As Sony's first mainstream notebook with an Intel Ivy Bridge processor, the $699 Sony VAIO E Series 15.5-inch makes a statement. Combining a sophisticated design with a 15-inch display and a slew of audio and video-editing apps, the E15 is sure to be a favorite with media creators and consumers.
Click to EnlargeWhen it comes to design, subtlety can go a long way. The lid of the VAIO E15 is made from brushed aluminum, giving the notebook an elegant yet modern look and feel. Sporting Sony's new "wrap" design, the dark gray color literally wraps around the bottom, up the front and then over the deck. From the side, the aesthetic is reminiscent of a piece of paper folded over itself. Adding to the effect is the fact that the lid stops a quarter-inch short of the deck.
The notebook will also be available in Sharkskin Black and Seafoam White for those that want a splash of color.
Click to EnlargeThe E15's interior offers the same feeling of sophistication, as the dark gray matte plastic deck contrasts nicely with the glossy black speaker bar near the top. Buttons for VAIO Assist, Web and VAIO Care sit above the keyboard along with a circular dark gray power button.
The touchpad is slightly submerged with a slim, delicate chrome border.
At 5.4 pounds and measuring 14.7 x 10 x 1-1.32 inches, the VAIO E15 is about average in size and weight for a mainstream system.
Click to EnlargeThe 15.5-inch, 1366 x 768 LED backlit display on the E15 delivered rich colors overall, but we were most taken with the deep blacks and varied shades of blues throughout "The Amazing Spider-Man" YouTube trailer in 1080p. The reds and oranges were also sights to behold as a child dons Spider-Man's bright red mask and climbs toward the hero through a minivan enveloped in a hellish, yet beautiful, orange fireball.
Unfortunately, this panel just isn't very bright. We measured 141 lux, compared with 274 lux for the average mainstream machine.
Listening to music, movies and news on the E15 was a blast. The two speakers easily filled our small testing room with crisp, clear audio. We coasted along with Chaka Khan's luxurious vocals buoyed by swelling melodic strings on "My Funny Valentine." We were disappointed at the lack of percussion in Gloria Estefan's rendition of "Turn The Beat Around," however. It disappeared behind the clear twang of the guitar dipping and darting of Estefan's bombastic delivery.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Click to EnlargeThe E15 offers a large, island-style, LED backlit keyboard. We typed relatively quickly and easily--notching 53 words per minute with a 1 percent error rate on the Ten Thumbs Typing Test--but that doesn't mean there's not room for improvement. The Left Tab and Caps Lock were slightly undersized, and we noticed some flex as we typed.
The 3.9 x 2.2-inch Synaptics clickpad provided a large area for multitouch gestures. Two-finger scroll, pinch-to-zoom and two-finger rotation were swift and smooth. Four-finger flick was one of the more useful features, displaying all of our open programs in a clear box or on a horizontal plane depending on whether we swiped up or down.
Despite the lack of discrete mouse buttons, the bottom half of the touchpad offered strong feedback and accurately performed right-click and left-click functions when we pressed the corresponding sides.
After running a full-screen Hulu video for 15 minutes, the E15 remained fairly cool, measuring 83 degrees Fahrenheit at the touchpad. The space between the G and H keys and the center bottom of the notebook registered 85 and 87 degrees respectively. We consider anything higher than 95 degrees to be too warm.
Click to EnlargeThree USB 2.0 ports line the VAIO E15's right side, along with a tray-loading DVD burner and a secure lock slot. Slots for an SD Card reader and Memory Stick Duo sit along the left front lip of the VAIO E15. A USB 3.0 port with charging capability, HDMI, VGA, Ethernet and jacks for headphone, microphone and power are located on the laptop's left side.
The 1.3 megapixel camera captures images in 2560 x 2048 and video in 1280 x 1024 using the ArcSoft WebCam Companion. Whether we were in natural or florescent light, the camera delivered severely grainy images with dull, listless colors.
