Sony’s VAIO VPCEA22FX laptop

Sony targets the everyman with its VAIO EA series of all-purpose laptops. They’re affordable, medium-size, general-purpose workhorses with a variety of customization options. Available in a swath of colours and configurations, the EA series is neither slim and sexy nor bulky and heavy. It’s as close to the middle of the road as you’re likely to get from Sony.

The VPCEA22FX model we reviewed falls somewhere in the middle of the price-and-features range for the series. EA series laptops start at $699, but the configuration we had will run you $849 (prices as of October 5, 2010). For that amount, you get a Core i3 350M CPU at 2.26GHz, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB 5400-rpm hard drive, a DVD±RW drive, 802.11n wireless, IntelWiDi wireless display support, and Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR. That price also includes $50 for a premium colour treatment; you can choose basic matte black for free, or pay the extra sum to go with a purple, pink, blue, green, white, or black glossy two-tone finish. The premium finishes are slick, with a nice gradient pattern that carries over to the inside. Our test model, however, came in an absolutely abysmal lime green that does more to serve as a theft deterrent than a fashion statement.

Many hardware options are available in the VAIO EA models, including the ability to add discrete graphics in the form of a Radeon Mobility 5470 ($50 extra) or 5650 ($100 extra). If you plan on playing games, I suggest you choose the latter. Our test system included only the Intel HD Graphics integrated with the Core i3 CPU, and although that’s fine for basic computing tasks and standard-definition video, it doesn’t quite provide the premium high-def video quality or smooth gameplay that entertainment seekers demand. Our configuration delivered a reasonable WorldBench 6 score of 95, and the battery ran for about 3.5 hours on a single charge. If you want more power, you can upgrade the CPU (up to a Core i5-580M), enhance the RAM (up to 8GB), or swap the DVD drive out for Blu-ray.

The software bundle is substantial but not overbearing. You get some trialware such as Office 2010 Starter, Norton Internet Security, and a shortcut to the Shutterfly Web service. Sony bundles the Chrome Web browser and sets it as the default, but Internet Explorer 8 is still present as well. Sony’s built-in software and driver update utility is lean and useful, and the VAIO Care troubleshooting software (available via a dedicated button above the keyboard) is a handy way to access support, find and fix problems, and recover and restore data. Rounding out the software bundle are simple utilities such as ArcSoft WebCam Companion 3 (to make use of the VGA-quality Webcam), Evernote, and Roxio Easy Media Creator. Like all VAIOs, this model also gives you Sony’s own media-gallery app, which is pretty slick. If you choose to have Windows 7 Professional 64-bit edition installed, you can go for Sony’s free “Fresh Start” option, which delivers your laptop to you stripped of the vast majority of this stuff. It’s too bad the company doesn’t offer this feature for those who select Windows 7 Home Premium.

Aesthetically, the VPCEA22FX looks good, aside from the horrible green colour of our particular model. It has clean lines and a nice glossy coat over the two-tone color pattern, it isn’t too thick or bulky for a 14-inch laptop, and it’s lighter than it looks at 5.0 pounds. The Chiclet-style keyboard is among the better ones I’ve used, with keys that have good travel and a nice clicky response. The touchpad has a slightly textured, sandpapery feel that makes tracking with your fingertips smooth and accurate, and the two distinct buttons beneath it are just the right size and require just the right pressure to activate. It’s loaded with ports, too. On the right side with the optical drive are three USB 2.0 ports, while the left side includes gigabit Ethernet, a combo USB/eSATA port, and ExpressCard. On the front edge you’ll find a pair of memory card readers on the left, and the headphone and mic jack on the right. The glossy 1366-by-768-pixel LED-backlit display is average, with good brightness and average viewing angles but a slightly washed-out tone.

If you’re in the market for a basic all-around laptop, you can do a lot worse than the VAIO EA series. The Sony VAIO VPCEA22FX I tested is not too big or heavy, offers impressive style (if you choose a good colour), and has a very good keyboard and touchpad. Performance is good, too, although you’ll want to pick a discrete graphics card if you intend to play games. The VAIO EA series isn’t exactly inexpensive for the hardware you get, but it’s worth paying a little extra for the excellent design and usability.

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