Skinning is a popular term for adding a whole new look for software, but its not often that you get an actual skin with your gadget. The Sony Vaio E Series 14P laptop comes with a silicone keyboard skin that goes atop your keyboard, protecting it and changing its colour and feel.
It’s part of a package of tiny details and touches that make the Sony Vaio E Series 14P feel as though it’s had a lot of attention to the overall look and feel. Take, for example, the red-maroon highlights along the edge of the keys and keyboard, the screen, the touchpad and the chassis base. The skin is the same red-maroon, as is a mouse that also comes with the laptop, giving the entire thing a very considered, stylish feel. That’s a feat, because the construction materials are otherwise very standard: a solid plastic lid, thin metal strip in silver, and the rest encased in matte black plastic. It’s subdued, but it’s also pretty resilient to the kind of pressure and warping tests I tried.
The understated-but-capable design extends to the internals. Here the 14P has a 2.5GHz Intel second generation Core i5-2450M processor, which is very much mid-range, alongside the new AMD Radeon 7670M GPU and 4GB of system RAM. It delivers solid benchmark results in our testing, providing all-round performance slightly above its mid-range specifications might lead you to expect. It compared favourably to – within 10 percent of – the Sony VAIO Z in many respects, for example, and soundly beat the Sony Vaio Y. It has excellent 3DMark scores and good scores for both PCMark and 7-Zip. It doesn’t excel at gaming, though it’s certainly capable of handling Diablo III on low settings comfortably. Instead, the GPU power seems to be focused more towards productivity and multi-tasking. The only real downside we found for the handy performance results is that the fan gets noisy rapidly, and doesn’t shut up.
The screen, at 1600 x 900, is high resolution for a 14-inch laptop. Viewing angles are reasonable and we found colours vibrant and crisp on full brightness settings. At half brightness, things get a little murky, but that’s to be expected.
There’s a good selection of connectivity and ports: two USB 3.0 ports (one sleep-and-charge), two USB 2.0 ports, HDMI-out, Gigabit Ethernet, wireless-n and a VGA port, as well as headphone/mic connections. You also get a DVD-writer – something you won’t find on Ultrabooks – but the hard drive is a little skimpy at 320GB.
The skin on the backlit keyboard makes it feel a little soft, but without the skin the keys have good travel and a nice ‘bounciness’. I found it comfortable, although it took me a day or so to get used to the softer feel. The trackpad took longer to get used to – the left click seems to function only in the very lower-left-hand corner, making it easy to miss when you’re in a hurry or trying a dual-point gesture. I admit that I eventually resorted to the included mouse.
Sony has a few interesting software additions: an easy-off wi-fi widget, a pop-out dock display at the top of the screen which has an Eye-of-Sauron style cursor-tracking feature to detect whether or not it should open, and a Sony Vaio update service.
It’s not an Ultrabook, but it weighs a portable 2.25kg, and with a battery life of two hours 25 minutes in our Productivity battery life test, it’s not exactly a Neanderthal of laptops. Given the depth of performance, too, this is a good all rounder at $1,400 – far less than you’d pay for an Ultrabook. It’s only available from Sony stores (Auckland, Christchurch or Wellington) or online, but for a midrange laptop, this represents good value for money.
Sony is distributed in New Zealand by Dove Electronics.
This review first appeared in the July issue of New Zealand PC World.