Sony VAIO CA Series £799

19th Apr 2011 | 11:24

Sony VAIO CA Series

Cheerful and colourful family laptop, with Intel's latest Core i5

TechRadar rating:

3 stars

Good performance and usability is let down by poor battery life and storage.

Like:

Colourful design (ooh); Sandy Bridge performance; Dedicated graphics; Highly usable; Decent screen;

Dislike:

Colourful design (ugh); Below average battery life; Limited storage; Reflective display;

Sony VAIO CA Series review: Overview

Here at TechRadar Towers, we see an awful lot of laptops. Some are hulking desktop replacements, some are highly desirable ultraportables, but these days it takes something particularly eye-catching to stand out from the crowd.

One sure-fire method is to use a bright and colourful design. From Dell's XPS 15, which can be customised with an excellent variety of slick and surreal lid prints, to Packard Bell's red-tinted EasyNote range, it's always refreshing to see something a little different.

Sony has gone for full-on bright colours with its new VAIO CA Series, a range of family-friendly laptops that pack in Intel's latest Sandy Bridge technology. While the result will definitely get you noticed on public transport, reactions are likely to vary. Our green model gathered great interest, with some people loving the radioactive glow and others clutching their eyes, screaming in mortal terror.

If green doesn't suit, you can also purchase the VAIO CA in similarly bright orange and pink models. Otherwise, if you prefer something a little more subtle, the laptop comes in conventional black and white.

Sony vaio ca series

As with most Sony laptops, build quality is strong. The plastic chassis is reassuringly tough with no obvious weak points, aside from some slight flex around the DVD drive.

And although the keyboard is a tiny bit spongy in the centre, it's a well-sized and quiet board that's comfortable to type on for extended periods. Each key pokes up through individual holes cut into the VAIO CA's chassis, a style that's highly popular at the moment. Backlighting gives the keys an eerie glow and allows you to work well into the night.

The touchpad is also highly usable, with a beveled surface that proves responsive to all of your swipes and prods, and two firm mouse buttons that sit underneath.

With a weight of 2.3kg, the VAIO CA can definitely be carried around if needed. Be warned that the 39mm chassis is fairly bulky, however, so you'll need to clear some space in your bag first.

Sony VAIO CA Series review: Specifications

Sony VAIO CA Series review: Specifications

Sony vaio ca series

Sony's laptops rarely disappoint when it comes to their screens. The VAIO CA's 14-inch display is no exception, and images are reasonably sharp thanks to the 1366 x 768 resolution, but it's the contrast levels that particularly impress. We also liked the way the screen stretches close to the edges of the lid, making full use of the available space.

Images are vibrant and an ambient light sensor automatically adjusts brightness levels, although the VAIO CA's maximum brightness isn't too impressive. The glossy Super-TFT display is also typically reflective, so you'll be squinting inches from the surface if you use the laptop outside.

Anyone who uses video conferencing applications such as Skype will be pleased to know there's an integrated HD webcam positioned just above the VAIO CA's screen. Quality is great for online chats, with strong focus and minimal motion blur. The bundled ArcSoft application can be used to capture video or as a security feature, to detect motion in a room while you're absent.

As usual, Sony has included its VAIO, ASSIST and WEB shortcut buttons. ASSIST loads Vaio Care, which diagnoses any problems with the VAIO CA, restores the laptop if necessary, and gives access to various system settings.

Sony vaio ca series

WEB provides an instant way of loading your internet browser, if you're desperate to get online, while VAIO is a kind of media portal that enables you to quickly browse your photos, music and movies.

With just 250GB of storage on board, you sadly won't have much space for this media. We're sure Sony could have fitted double the amount into the chunky chassis, and we're sure that it won't take long for most users to fill up the meager amount on offer. Also bear in mind that a chunk of this is taken up by the recovery partition.

