The Sony VAIO E-series laptops are the most affordable notebook PCs available from Sony. The 14-inch VAIO EA and the 15-inch VAIO EB bring the style and extra features associated with the Sony brand name to you starting as low as $649. Keep reading to take a closer look at the VAIO EA.
Our review unit of the Sony VAIO EA (VPCEA3CFX) has the following specifications:
The Sony VAIO AE is the latest 14-inch general purpose laptop from Sony. The E-series notebooks are the most affordable full-featured notebooks in the VAIO product line and you can probably argue that the "E" stands for "Economy class." The laptop body is made of a combination of matte black plastics and polished plastics in your choice of Lava Black, Hibiscus Pink, Coconut White, Iridescent Blue, or Passion Purple colors. Our review sample is "Coconut White" but pearl white might be a more accurate description of the color in real life. All of the plastics feel firm with no obvious flex or creaking sounds when you apply pressure to the chassis. Despite being designed as a budget laptop, the VAIO EA feels reasonably well built. The screen hinges offer enough resistance to hold the display in place yet aren't so tensioned that opening the laptop is difficult.
Users looking to upgrade or tweak the VAIO EA will find plenty to keep them happy once they look at the bottom of the notebook. Sony engineers were kind enough to include two access panels on the bottom of the chassis that allow you to replace the RAM or the hard drive with whatever you want. Since our review unit came with 4GB of system memory and a 500GB hard drive it's unlikely that most consumers will upgrade either, but if you decide to purchase a high-performance solid state drive (SSD) then it's good to know that you can easily put it inside the VAIO EA.
Ports and Features
Port selection on the VAIO EA is excellent. The system has three USB 2.0 ports, one additional eSATA/USB combo port, a headphone and headset jack, VGA output, HDMI output, Ethernet, and both SDHC card and Memory Stick slots. USB 3.0 would have been handy given the increase in compatible accessories these days, but since the VAIO EA also includes an ExpressCard slot you can add a USB 3.0 adapter.
Front: SDHC and Memory Stick slots
and audio jacks
Rear: No ports
Left: Power jack, Ethernet, VGA, HDMI,
eSATA/USB 2.0 port and ExpressCard
Right: Three USB 2.0 ports, tray-loading
optical drive, Kensington lock slot
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.
Screen and Speakers
The Sony VAIO EA has a glossy 14-inch display with LED backliting and a 1366x768 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 1600x900. 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.
Performance and Benchmarks
When you start shopping for an affordable general purpose notebook in the $500 to $800 price range you'll discover that most of these laptops provide roughly equivalent system performance. Our review sample of the Sony VAIO EA handles most applications and multitasking duties with ease thanks to the 2.4GHz Intel Core i3 370M dual-core processor and 4GB of system memory. In fact, the difference in raw computational speed between the HP Envy 14 with 2.4GHz Intel Core i5 450M processor and this VAIO EA is negligible in terms of real world performance.
In fact, there are only two elements that hinder the performance of the VAIO EA, neither of which will likely matter to most consumers. The VAIO EA uses the relatively weak Intel HD integrated graphics which means streaming video online is fine but you're going to have a hard time playing most games other than casual online games such as Bejeweled or World of Warcraft on the lowest settings. In addition, the 500GB hard drive included in this configuration is a slower 5400rpm model which makes system startup, and loading massive files a bit slower than notebooks equipped with 7200rpm hard drives.
Still, most consumers will find that the VAIO EA provides more than enough power for daily use.
wPrime processor comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):
PCMark05 measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):
PCMark Vantage measures overall system performance (high scores mean better performance):
3DMark06 measures overall graphics performance for gaming (higher scores mean better performance):
CrystalDiskMark storage drive performance test:
Heat and Noise
While the heat output from most modern general purpose notebooks is a minor issue, we take the time to measure external chassis temperatures anyway. "Lap burn" is a common complaint among many average consumers who use their notebooks as "laptops" for hours at a time. During normal usage (low or idle CPU activity) the VAIO EA stayed reasonably cool to the touch. The plastics on the top and bottom of the chassis never reached unacceptable temperatures and the only area that came close to dangerously hot was the heat exhaust ... and you should be smart enough not to press the vent against your leg anyway.
Fan noise was moderate compared to similarly-sized notebooks with integrated graphics. While idle the fan inside the VAIO EA was either inactive or extremely silent. After prolonged use or after being stressed with high-performance applications like video editing software or benchmarking tools the system fan kicked into high gear and was loud enough to be noticeable in a quite office or classroom environment.
If there is any significantly underwhelming feature to the Sony VAIO EA it has to be battery life. Modern notebooks with integrated graphics and standard batteries shouldn't have any trouble providing more than four hours of battery life in a continuous use situation. In our tests with the screen brightness reduced to 70%, wireless active and refreshing a webpage every 60 seconds, and Windows 7 in the "Balanced" power mode, the VAIO EA stayed on for just 3 hours and 48 minutes. That's not bad at all compared to battery life from older Intel Core 2 Duo based laptops, but newer notebooks like the HP Envy 14 managed 5 hours and 15 minutes and the Lenovo IdeaPad Y460 stayed on for 4 hours and 52 minutes in the same test.
The Sony VAIO EA is solid 14-inch laptop with some attractive design elements, good performance and a few frustrating issues. The 2.4GHz Intel Core i3 processor, 4GB of system memory and a sizeable 500GB hard drive come together to provide plenty of bang for your buck. The attractive exterior, nice keyboard, and ExpressCard slot for upgrading ports also make the VAIO EA quite attractive for laptop shoppers.
Unfortunately, the fact that this notebook can't deliver 4 hours of non-stop battery life might be a deal breaker for people who are comparison shopping on a budget. The lack of USB 3.0 is pretty common for general use laptops and at least this notebook has an ExpressCard slot. I loved the optional keyboard skin so much that I wish it came standard with the notebook.
Overall, the VAIO EA is an affordable Sony laptop with enough performance and features to keep most users happy.