The Sony VAIO EB Series
When I was picking up my demo unit of the Sony VAIO EB series notebook for this review, I had a very important choice to make. "Which color do you want?" I took one look at the two computers in front of me -- one blue, one black -- and without hesitation said "I'll take the blue one." Thankfully, I didn't have to make a choice from the entire array of colors that the VAIO E is offered in -- six in total. If you're keeping score at home, they are Iridescent Blue, Hibiscus Pink, Caribbean Green, Lava Black, Gunmetal Black, and Coconut White.
The computer features a black chiclet-style keyboard -- complete with dedicated numeric keypad -- and a black bottom, but the rest of the chassis is rife with living color. A diamond inlay pattern accents the color in both the palm rest and top cover, completing a computer that is as easy to look at as it is to use. With the exception of the Coconut White system, all the color schemes use a black keyboard and base. The Coconut computer bucks this trend, as it sports a white keyboard and black base.
Aesthetics aside, the system is everything you would expect out of a mainstream notebook. It's glossy 15.5" display produces stunning images, making it a great choice for video playback (select models include a Blu-ray drive), web browsing, and gaming alike. The speakers reproduce audio that is loud and clear, although you'll want to use headphones or dedicated speakers for a truly immersive aural experience. The computer also features HDMI output, allowing you to connect it to an HDTV using a single cable to transmit HD video and digital audio. This is especially useful if you choose a VAIO E with a Blu-ray player, as you'll be able to use the computer to watch high-def movies on your big-screen HDTV.
It is powered by Intel's Core i3-330M CPU, part of their new Core series of processors. The chip runs at a clockspeed of 2.13GHz, and provides significant performance improvements over the previous-generation Core 2 Duo processors running at similar clockspeed. Depending on the configuration, your system will either be powered by Intel GMA HD integrated graphics or ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5470 dedicated graphics with 512MB of memory. Systems with the Intel graphics feature 720p displays, while ATI-powered computers boast a 1080p Full HD display.
Sony's built-in MOTION EYE webcam is located above the LCD, centered in the top bezel. You'll be able to use it to chat online with friends and colleagues. The system also has a built-in microphone, ensuring that you'll be seen and heard in online chats. The computer is rated for 3.5 hours of battery life under ideal conditions. I got about three hours out of the computer's battery with "normal" use -- mostly typing, web browsing, and some Blu-ray video playback.
The computer's full-size keyboard is extremely comfortable to use. Chiclet-style keyboards have become my preference for notebook and desktop use alike. This one is responsive, sturdy, and features a dedicated numeric keypad for the spreadsheet mavens among us. The computer's trackpad is centered underneath the spacebar rather than centered on the palm rest itself. It features a textured finish, which gives you tactile feedback when using it. Two mouse buttons sit underneath it for clicking, although you can also tap the pad itself in order to left-click. It has a dedicated scroll area on the right edge, allowing you to scroll through web pages and documents using only one finger.
The system features the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium as its operating system. This version of Windows is loaded on almost every new consumer PC, with good reason. It offers an excellent balance of performance and features, and is further extended with Sony's software bundle. You'll get the Sony Creativity Suite, a 30-day subscription to Norton Internet Security, and a 60-day trial version of Microsoft Office. You'll also get the full version of Microsoft Works 9.0 SE, perfect for basic productivity.
Starting up Windows takes less than a minute, allowing you to get into the operating system with ease. If you are in even more of a hurry, simply start the computer using the "Web" button located above the keyboard. This brings you into a bare-bones Internet portal operating system, which will allow you to check your e-mail or a web site within seconds. It's great for those times when you simply need to check one thing and then turn the computer off again.
The computer features 3 USB 2.0 ports for external device connectivity. These are located on the right side of the system, next forward of the tray-loading optical drive and Kensington security slot. On the left side of the computer you'll find the plug for the AC adapter and Ethernet port towards the back. The VGA and HDMI outputs are adjacent to the eSATA port and ExpressCard/34 expansion slot on the left panel. Headphone and microphone jacks are located on the front right of the computer. Also on the front, you'll find the Secure Digital and Memory Card slots, and a dedicated switch to turn Wi-Fi on or off.
B&H carries several configurations of the VAIO EB. The base model, the VAIO VPCEBFX11, features the Intel Core i3-330M CPU, 4GB of RAM, a 320GB hard drive, a DVD burner, 802.11n Wi-Fi, a 720p (1366 x 768) 15.5" display, and Intel HD graphics. Like the other configurations, the computer weighs only 5.9 pounds.
The next model up, the VAIO VPCEBFX12, is almost identical -- it simply swaps out the 320GB hard drive for a larger, 500GB model. Moving up to the VAIO VPCEBFX15 (the system tested) replaces the DVD burner with a Blu-ray drive. The top-end system, the VAIO VPCEBFX17, features dedicated ATI Radeon graphics, a 1080p (1920 x 1080) display, and stereo Bluetooth 2.1+EDR for wireless device connectivity.
Regardless of which configuration -- or color -- you decide on, you'll find that the VAIO EB is a well-built notebook that is a pleasure to use. It is a solid performer for productivity tasks, yet fully capable of providing multimedia entertainment. While it isn't designed to give you all-day battery life, you won't be scampering to find an outlet at all times either. Besides, who wouldn't want a notebook that looks as snazzy as this one?
(Between you and me, though, if I was buying this for myself, I'd probably go pink.)