'Value for money’ isn't a phrase you’d normally associate with Sony's Vaio laptops, but that could be about to change judging by its new E Series.
Faced with stiff competition from the prudent but powerful likes of Asus' UL series and the Acer Timeline class, the replacement for the outgoing Vaio NW isn't just a big improvement on the looks and spec sheet of its predecessor – the base model retails for just a few quid over £500. In other words, the Vaio E is surprisingly cheap.
You wouldn't know it from the outside, though. The Vaio E isn’t as slim as some other 15in machines out there, but that's largely because it's not driven by a low-power processor and comes kitted out with a discrete graphics card.
The Core i5 CPU and Radeon HD5470 graphics partnership that appears in our top of the range review sample isn't up to high-def gaming, but it will get Far Cry 2 running at a reasonable enough speed to play.
For desktop apps and video – courtesy of the Blu-ray drive – they're a winning combination, making the Vaio E quick booting, responsive and a very decent all-rounder.
What's more, they yielded over five hours of battery life in our tests, which is impressive for a notebook of this calibre, although we have seen evidence that the lower cost models aren't quite as long lasting.
The best part about the Vaio E, though, is that you won't find another machine for this price with a Full HD, 1920x1080 screen. As with most Sony displays, it's sharp and colourful too, doing those Blu-ray vids justice when you can't be bothered to plug in the HDMI cable.
There's a lot of attention to detail in the aesthetic, too. There's no fancy metal trim to catch the eye and it's not the lightest laptop you could buy, but the hard-coated case is exceptionally well put together and comes in a variety of colours, from our review unit’s black to a shocking pink for the more, um, adventurous.
The full-size chiclet keyboard is comfortable to type on, and there's even room on the right hand side for a number pad – yet another thing you don't often see on a 15-incher.
We're not so enamoured with the desktop dock – it's a handy place for hiding all the trial apps and Vaio-ware that you'll probably never use, but the trend for manufacturers to bundle a bonus dock with Windows 7 continues to baffle us. Isn't the main selling point of the new OS that is has a perfectly functional dock of its own?
A couple of clicks disables that, though, leaving a good-value, strong-performing and well-built laptop that looks and feels like it cost a whole lot more.