Much as we love laptops, we'd be the first to admit they can look a tad... samey. With the tablet revolution rocking the tech world, our favourite folding gadgets have to do something special to stand out. Sony seems to be aware of this -- its new Vaio C series VPCCA1S1E laptop comes in a range of luminous colours, and sports a quirky, retro design.
This 14-inch machine will set you back at least £730. You'll pay more if you upgrade the components on the Sony website.
The VPCCA1S1E rocks a fairly radical design. Most laptop manufacturers build their machines out of plastic, but go to great lengths to hide the fact, relying on aluminium-coloured paint and metallic finishes to trick you into thinking you're holding something hewn from a solid lump of pure granite. But, with this machine, Sony's lobbed all attempts at camouflage out of the window. It has a retro-styled, deliberately plastic appearance that will take you straight back to the '90s.
Not only are the VPCCA1S1E's chassis and lid made of plastic, but there are loads of extra plastic bits stuck on top -- clear bits of plastic, opaque bits of plastic, matte plastic, glossy plastic and a curved plastic lip that creeps over the front of the laptop, encompassing the wrist rest. It's plastic for plastic's sake -- all plastic, all the time.
The C series machine also comes in a range of colours. Black, white, pink, green and orange versions can all be yours, and the brighter colours are guaranteed to turn heads and sizzle corneas. Sadly, Sony sent us the rather plain white version -- the VPCCA1S1E/W to be precise -- but you can check out all five colour options and ogle the new design in our hands-on photo gallery.
The laptop's design will be extremely divisive. We can see it going down well with students or those seeking something unique for home use, but, if you need to be taken seriously with your computer at your side, we'd recommend you look elsewhere.
We like the translucent, luminous styling, and it's great to see a manufacturer trying something different in terms of design, but this laptop absolutely won't please everyone. Have a look at this machine in person before throwing down the best part of a grand on something that might just make you sick in your mouth.
Quite the heifer
Despite its plastic construction, the VPCCA1S1E is surprisingly heavy, weighing 2.5kg. It's not disastrously weighty, but the laptop certainly feels substantial.
The VPCCA1S1E measures 341 by 28 by 235mm, so it's not particularly thin either. Nor is its profile svelte -- the battery segment juts out on the laptop's underside. This machine will fit in most satchels or backpacks, but you'll definitely know you've got it with you, and, if you've got a long way to lug the thing, it'll probably start to weigh you down after a while.
The 14-inch display is slightly disappointing. Even at maximum brightness, it never shines brilliantly, and colours looked rather washed-out. Its resolution is decent, though, at 1,366x768 pixels. If you fancy ramping the resolution up, you can do -- an extra £50 will get you a 1,600x900-pixel screen.
We're not thrilled with the keyboard. It's sensibly laid out, and there's a big gap between each key to help you cut down on typos, but the keys themselves don't feel too snappy -- there's not much spring to them.
The trackpad is more impressive, though. It has a bumpy texture that makes it much more responsive that most trackpads, and, even though it's not very big, we found it to be perfectly capable. You can use the right side of the trackpad to scroll, and this feature also works better than it does on most rival machines.
There's a generous numbers of ports too, including an Ethernet jack; VGA and HDMI outputs; four USB ports, of which one is the faster USB 3.0 flavour; a multi-format card reader; and a DVD rewritable drive. Blu-ray and Blu-ray writer drives are optional upgrades, priced at £50 and £90 respectively.
A 1.3-megapixel webcam sits above the display. You can upgrade the 320GB hard drive to 500GB or 640GB for between £30 and £60. The laptop runs the 64-bit edition of Windows 7 Home Premium.
The VPCCA1S1E packs an Intel Core i5-2410M CPU clocked at 2.3GHz. You can upgrade that to a 2.7GHz Core i7-2620M chip for an extra £150. Both CPU options are dual-core, and use Intel's latest Sandy Bridge technology.
A rather paltry 2GB of DDR3 RAM comes as standard, although you can bump that up to 4GB for an extra £20, and 6GB if you've got £60 to spare. If you're planning on buying any upgrades, RAM is probably your best bet, as the standard 2GB is definitely weedy for a £730 machine.
The graphics card can be upgraded too. An AMD Radeon HD 6470M GPU comes as standard, and a Radeon HD 6630M card is available for £40 extra.
Our review sample came with all the standard options, except for the RAM -- our model had 4GB of the stuff.
When we ran the PCMark05 benchmark test, our machine scored an impressive 7,341. When we ran 3DMark06, it achieved 5,046. Those scores are good, and we reckon the VPCCA1S1E will chomp through high-definition video with no trouble, and probably some gaming too, as long as you're not running the latest games with the graphical settings cranked up to the max.
The VPCCA1S1E's performance reminds us of that of the similarly priced 15.6-inch Samsung RF510. That machine beat the VPCCA1S1E in our graphics benchmark test, with a score of 7,509, thanks to its Nvidia GeForce GT 330M GPU. It almost matched the VPCCA1S1E's score in PCMark05 too, attaining 7,276.
The VPCCA1S1E's battery life is pretty pants. In the Battery Eater Classic test, which runs the CPU at a constant 100 per cent and times how long it takes the laptop to expire, the VPCCA1S1E held out for a mere 1 hour and 7 minutes. You'll get better performance if you treat the laptop less brutally, but this still isn't as good as other similarly sized laptops we've tested.
The Sony Vaio C series VPCCA1S1E offers a radical design that you'll either love at first sight or despise until the day you're laid to rest. It's less distinctive in other areas, sadly. While its performance is pretty decent, its battery life and portability aren't much to write home about.
If you're not taken with the laptop's appearance, consider the Samsung RF510 instead. The 13.3-inch Sony Vaio Y Series VPCY21S1E may also be of interest -- even though its performance isn't as good, its battery life is better and its design is slick.
Edited by Charles Kloet