If watching movies in bed or on your sofa is your thing, a 17-inch laptop could be your perfect companion. Sony's new E Series is such a machine, offering a Full HD screen and a Blu-ray player to get the most from your films.
My review model came with an Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM and an AMD Radeon HD 7650M graphics card, for which you'd pay £870 from Laptops Direct.
Alternatively, head over to the Sony store and you can select lesser options of nearly all the components, bringing the price down to £490 for the base model, but you won't get anything like the same performance.
Design and build
If you're in the market for a new 17-inch laptop, odds are that portability isn't high on your list. By their nature, 17-inchers are going to be chunky guys and the E 17 is no exception. It's wide, it's 35mm thick and it's heavy. You're really going to have to find a big, strong bag to carry it around.
Of course, laptops of this size are meant for the home, where the only transportation they undergo is between the sofa, the bed and the toilet, so its size isn't necessarily a problem. If you do need to take it anywhere distant, just make sure you've done a few upper-back exercises before setting off.
The entire chassis is made from a black matte plastic (or white, if you've gone for that colour option), which gives it a stark, monolithic appearance. On the lid you'll see the Vaio branding that you'll no doubt want to show off to your mates. But make sure you give it a polish first as that plastic is a total fingerprint trap.
The chassis is very plasticky but feels fairly firm -- although there's some flex in the lid and on the keyboard tray. The wrist rest and hinges feel very secure though, so I'm confident it's at least burly enough to withstand a life in the average family's living room.
The keyboard is a pretty standard isolated affair, which on my model was backlit. It's an additional extra though, so if you never type with the lights off then you can probably do without. It's perfectly comfortable to type on for fairly long periods and it has a separate numeric keypad on the right for all the number fun you could want.
The trackpad is pretty small, especially when you consider all the spare plastic surrounding it. I don't think it's too much to ask of Sony to provide more finger-sliding space. Still, it's at least fairly responsive and has a satisfying click, which makes nippy web browsing that much more pleasant.
The 17.3-inch display has a resolution of 1,920x1,080 pixels -- that's Full HD to you and me. The standard model comes with a 1,600x900-pixel resolution, which you'll find perfectly adequate for most office tasks, but if you're a serial movie addict and you've also plumped the extra for the Blu-ray player, it's probably worth laying down the extra £40 for a Full HD screen.
It makes even small icons appear deliciously crisp and the flames and snow in my Blu-ray copy of The Last Airbender look excellent -- although, sadly, it could do nothing to improve the film's plot.
It handles colours well, although it lets itself down with a lack of brightness. It's not exactly what you'd call dull, but I couldn't help but feel there should be another couple of notches of brightness above its maximum. If you make a habit of using your computer in a sunlit room and need supernova levels of brightness, you might want to get an eyes-on with some other screens before buying this laptop.
The E 17 I was given to rip into while laughing maniacally packed an Intel Core i7-3612QM processor clocked at 2.1GHz, along with a healthy 8GB of RAM. You can spec the E 17 up to be as powerful as you want -- or more realistically, as you can afford.
My configuration costs £870. Oddly, my 8GB of RAM isn't available on Sony's own store but it is through Laptops Direct. If you want something less wallet clenching then you can opt for a Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, a lower screen resolution, no dedicated GPU, a DVD drive and no keyboard backlighting, which will cost you a much more palatable £490. You shouldn't expect it to give anything like the same level of performance -- the only similarity to my model would be the chassis.
To see what sort of performance the review machine produced, I unleashed the Geekbench and PCMark05 benchmark tests and was given scores of 12,589 and 10,369 respectively. Those are both very respectable scores and put the E 17 alongside high-powered laptops like the Toshiba Satellite P855, which I found to be very potent.
It was perfectly capable of playing back high-definition video smoothly, tackling any office task I threw at it, maintaining a responsive performance when busy doing other tasks. Of course, you'd expect a machine you've just spent over 800 quid on to be no slouch, so it's good to know it has a little extra up its sleeve.
It was able to encode my 11-minute 1080p test video file into 24 frames per second H.264 video in the lightning-fast time of 5 minutes 10 seconds, which again is very similar to the performance of Toshiba's P855. The E 17 will easily be able to tackle some editing of your holiday snaps and should mash up your video clips from your phone without stressing, but don't ask it to do anything too strenuous.
My review model boasts an AMD Radeon HD 7650M graphics card with 2GB of VRAM for tackling games. It achieved the admirable score of 7,550 on the 3Dmark06 graphics benchmark test, which falls short of the 10,600 the P855 managed, but it still shows it's got gaming skills. You won't be tackling the most demanding PC titles, such as Metro 2033 or Crysis 2, on the highest settings, but it shouldn't struggle to run more sedate games if you knock the detail down a little.
The Sony Vaio E Series 17 offers a satisfying serving of power, a Blu-ray drive and a high-definition screen, making it a great option for movie lovers who want to catch up on their favourite flicks from the bed or the sofa. Its price might be a tad steep for some, but you could always sacrifice power for a much lower price when configuring your purchase, while still keeping the Vaio name glistening on top.