Thankfully networking is much stronger, with 802.11n Wi-Fi support providing the fastest access to wireless networks currently available. If you prefer a bit of good old fashioned wired networking, Gigabit Ethernet is also available.

Ports are fairly standard for this kind of laptop. You get four USB ports for hooking up peripherals, and one of them is USB 3.0, which we've found transfers data at twice the rate of the old USB 2.0 standard. Handy if you regularly back up data to an external USB hard drive or similar.

VGA and HDMI ports are also available, for hooking up an external display.

Sony VAIO CA Series review: Performance

Sony VAIO CA Series review: Performance

Sony vaio ca series

Battery: 184
Mobile Mark: 281
3D Mark: 12,373

We've seen a lot of new laptops incorporating Intel's powerful Sandy Bridge chipset, and the scores we've achieved from our benchmark tests have been very impressive indeed, with a clear leap in performance over the original Core i3, i5 and i7 CPUs.

The Sony VAIO CA uses an Intel Core i5-2410M running at 2.3GHz, with 4GB of DDR3 memory. Once again, performance is excellent, so you can comfortably run a number of applications at once with no lag or stuttering.

We witnessed a similarly strong effort from the new Sony VAIO S Series, which uses the same Core i5 chipset. The Dell XPS 17 managed to wring even more power from the 2410M in our benchmark tests, with the same amount of memory, although the difference isn't enough to favour one over the other.

Sony vaio ca series

Sony has also slotted a dedicated AMD Radeon HD 6470M GPU into the VAIO CA. While the card can't handle the latest games without the detail settings dropped, it still does an admirable job with multimedia applications such as video editing software. You'll also be able to watch HD films, although the screen doesn't quite do them justice.

Sadly, this combination of Sandy Bridge power and dedicated graphics really takes its toll on the battery. We only got around three hours of life with brightness turned down to 50 per cent, which dropped further when watching DVDs. Anyone looking for portability would be better suited by the Sony VAIO VPCSB1V9E, which lasted almost five hours away from the mains.

Sony VAIO CA Series review: Conclusion

Sony VAIO CA Series review: Conclusion

Sony vaio ca series

Sony's VAIO CA is one of the more colourful entries in the Japanese giant's laptop catalog recently. Actually, it's the most eye-catching device we've seen in months, although immediate reactions to the design are liable to vary between 'curious interest' and 'appalled double-take'.

Still, with Intel's Sandy Bridge technology on board, the VAIO CA is more than just a garish radioactive face. And with Sony's reputation for quality, we had high hopes for this laptop.

We liked

The Sandy Bridge Core i5 processor produces some typically stunning performance, with enough grunt to run all of your applications. This is backed up by the dedicated AMD graphics card, perfect for viewing and editing media and even some light gaming.

Build quality is as strong as ever. The VAIO CA's plastic chassis is as durable as it is colourful, while the backlit isolation-style keyboard is quiet and comfortable to use. A responsive beveled touchpad proves just as usable.

We also liked the VAIO CA's 14-inch Super-TFT display, which was suitably vibrant with strong contrast. An ambient light sensor automatically adjusts brightness levels, although the maximum brightness is still a little dim, and the glossy coating is reflective in light conditions.

We disliked

The powerful components have a profound effect on battery life, with the VAIO CA dying after just three hours (or even quicker when watching DVDs). This isn't a terrible result, but definitely below average for a modern laptop.

A mere 250GB of storage space is also limiting, so you won't be able to carry a large amount of media with you, especially if you've got lots of applications installed.

And of course the VAIO CA's bright design won't appeal to all tastes, but bear in mind that white and black versions are also available.

Verdict

There are better mid-range laptops available, but the Sony VAIO CA series is still an appealing prospect thanks to its strong performance and excellent build quality. Most attention is undoubtedly focused on the colourful design, and we're sure that many people will make their purchasing decision based on their immediate visual impressions.

laptops notebooks Intel Sandy Bridge mobile computing TRBC
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