Sony's VAIO E Seres 11 is an affordable mini-laptop that's targeted toward frequent travelers or anyone looking for Ultrabook-like portabilty without the sticker shock. Powered by a dual-core AMD processor and featuring 4GB or RAM and a 500GB hard drive, this $436 11-incher seems like a good value, especially since Sony bundles lots of multimedia software. Let's see how it measures up.
Click to EnlargeThe all-plastic E Series 11 looks friendly with soft rounded corners and a matte surface. With the lid closed, this cute VAIO seems to have a slight underbite, as the deck sticks out a quarter of an inch farther than the lid. Like other notebooks in Sony's E series, the design is reminiscent of a piece of paper folded over itself.
The VAIO E Seres 11 is available in Seafoam White, but we tested the Sharkskin Black version.
The plastic frame around the LCD and along the speaker bar has a glossy finish that contrasts nicely with the matte black covering the rest of the notebook. The glossy surface, however, picks up fingerprints much easier than the rest of the laptop.
Buttons for VAIO Assist, Web and VAIO Care sit above the keyboard along with the circular power button. The trackpad is slightly recessed into the body of the laptop and chrome border that contrasts nicely with the black deck.
Measuring 11.4 x 8 x 0.9-1.3 inches and weighing 3.2 pounds, the VAIO E Seres 11 is slightly smaller and lighter than other 11-inch notebooks, such as the Maingear Pulse 11, measuring 11.5 x 8.3 x 1.5 and weighing 3.8 pounds. However, most 13-inch Ultrabooks are thinner and lighter than this system.
Click to EnlargeThe glossy 11.6-inch display on the VAIO E Seres 11 has a standard resolution of 1366 x 768 but offered a full spectrum of rich colors, bringing to life the glitz and glamor in the trailer for Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby." The bright lights of old Manhattan popped against the city's night skyline and the vibrant hues at Gatsby's great parties really shined.
Unfortunately, viewing angles are relatively poor. At a 40-degree angle, even the brightest colors looked washed out. The screen isn't that bright, either, measuring 165 lux against the ultraportable average of 274 lux.
Listening to music and videos on the VAIO E Series 11 was a pleasure. Powered by Sony's Clear Phase and xLoudClear Phase technologies, the speakers easily filled our small testing room with crisp, clear audio. Each guitar note and chord sounded great on Feist's "I Feel It All," even at full volume. Sound got tinnier on songs with more bass and drums, falling a bit flat when we blasted the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs' "Gold Lion" and LMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem."
Keyboard and Touchpad
Click to EnlargeThe keys on the VAIO E Series 11 are on the small side but comfortably spaced, allowing for quick typing. We scored 63 words per minute on the Ten Thumbs Typing Test with a 2 percent error rate, compared with 66 words per minute on our desktop keyboard. However, the palm rest is shorter than we'd like, which could lead to discomfort.
The 3.5 x 2-inch clickable touchpad provided plenty of space for multi-touch gestures. We comfortably executed pinch-to-zoom, two-finger scroll and two-finger rotation. The four-finger flick, which clearly displays all open programs, was especially useful.
The bottom half of the trackpad provided accurately registered left and right clicks, but we had to use more force than we'd like. It was a little too stiff. We also noticed a narrow gap between the pad and the electronics underneath, which could lead to issues.
The VAIO E Series 11 ran warmer than the average ultraportable in our tests, but not uncomfortably so. After playing a Hulu video at full screen for 15 minutes, the touchpad reached 93 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures rose to 95 degrees on the underside of the notebook and 94 degrees between the G & H keys. We consider anything over 95 degrees uncomfortable and 100 and above hot.
Click to EnlargeThere are three USB ports on the VAIO E Series 11: two on the left side (a USB 2.0 and a chargeable USB 3.0), and another USB 2.0 port on the right. The right side of the notebook also features a SD/PRO Duo card reader, Ethernet, a 3.5mm headphone jack and microphone input; on the left are HDMI and VGA ports.
Click to EnlargeThe 1.3-megapixel webcam captures images up to 2560 x 2048 and video up to 1280 x 1024. The camera is equipped with an Exmor sensor, but pictures were still grainy and dull in both fluorescent and natural light. Face tracking was handy, as the camera automatically zoomed in and out as we moved, keeping our head in the frame. However, face tracking is limited to the webcam's optical zoom, since the camera itself does not move or turn.
