Sony VAIO C-Series £719
2nd Aug 2011 | 13:36
Do Sony's dayglo laptops put style before substance?
Sony VAIO C Series: Overview
Sony's latest VAIO C-Series laptops have taken a good few pages out of Apple's big book of design and usability. The curvaceous aesthetics, well-spaced keyboards and not-too-intrusive extra software mean that they look and function amazingly well.
The Sony VAIO VPC-CA2C5E we were sent for review looks the part, finished with ludicrous levels of bright green perspex and plastic – although its hue will surely divide its target market.
The C-Series certainly puts the fun back into computing: we haven't seen such bountiful use of translucent plastic since the iMac back in the early 2000s.
When it's powered up, the keyboard is backlit and the whole thing glows eerily, complete with etched Sony and VAIO logos. Kids seem particularly attracted to it, which explains a lot given its positioning as a family laptop. It's available in a range of different colours, including more conservative blacks and whites and more vibrant pink, red, green, orange and blue.
There's a big gap in the market for a fun and funky laptop, especially in this 14-inch form factor. We've seen netbook manufacturers attempt to spice up computing with Asus's Disney Eee, and Packard Bell's Dot SE.
People seem to like customised laptops, too, and most of Dell's XPS 15 allows cases to be customised before you buy them. But Sony really has taken design to another level. It's a brave move, and one that's certain to attract people who are more into designer specs than computer specs, but what's Sony done inside the C Series?
Sony VAIO C Series: Specifications
Sony's VAIO C-Series laptops can be configured via the website, and the VPC-CA2C5E review model we were supplied with sat firmly in the middle of the customisation options: not too bad, but could be slightly better. It's powered by an Intel Core i5 2410M processor, backed up with an AMD Radeon HD 6470M graphics chip and 4GB DDR3 RAM.
The laptop can be configured with a Core i7 or i3 processor, as well as Intel onboard graphics and 6GB of RAM.
The body of the laptop feels substantial, and there is very little flex in the casing. At 2.3kg, it's not going to break your back – but we wouldn't want to have to carry it for extended periods. It can get a bit noisy and warm as the fans kick in when you're playing videos or games, but it's by no means a deal breaker.
As has become standard on Sony's laptops, there are three buttons for quick access to help, the internet and the VAIO media portal. They're by no means essential, and we do miss the screen-off button that's adorned previous VAIO laptops such as the VGN-NW11Z/S – it's incredibly handy when you want to connect the laptop to a TV to watch a Blu-Ray.
There is, unfortunately, none of Sony's own Blu-ray magic in our C-Series review model; it can be added in the build process, though.
Connectivity is amply handled by HDMI and VGA outputs, as well as three USB sockets – one of which is the speedy USB 3.0. The standard mic and headphone ports and a dual memory stick and SD Card reader complete the lineup.
Sony's screens are nothing short of amazing, and The C Series' 1366 x 768 display is no exception. Colours are vibrant and the contrast strong, but the viewing angle is a minor let-down. The size means you won't be watching films on this, though, and it's easy enough to connect to a big screen TV.
The built-in webcam is similarly impressive, offering clear images and video thanks to a 1.3MP Exmor sensor. However, for a company that prides itself on its high quality CD players and Walkmen, the tinniness of the speakers is disappointing.
As with Sony's other laptops, the C Series is an absolute joy in terms of usability. The separated keys make typing a doddle, and you're not likely to get crumbs underneath them. There is a slight flex to the keyboard, but not enough to be noticeable.
The trackpad and buttons are equally responsive, and Sony's integrated multi-touch makes zooming and scrolling nice and easy.
Sony VAIO C Series: Performance
The Sony VAIO C-Series is disappointingly run of the mill in terms of performance. Sony has created an all-rounder of a laptop that doesn't do anything spectacularly, and this wouldn't be so bad if it didn't have such a high (£719) price tag.
Even its own cheaper laptops – such as the VAIO VPC-EB3J0E/WI – don't score much lower in our benchmark tests.
The C-Series is capable when it comes to gaming, if nothing more. It's not going to stand up to a dedicated gaming laptop, such as MSI's GE700, but it happily chugs through most modern titles, provided their graphics settings are low enough.
It's more capable when it comes to video and photo editing, thanks to the Intel Core i5 processor. HD videos play flawlessly, too, and look absolutely amazing.
The single most disappointing thing about Sony's C Series is the battery life, or lack thereof. Battery Eater emptied a fully charged battery in less than an hour by stressing the computer as much as possible. This means gaming on the move is next to impossible, unless you want the computer to die more quickly than your character.
In real-world terms, we managed to get two hours out of the battery when word processing, and this was with Wi-Fi turned off. It's not great, and it seems Sony has designed the C Series primarily as a desktop replacement PC capable of brief trips out.
Taken as a desktop replacement, its usability and bright screen stand out, and it's perfectly capable of multitasking a word processor, media playback and web browsing. But most netbooks – such as Samsung's NC110 – are capable of this level of performance, and they cost a third of the price and have better battery life.
Battery Eater: 62 minutes
3D Mark 06: 5031
Sony VAIO C Series: Verdict
Sony's laptops may match Apple's in terms of usability and design, but Sony always adds a few bells and whistles to make them stand out from the crowd. Performance, unfortunately, seems to come second to design in Sony's world.
While the lime green colour of our Sony VAIO C Series review model is likely to inspire either slack-jawed awe or seething hatred, there's no denying that Sony has shaken things up in terms of design.
At the very least it makes a change from the black and silver hunks of plastic we've been toting since the early 2000s. It's a wonderful experience in terms of usability, and the bright screen, decent webcam and comfortable keyboard make it feel substantial and solid. For media tasks and general computing it performs very well, too.
Given the array of hardware packed into the C Series, we were disappointed with its performance. Although it's capable of moderate gaming, there are better dedicated alternatives for a similar price.
Battery life is the biggest let-down here, and a mere hour at high load is frankly appalling. There are laptops out there that offer 10 times as much, and with the Samsung Chromebook's eight hour battery life, it's become an important part of choosing a laptop.
It's unfortunate, but the Sony VAIO C Series let us down in exactly the way we expected: it's a complete triumph of style over substance.
Despite its amazing looks, and fairly beefy hardware, it just didn't perform as well as it should have. This is compounded by the price, which is too high. Medion's Akoya E6221 costs £240 less, but includes a similar level of hardware specifications and performs almost as well.
It's also clear that Sony is targeting consumers who like shiny and sleek Apple products, but has forgotten that the price tag has to be more competitive in order to truly attract this market.