Three members of the new Vaio FE range are coming to the UK that share the same 15.4-inch X-black screen, run on Core 2 Duo processing power and use Nvidia GeForce Go 7-series graphics adaptors.
The top-line FE31Z has a 1.83GHz CPU, 2GB RAM, GeForce Go 7600 graphics card, a 200GB HDD and costs £1,299 SRP (£1,149 on the street), which seems quite reasonable, if a little pricey.
In the middle of the range is the FE31M with 1GB RAM, a 160GB HDD and an SRP of £1,099 when it goes on sale. Then we come to the runt of the litter -- the FE31H. Its dual-core CPU runs at 1.66GHz, it uses GeForce Go 7400 with TurboCache memory and the HDD is 120GB in size, but the price is listed at £899 (and we've already found it on sale at £800) -- incredibly cheap for a Sony.
Naturally you expect a Sony Vaio to look good but the FE31H is understated, almost to a fault. The chassis is dark grey, while the higher-spec models are light grey, with the all-important shiny Vaio logo on the lid. The keyboard has a gentle slope, which gives it a natural angle for typing, but leaning heavily on the chassis reveals a fair amount of flex, particularly on either side of the mouse trackpad.
The mouse selector buttons are slender bars that are positioned very close to the edge of the chassis. They look great but are very awkward to operate -- it seems Sony has put form before function here. Above the keyboard are shortcut buttons for mute, volume control, Sony Help and switching to an external monitor. The power button is positioned to the top right of the keyboard.
The rest of the layout is very tidy -- the network and modem ports are on the left side behind the DVD-RW drive, and the various ports and slots on the right. On the front are the jacks for a headset, along with a switch for the Wi-Fi adaptor and a slider to lock and unlock the lid. Sony has placed its Motion Eye webcam in the top bezel of the screen, but it's so discreet that you'd never know it was there unless you were looking especially hard.
With the exception of the network and modem connections, which are on the left side, Sony has arranged most of the connections on the right-hand side. Running from front to back is a PC Card slot, an ExpressCard/34 slot, then a (4-pin) Mini FireWire 400 port, three USB 2.0 ports, S-Video, VGA and the AC power port. Though neat, this layout is bound to become awkward. Lefties will prefer a USB port on the left -- particularly if using a mouse -- and connecting more than a handful of accessories at a time means they could get in each other's way.