors that pop, several other color options are available, and many current Sony Vaio laptop models can be dressed up with a custom-fit keyboard skin.

These little rubber overlays, which are designed to fit specific Vaio laptop models, come in a wide variety of colors, and cover the entire keyboard area, edge to edge. To hear Sony tell it, these have been incredibly popular, and nearly everyone who buys a Vaio laptop in one of Sony's retail stores walks out with one or two of these $20 accessories.

Truth be told, it's pretty fun to change up the look of your laptop in an instant; the swath of color from the keyboard skins fits the existing design perfectly, and if you choose a complementary color, it can look as if the laptop was designed that way in the first place.

The skins do, however, make the excellent Sony keyboard a little harder to use. They grip tightly, but not quite tightly enough, and the rubber skin moved just enough under our fingers to lead to more typing errors than usual. With practice we did get better, and of course the keyboard skins are entirely optional.

The widely spaced island-style keys have long been a favorite, with full-size Shift and Enter keys. This midsize model also has a full number pad and there's a trio of quick-launch buttons above the keyboard (just outside of the area covered by the keyboard skin). The quick-launch buttons launch a self-help support suite, a Web browser, and Sony's proprietary multimedia software.

The touch pad, though not as large as it could be on a system this size, was especially pleasant to use, thanks to a slightly raised dot pattern that offered just enough tactile feedback. Big left and right mouse buttons sit beneath, and the entire touch-pad package is centered under the keyboard spacebar, which means it sits slightly to the left on the chassis, as the keyboard is offset by the number pad on the right.

You may want to jump into the touch-pad settings and shrink the default right-side scroll zone. We've always found it set too wide on Sony laptops, and are constantly accidentally triggering it while moving the cursor.

The 15.5-inch display is one of the few areas where the lower price is evident. The screen resolution is 1,366x768 pixels, which is common enough for budget-to-midprice 15-inch laptops, but the Vaio EB looks like a more expensive machine, so our eyes expect a higher screen resolution. Off-axis viewing was decent, but the screen is so glossy we easily picked up glare and reflections from nearby lights.

As a nice bonus, Intel's Wireless Display technology is included. With it, you can beam your desktop (including video or photos) to any nearby TV with the help of a sold-separately receiver box. It's not quite fast enough for gaming, but for video playback, it's great.

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