The 1.7-GHz AMD E-1800 dual-core processor that powers the VAIO E Series 11 is good enough for handling basic tasks, but don't expect blazing performance. For example, most apps opened quickly, and the notebook played a 1080p version of the "Skyfall" trailer without a hitch. However, apps took longer to open when the video was playing in the background.
The E Series 11 scored 976 on the PCMark07 test, which is well behind the average of 2,898 but on a par with other AMD-powered ultraportables we've tested. This score is only slightly higher than the Levono ThinkPad X130e, which notched 906 on the same test with its 1.3-GHz AMD E-300 processor and 2GB of RAM. Performance wasn't any better on the Geekbench test, with this VAIO hitting 1,963 when the average is 5,411.
The notebook booted the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium in 55 seconds, two seconds faster than the average. During our File Transfer Test, the E11 duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in 4 minutes and 30 seconds for a transfer rate of 18.8 MBps. That's 14.3MBps below the 22.1 MBps category average.
On the OpenOffice Spreadsheet test, which matches 20,000 names to their corresponding addresses, the VAIO E Series 11 took 18 minutes and 49 seconds, almost three times as long as the average of 6 minutes and 26 seconds. The last sub-$500 notebook we reviewed, the Gateway NV57H54u, took just 27 seconds with its Core i3 processor.
We wouldn't want to necessarily edit video on an 11-inch laptop, but this VAIO's performance will make up your mind. It took the system 6 minutes and 25 seconds to convert a 5-minute 1080p video to an iPhone-friendly format using Cyberlink MediaEspresso. At least the VAIO beats the older ThinkPad X130e (8:11).
The VAIO E Series 11 sports an AMD Radeon HD 7340M graphics processor and includes the AMD VISION Engine Control Center. With these specs you can actually play mainstream games.
This Sony delivered a frame rate of 37 on our "World of Warcraft" test, set on Good at 1366 x 768p. At maximum, the rate dropped down to 13 fps, below the ultraportable average of 23.
The Series 11 scored a 363 on the 3DMark11 graphics test, paling in comparison to the average of 815.
Click to EnlargeThe VAIO Series E 11 gets decent battery life for a notebook this size. The 3500 mAh battery lasted 5 hours and 24 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery test, which consists of continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi. While this runtime is more than an hour less than the 6:44 ultraportable average, other ultraportables have room for bigger batteries.
Sony bundles this notebook with a robust suite of programs, providing a solid experience right out the box. Microsoft Office Starter, which includes an ad-supported version of Word 2010 and Excel 2010, can immediately open and run documents and spreadsheets.
Also included is Evernote for VAIO, the popular cross-platform note-taking and organizing application. Evernote Webcam allows you to write notes and snap an image with your webcam, using Evernote's text-recognition abilities to index and save the content.
Click to EnlargeThe Sony-branded apps include VAIO Care, VAIO Control Center and VAIO Gate, a handy shortcut bar that pops down from the top of the screen. One of the shortcut leads to the application PlayMemories Home, which allows users to edit and organize images and photos in one place. Other shortcuts lead to VAIO Collaboration Apps (Remote Keyboard, Remote Play for PlayStation 3 and TrackID with Bravia), Media Gallery and Music Unlimited.
With VAIO Gesture Control, users can gesture to control application such as Media Go, Windows Media Player, Internet Explorer and Media Gallery. Swiping to the left, right, up and down performs Back, Forward, Pause, and Play. We found this wasn't always a reliable form of control, switching back to the touchpad after only a few minutes.
The VAIO E Series 11 also includes the third-party apps Skype, Windows Live, Reader for PC, Adobe Reader X, and a 30-day free trial of Kaspersky Internet Security 2012.
Those who like the idea of owning a laptop that's as portable as a netbook but offers more graphics power will find the VAIO E Series 11 to be an attractive choice. Of course, a sub-$500 15-inch notebook is the way to go if performance is a priority. But if you want a cheap secondary PC for travel or you're heading off to school this low-cost VAIO is certainly worth a look. It's attractive, offers good sound, and comes loaded with useful software.