Keyboard and Touchpad
The Sony VAIO EA has a Chiclet-style (island-style) keyboard common to virtually all VAIO notebooks. While many average consumers refer to this style of keyboard as a “MacBook style” keyboard it’s worth mentioning that Sony was the first laptop manufacturer to use these type of keyboard keys on a notebook. Apple just likes to take the credit. The keyboard on the VAIO EA is very comfortable for typing with plenty of space between the individual keys to prevent excessive typos. The keyboard tray itself is slightly recessed on the main body of the notebook and this design element works perfectly with the optional keyboard skin. The keyboard skin is a form-fitting piece of silicone rubber that helps protect the keys from typical wear and tear as well as providing a spill resistant surface.
Individual key actions were smooth, with very little sound given off while typing at a moderate speed. Typing pressure needed to activate each key was minimal and with minimal key wobble the design felt great to type on. The keyboard skin also muffled the key sounds without negatively impacting the typing experience.
Despite the fact that the protective keyboard skin is nothing more than a thin piece of molded silicone, this is one of my favorite design features of the VAIO EA. Sure, the keyboard skin is an optional accessory, but it’s an optional accessory that adds significant value. For starters, it provides a fantastic barrier to prevent liquids from getting inside your notebook. Most laptop owners will confess to spilling at least one beverage on or near their notebook at some point. If you’re unlucky enough to spill a drink directly on the keyboard then this skin will keep that liquid from getting inside your laptop and destroying it.
The VAIO EA touchpad is adequately sized with separate left and right buttons in the standard location. The touchpad is multi-touch capable and works with the supplied software to provide gesture-based controls inside Windows as well as within some of the VAIO media software. The glossy touchpad surface was hit or miss among the editors in our office. Some of our staff liked the smooth feel of the touchpad while others wanted a textured surface. Sensitivity was great out of the box and movement on the X and Y-axis was equalized to prevent ovals while drawing circles on the touchpad surface. The left and right touchpad buttons give off a mildly audible click when pressed with an average depth to each button press.
Screen and Speakers
The Sony VAIO EA has a glossy 14-inch display with LED backliting and a 1366×768 screen resolution. This is pretty standard for a budget 14-inch laptop as there are few 14-inch notebooks currently on the market that offer the higher resolution of 1600×900. The display in our review sample features a relatively average contrast ratio with good color saturation. Viewing brightness is excellent in brightly lit rooms and the screen is bright enough at the maximum setting to allow for use outdoor under direct sunlight. Although the screen is glossy it isn’t as reflective as the many consumer laptops that offer “edge-to-edge” glass displays that are prone to severe reflections.
The stereo speakers built into the VAIO EA are relatively unremarkable and are driven by the the default Intel High Definition Audio in the motherboard chipset. The speakers aren’t the worse we’ve heard on a 14-inch general purpose laptop, but they suffer from a shallow range and lack the depth of bass that we’re starting to see in 14-inch multimedia notebooks like the HP Envy 14.