Sony Vaio E Series (VPC-EA1S1E/L) review
14 in 1,600x900 display, 2.4kg, 2.13GHz Intel Core i3-330M, 4.00GB RAM, 500GB disk, Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Sony's Vaio laptops have a reputation for style and build quality, and the new 14in Vaio E Series is a good example of this. It comes in a choice of colours and the sturdy chassis really impressed us. For example the power button merges with the edge of the case - it becomes an LED that's green if the laptop is on and orange if it's in standby, so even with the lid closed you can see the status of your laptop.
Our sample came in an iridescent aquamarine that divided opinion, but certainly stood out, and the lid has such a deep gloss that the solver VAIO logo actually casts a shadow. Under this pretty skin lies a new Intel Core i3-330M processor and 4GB of RAM, which resulted in an average benchmark score of 76 overall. Single-threaded applications fare better, with a result of 86 in our image editing test, but multi-tasking fared less well with a result of 69.
With results like these, the Vaio shows itself to be well-suited to most office applications, and it's even fairly good for multimedia tasks too. Gaming isn't out of the question either, with the ATI 5-series Radeon chipset managing 19.7fps in our Call of Duty 4 benchmark.
Turning the resolution down and turning anti-aliasing off gave a more playable 32.5fps, so we wouldn't expect the E Series to appeal to action gamers, but those who like to dip into casual and more sedate titles such as strategy or adventure titles will have no complaints.
With this much processing power, the VPC-EA1S1E/L is more than capable of playing back HD video content and the 1,600x900 screen's 16:9 aspect ratio is ideal for watching movies, as you'll get less of the black bars above and below the picture. There's another E Series model with a Blu-ray player (VPC-EA1Z1E/B) which costs about £100 more, but it's currently only available in black.
In our testing, we noticed a warm, red cast to images that will suit movies but means that colours aren't as natural. The glossy finish on the screen will be fine in a darkened room, but in an environment with bright, overhead lights, such as an office, the image may be distorted by reflections. Vertical viewing angles are tight so it's hard enough getting the right angle for the screen.
While the internal speakers are OK for watching video clips, for the movie experience we'd recommend using the HDMI output to connect to an AV amplifier or other sound system. The speakers have good stereo separation and clarity, but not enough bass or volume.
A battery life of just over three hours means the VPC-EA1S1E/L isn't ideal for air travel, but long commutes won't drain it too much. At 2.4kg, it's not too heavy to carry around with you either, but it won't last an afternoon out of the office, for example, especially if you're using WiFi or Bluetooth. Unfortunately, although it lists a huge variety of travel cases for the E Series, it doesn't list any spare batteries.
If you simply want to check email or browse the web, you can press the Web button (above the keyboard) to launch SplashTop, a small Linux installation that boots up in slightly less time than Windows. However, it doesn't save much time, and it also uses far more power than Windows does.
Next to the Web button there's the Vaio button, which launches Sony's media portal, much like Windows Media Center, and the Assist button which launches Sony's backup and troubleshooting software. We found this to be slow to launch and run, but it covers all the bases and for new or inexperienced laptop users it provides peace of mind.