Sony recently embarked on a mission to streamline and simplify its product lines to make it easier for customers to understand at a glance which Vaio series is right for them. One of the first to be announced is the Vaio Fit E, a series that encompasses mainstream 14- and 15-inch laptops that balance good design with budget price. The base cost of $579 for the 15.6-inch model is tempting, but at that price you’re getting a Pentium processor and seriously basic specs.
As always, Sony offers a wide range of configuration options all with the same basic design, so you can upgrade the specs before you buy. The Fit E pairs an Ultrabook processor with not-so-Ultrabookish, conventional hard drive. The Sony Vaio Fit E 15 we tested has a higher-end hardware configuration, including a full HD touchscreen, a Core i5 processor, and the maximum amount of RAM, totaling an MSRP of $899. At this price, consumers should expect a certain level of performance.
In this case, maxing out the specs may not make for the best laptop. So is the Fit E worth considering if you’re looking for a solid, mainstream laptop?
Design, keyboard, and touchpad
The Vaio Fit E is a mainstream notebook with average looks. It’s nothing flashy – just an attractive and streamlined design that minimizes the size without attempting to look like an Ultrabook. Matte plastic (available in white, black, or pink) gives the lid and deck a nice feel. All around, the construction comes off as solid, though not premium. On the laptop’s bottom are a couple of access panels for upgrade purposes. The narrow battery fits into the back of the machine and sits flush with the casing.
We’re not fans of the glossy plastic bezel that surrounds the glossy display since it exacerbates the reflections the screen is already prone to kicking back. The hinge connecting the two halves isn’t tight enough to keep the display from timidly wobbling when we tapped the touchscreen, and the reflections bouncing off the bezel made this minor annoyance more noticeable.
The port spread is average for this size laptop: two USB 2.0, two USB 3.0 (one powered), HDMI-out, Ethernet, headphone, mic, SD card reader, and optical drive. With so much space, we would have appreciated another USB port or two, though four should suit most people’s needs.
Sony’s familiar island-style keyboard has plenty of room for a full number pad and ample space between keys. The roominess makes up for having flat keys, and less accurate typists will find it helpful. As for the keyboard’s backlight, it’s bright but uneven. Unless you’re in a dim or dark environment, it makes the letters on the keys more difficult to read. What’s even more annoying is there’s no button on the keyboard or the deck to turn the backlight off and on. Instead, you have to find the right settings menu in Windows to do so.
The wide touchpad centered below the G and H keys is clickpad-style, so there are no discrete mouse buttons. Nonetheless, we kept reaching for them since there’s exactly enough space under the touchpad for buttons. The generous surface area left plenty of room for pulling off multitouch gestures and Windows 8 charms, though the sensitivity settings were on way too high out of the box, resulting in a frustratingly jerky experience at first.
To the right of the touchpad is the Vaio’s Near Field Communication area, a feature usually found on more high-end systems. Sony put it there for the purpose of connecting to the company’s growing list of NFC multimedia accessories (most prominently speakers). While it can connect to a smartphone with NFC, there are no built-in apps for this operation.
Display and audio quality
Windows 8 is much easier to deal with if a touchscreen is involved, and the touchscreen offered on the Fit E is accurate and responsive. The 15.6-inch, full 1080p HD panel shows deep, rich colors and blacks. However, brightness levels aren’t impressive, nor are they high enough to combat the glossiness of the display – which is evident even when the screen is mostly filled with lighter colors. In our tests, the display rendered 78 percent of the sRGB gamut. Viewing angles are wide enough that you won’t need to stay in one exact sweet spot when sitting directly in front of the Vaio. However, moving back a bit to watch videos results in color distorting both vertically and horizontally, forcing you to find the exact right angle before leaning back to enjoy.
As for the audio, the speakers located just under the front lip of the laptop and the subwoofer on the bottom pump enough volume to be heard clearly over medium to loud background noise. Audio quality is average and not too flat or tinny, but you probably won’t want to use it as your only sound system.
The Vaio’s main vent sits along the left edge next to the power port, so owners will need to watch how they place the power cord. During normal usage, the laptop stays relatively cool, only warming up a bit on soft surfaces. When taxed, however, the highest temperature we recorded was 98 degrees on the bottom left near the vent, and even that was in a small part of a small area. Overall, the Fit E stayed cool.
Fan noise wasn’t apparent at idle or when performing basic tasks, staying around the ambient noise level of 40 decibels. When we taxed the system and the fan kicked in, the whir hovered around 42 decibels and only got up to a max of 44 decibels. The noise would be apparent in a quiet room but isn’t distracting or overwhelming.
The Vaio Fit E comes off as svelte for a 15.6-inch laptop and weighs just less than 6 pounds, which is about average for the category. Carrying it around all day will be wearying to someone who travels more on foot than a car (college students, or public transit commuters). For more intermittent portability, the size and weight is workable either in messenger bags or backpacks.
Unfortunately, you’ll have to add the weight of the charger to your bag for most trips. The Vaio only lasted around 2.5 hours with mixed usage (word processing, Web surfing, video, and music). It scored just one hour and 53 minutes on the Peacekeeper Battery Test. This laptop is meant to sit in one place most of the time while still remaining portable enough to carry on trips, to study group, and easily move around the house or apartment.
Our review unit’s configuration includes a 1.8GHz Intel Core i5-3337U processor backed by 8GB of RAM (maximum) and a 5400rpm 1TB hard drive. The SiSoft Sandra score of 39 GOPS is in line with other systems with this processor, as is the 7-Zip score of 7374. However, the PCMark 7 score of 2903 is pretty low and only just above the Asus VivoBook S550CA‘s score (one of the lowest we’ve seen in a while). The mechanical hard drive is the culprit here. A solid-state drive would have boosted performance significantly, but it would’ve also hiked up the price.
At the $899 asking price for this configuration, we’d like to see better performance.
The integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 chip doesn’t offer much of a performance boost, either. On 3DMark11, the system scored 653, indicating that you won’t get the best out of most modern games, even if you take the graphics down to medium detail. Casual games will run fine, and full HD video plays smoothly whether streaming or playing on the hard drive.
Bloatware seemed to be on the wane with the introduction of Windows 8, but the further away we get from W8’s October 2012 launch, the more companies start adding excess software. At least the pre-loaded apps aren’t frivolous bloat with the Fit E series. Sony pre-loads about a dozen programs mostly having to do with entertainment and creation. We particularly enjoyed painting pictures in Art Rage and cutting together short videos in the Movie Creator. More useful are the Vaio Care and Assist button programs. These give access to troubleshooting tools, manuals, and more advanced customer care.
The Sony Vaio Fit E is a solid all-purpose mainstream laptop that’s attractive and not too heavy with a good keyboard and plenty of ports. However, at the $899 asking price for this configuration, we’d like to see better performance. The elements that raised the price of our review unit – full HD, touchscreen, max RAM – aren’t necessary, and it’s worth leaving them off the table to balance price and value. Just don’t skimp on the processor model in order to bring the cost down.
If better performance is what you’re after, we highly suggest considering the discrete graphics and hybrid internal storage options. If the thought of looking through a list of components fills you with anxiety, and you’d rather go with an off-the-shelf solution, the 14-inch $799 Toshiba Satellite U845t Ultrabook offers better performance and higher value in this price range.
Still, the basic building blocks for a good laptop exist in the Vaio Fit E; customers just need to do a little tweaking to make it right.
- Attractive, streamlined design
- Comfortable keyboard
- Quiet and cool
- Glossy display not bright enough to mitigate reflections
- Narrow viewing angles
- Over-sensitive touchpad
- Short battery life