The Sony VAIO E Series 15.5-inch delivers solid, but not spectacular performance by way of its 2.5-GHz Intel Core i5-3210M (Ivy Bridge) processor, 6GB of RAM, 750GB 5,400-rpm hard drive, and Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU. It scored 2,452 on PCMark07, slightly above the 2,296 mainstream category average. During the Geekbench test, the E15 notched an impressive 7,090.
The notebook booted the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium in 50 seconds, seven seconds faster than the average. During the File Transfer Test, the E15 duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in 3 minutes and 41 seconds for a transfer rate of 23MBps. That's 10.1 MBps below the 33.1MBps category average.
On the OpenOffice Spreadsheet test, the VAIO E15 took 4 minutes and 48 seconds to match 20,000 names to their corresponding addresses, soundly beating the 6:26 average.
Although the VAIO E15 is equipped with the more powerful Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU, don't expect to play anything graphically taxing. The notebook notched a score of 5,964 on the synthetic 3DMark06 benchmark. That's 877 points above the 5,087 mainstream category average.
When we ran the "World of Warcraft" test, the E15 delivered a frame rate of 56 fps on Good at 1366 x 768p, placing it slightly above the 50 fps category average. When we cranked the game to maximum, the frame rate dropped to 23 fps, a tad short of the 26 mainstream average.
Those looking to play the latest games will want to spring for AMD Radeon HD 7550 graphics, a $100 option.
Click to EnlargeDuring the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi), the Sony VAIO E Series 15.5-inch lasted 4 hours and 24 minutes. That's 54 minutes less than than the 5:16 category average.
Sony packages the VAIO E15 with a robust suite of programs for professional-grade multimedia creation and editing. Acid Music Studio 8 enables multitrack and MIDI recording, and works best with loop-based music creation so you can create your own Girl Talk-inspired jams. Sound Forge Audio Studio 10 enables pro-level editing and mastering of audio files. Filmmakers will appreciate Vegas Movie Studio HD Platinum 11, and DVD Architect Studio 5 will help you burn those projects to professional looking DVDs.
Sony-branded apps include VAIO Care, VAIO Control Center and VAIO Gate, a handy shortcut bar that displays shortcuts. One of those goes to PlayMemories Home, which enables users to edit and organize images and photos in one, easy-to-access location. Images and videos in PlayMemories Home can be accessed across devices and shared with friends via PlayMemories Online, an online storage account that offers 5GB of free storage. Other shortcuts include VAIO Collaboration Apps (Remote Keyboard, Remote Play for PlayStation 3 and TrackID with Bravia) and Media Gallery.
VAIO Gesture Control works in conjunction with Media Go, Windows Media Player, Internet Explorer and Media Gallery. Using the webcam, users simply hold their hands in front of the webcam and swipe left, right, up and down for Back, Forward, Pause and Play, respectively. Due to the webcam's narrow field of vision, we met with failure more often than not when we attempted to change a song or image. After numerous tries, our wrist became sore and we switched back to the touchpad.
Third-party apps include Skype, Microsoft Office Starter, Windows Live, Reader for PC, Adobe Reader X, Evernote for VAIO and a 30-day free trial of Kaspersky Internet Security 2012.
Our $699 review unit of the VAIO E15 features a 2.5-GHz Intel Core i5-3210M (Ivy Bridge) processor, 6GB of RAM, a 750GB 5,400-rpm hard drive and an Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU. The E15 starts at just $449; at that price, consumers will get a second-generation (Sandy Bridge) Intel Core i3-2370M processor, Intel HD graphics 3000, 4GB of RAM, and a 320GB hard drive.
Click to EnlargeThe $699 VAIO E15 is an attractive notebook that delivers power and a compelling suite of apps to leverage its third-generation Core i5 processor. In fact, the bundled software on the E15 might be worth the price of admission in and of itself for those who know how to use it. The wrap design is unmistakably Sony, and the sound is also quite good for the price. We just wish the display were brighter and the battery lasted longer. Overall, though, the Sony VAIO E Series 15.5-inch is a very strong option for those looking for a 15-inch notebook that can do a lot more than the basics and look good doing it.