Keyboard and Touchpad
All of the Sony VAIO E-series notebooks use a Chiclet-style (island-style) keyboard but the 17-inch EC raised the bar with the inclusion of a dedicated number pad. This may only be a major selling point to students and anyone who does regular data entry, but we like to see the extra keyboard space put to use like this on larger notebooks. The keyboard on the VAIO EC 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 ($19.99). 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. We took a closer look at that type of keyboard skin in our Sony VAIO EA review if you’re interested.
The VAIO EC touchpad feels a little small for a notebook of this size but it features 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 (except for two-finger scroll) inside Windows as well as within some of the VAIO media software. Once again, 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 more 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.
Again, I just wish this touchpad was physically larger given the size of the screen and the rest of the notebook.
Screen and Speakers
The Sony VAIO EC has a glossy 17.3-inch display with LED backliting and a 1600×900 screen resolution. This is better than the 1366×768 screens used on many budget 17-inch notebooks, and Sony allows you to upgrade the screen to a full 1080p model (1920×1080) for an extra $100. The display in our review sample features a relatively average contrast ratio of 223:1 with good color saturation. Brightness is fine for normal indoor use as the screen showed a maximum brightness of 252 nit in our test lab. That is more than bright enough in most indoor environments and some outdoor use but the screen isn’t quite bright enough to make outdoor use enjoyable 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 EC are relatively unremarkable and are driven by the the default Intel High Definition Audio in the motherboard chipset. I was a little shocked that Sony didn’t take advantage of the larger chassis and put a subwoofer inside the EC similar to what most 17-inch multimedia notebooks have today. Audio performance is fine for a general purpose laptop, but they suffer from a shallow range and lack the depth of bass that we see in 17-inch multimedia notebooks and even the 15-inch Dell XPS 15.