If you're after a stylish laptop that won't break the bank, this ivory stunner -- the Sony Vaio VPCEB3J0E/WI -- might fit the bill. Our review model was supplied by Laptops Direct, where you can buy it for £560, which is relatively cheap for a Sony-branded model.
The EB3J0E/WI shares a similar design to the rather attractive Vaio EE3E0E/WI we looked at recently. Certainly, with its silver lid, ivory keyboard and wrist rest, it's a striking machine. Sony has also added some attractive detailing here and there, such as the seamless integration of the trackpad into the wrist rest and the industrial-style speaker grille that runs across the top of the keyboard. Given this model's top-notch build quality, it's easy to overlook the fact it's fairly heavy for a 15-incher, at 2.7kg.
Some of the cheaper Sony models we've looked at over the last couple of months have relied on AMD processors, but the EB3J0E/WI takes the more traditional Intel route. It's built around a dual-core Intel Core i3-370M processor that ticks over at 2.40GHz. This is helped along by a decent 4GB helping of RAM, which is fully addressable by the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given the price, Sony hasn't added discrete graphics capability, sticking with the integrated Intel HD solution instead. Opting for an Intel processor rather than an AMD one has certainly paid dividends when it comes to performance. The laptop racked up a score of 4,984 in the PCMark05 benchmark test, compared to the 3,968 that the AMD-equipped EE3E0E/WI managed. As a result, it'll have no problem dealing with more demanding tasks such as HD video editing.
On the flip side, its use of integrated graphics means it's not so hot when it comes to 3D gaming. In the 3DMark06 benchmark test, it limped its way to a score of 1,733, so it certainly doesn't have the graphical grunt for the latest first-person shooters, although you will be able to play older titles at a decent frame rate if you turn the detail settings down.
Elsewhere, the specification continues to impress. The 320GB hard drive will provide enough storage space for all but those with the largest of digital media collections, and the on-board DVD writer means you can easily run off your own custom DVDs and CDs.
Plenty of ports
The range of ports on offer is also decent. There are four USB ports and one of these also doubles as an eSata port, which is handy for connecting up external high-speed storage devices like hard drives. There are both VGA and HDMI ports for hooking the laptop up to an external monitor or HD Ready TV, and the ExpressCard slot means there's room for future expansion. The front lip is also home to Memory Stick and SD card readers, both of which are handy for transferring files from portable devices like digital cameras. Naturally, there's 801.11n Wi-Fi on board and Sony has included Bluetooth 2.1, too.
We've no complaint about the excellent screen and keyboard, either. The display has a glossy coating, but it's not overly reflective. This coating, combined with the LED backlighting, helps colours look very bright and vivid. The viewing angle is reasonably wide, too, especially for a laptop in this price bracket, and although the display's resolution of 1366x768 pixels is nothing to get excited about, text and graphics still look pin sharp.
An isolated issue
The keyboard continues to rack up kudos points for this Vaio. It features isolated keys and the wide, flat surface area of each key, combined with the overall solid feel of the keyboard, means it's very comfortable to type on. Also, the generous amount of space between the keys helps to reduce errors when you're typing at speed.
Unfortunately, the laptop is more of a sprinter than a long-distance runner when it comes to battery life. It only managed to keep running for an hour and three minutes before it ran out of puff in our Battery Eater test. Most 15-inchers manage to last for another 20 minutes or so. That said, the test does place a very heavy load on the processor to simulate worst-case-scenario battery consumption, so under normal usage conditions it should last much longer.
Despite its brief battery life, we think the Sony Vaio VPC-EB3J0E/WI would make an excellent choice as a family laptop thanks to its decent performance, stylish design and impressive array of ports. Its relatively low price tag helps to make it an even more tempting proposition.
Edited by Emma Bayly