Sony's Vaio E series VPCEA3S1E is designed to be an all-round 14-inch laptop that's as suited to playing movies at home as it is to word processing on the go. It's available for £650 or thereabouts from Laptops Direct and other vendors. Let's see if it's up to scratch.
Down the rabbit hole
It's hard to find much to fault with the EA3's appearance. Our model's lid and wrist rest were finished in an attractive translucent white, with a Matrix-style dripping-dots pattern managing to look futuristic without coming across as tacky. This goes well with the matte silver used around the speaker grilles and the white keyboard inlay. The overall feel is of a fun and funky machine you'd be happy to whip out on the train.
Like many of today's laptops, this model has an isolated keyboard. The keys are wide and flat, and, although many of them feel shallow, they have plenty of travel. This, combined with their springy action and solid feel, makes them fast and comfortable to type on.
The trackpad is also ace. A dimpled texture on the surface helps your finger glide effortlessly across it, and indicates its boundaries too. The two buttons are responsive and the trackpad supports multi-touch, so you can pinch your fingers to zoom in and out on pictures and Web pages.
Above the keyboard are three buttons marked 'assist', 'Web' and 'Vaio'. Hitting the assist button launches the laptop into the Vaio Care Rescue mode, which offers tools for repairing or restoring Windows.
The Web button boots up a quick-start Internet browser that takes around 24 seconds to load when the laptop is switched off. It's designed to let you quickly check something on the Internet or log into webmail when you're on the move. It's a full browser and includes Flash support, so you can even use it to watch videos on BBC iPlayer or YouTube.
The Vaio button starts the Vaio Media Gallery from within Windows. This is a pretty pointless piece of software -- Windows' own gallery software is easier to use and has more features.
In living colour
The VPCEA3S1E's 14-inch screen has a resolution of 1,366x768 pixels, which is pretty much par for the course on a laptop of this size, but text still looks pretty crisp. The screen's viewing angles are fairly wide too, and, although it uses a glossy coating, it isn't as reflective as some other displays.
The display's main strength is in the lush colours it's capable of displaying. It lends movies and pictures an extra vividness you don't often see elsewhere.
Despite the chassis' relatively small size, Sony has managed to pack in a pretty impressive line-up of ports. There are four USB ports, for example, one of which also doubles up as a high-speed eSata port.
On the front lip you'll find both SD card and Memory Stick slots, and the laptop also sports both VGA and HDMI connectors. The latter makes it very easy to hook the laptop up to a high-definition TV. Alongside the usual Wi-Fi and Ethernet support, Sony has also included a Bluetooth module, and the 500GB hard drive provides plenty of storage space for your files.
Processor muscle on the EA3 comes courtesy of an Intel Core i3-370M chip that's clocked at 2.4GHz. This is helped along by 4GB of RAM and in the PCMark05 test it launched the laptop to a fairly impressive score of 6,349. This shows it'll easily handle day to day tasks, as well as more demanding stuff such as photo and video effects.
Taking care of graphics duties there's a dedicated ATI Mobility Radeon HD5470. This is not the fastest chip on the block, but it managed to rack up a score of 4,570 in 3DMark06, which isn't too bad. It's unlikely to deliver smooth frame rates in the latest games, but you'll probably be able to get away with using it to play games that are a couple of years old.
The laptop is also a little disappointing when it comes to battery life. In the taxing Battery Eater test, which runs the processor at full whack, it managed to keep going for only 1 hour and 4 minutes. By way of comparison, the cheaper Acer Timeline X 4820T we looked at recently managed to last for 2 hours in the same test.
The EA3 is a well built laptop from Sony that looks stylish and is comfortable to use. It also has a decent amount of grunt under the bonnet. If you're looking for a 14-inch laptop to use primarily on the move, however, Acer's 4820T is a better option due to its far longer battery life.
Edited by Nick Hide