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To be brutally honest, Sony’s ‘affordable’ laptops, till now, felt just that. There was too much compromise on build quality, specs and ultimately, the performance. Particularly when compared to the likes of the HP Sleekbook and the Lenovo IdeaPad series of machines.
However, the company’s updated Fit series seems to be doing a much better job of it. For starters, you don’t realize the VAIO Fit 15E costs around Rs 35000, just by looking at it. If we are to hide the price tag from you, the build quality would make you believe the price would be Rs. 10,000 more, at least. And that is a good starting point to get into the details about this machine.
Build & Design: A Job Well Done
The matte black finish, with the typical VAIO rounded edges, makes the Fit 15E have a rather curvy look. Not the slimmest machine around, but very manageable in terms of weight and footprint, keeping in mind the 15.5-inch display size.
We are quite impressed by the build quality that is on offer, and the good quality materials used on the Fit 15E. The matte finish throughout is very much welcome, because that negates the pain of trying to keep the machine clean from fingerprints, dust and grime. The lid gets the typical VAIO logo and the smaller Sony branding, both with the silver finish in fairly thin fonts, irrespective of the size. Open the lid, and the keyboard deck has the same matte black colour. Very thankful that the bezel around the screen isn’t as glossy as what some rivals offer. It has always been a tad perplexing that most machines with completely non-glossy finish would get the shiniest and the most dust accumulating bezels.
Sony, we must say, has done a very good job with the overall design of the VAIO Fit 15E. The design is a steady blend of curves and straight lines. Port placement is pretty conventional. The right spine has the optical drive and two USB ports. The left side spine also has two USB ports, the HDMI out and the Ethernet port, along with a fairly generous cooling vent. But, there is a slight problem with the design of the spines. The ports are placed at a position where the keyboard deck ends up as a virtual shade for them, and that can kind of get in the way of access. By that, we mean you may not be able to figure out where the ports are by the feel of the fingers, and you may most likely have to look down before plugging something in.
The Fit 15E’s keyboard deck sits slightly lower than the touchpad and the elevation of the palmrest area. This, contrary to what you may immediately believe, is actually more supportive of the hands resting and being more comfortable when typing in the long run. Pretty much on the lines of what Apple does with the MacBooks.
Overall, in a complete reversal from the earlier “affordable” VAIO notebooks, the Fit 15E feels like a lot more expensive machine, is designed with taste and is built with heart.Quite clearly, because the chassis doesn’t flex or creak and the keyboard doesn’t dip when pressed hard near the centre, like it does on most budget laptops. Yes, not the lightest machine around at 2.5kg, but cribbing about that would just be nitpicking!
Power Package: Standard Stuff, for this Price
The VAIO Fit 15E’s specifications are fairly limited, but that is the standard in this price band. The machine is powered by a third-generation Intel Core i3-3227U processor, which is paired with 2GB of RAM. The nearest rival, the HP Sleekbook 15-B002TX, has similar specs - Intel Core i3-3217U, 2GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive. The 15.5-inch LED display has a resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels. No dedicated graphics for this machine, which is handled by the Intel HD 4000 chip. Sony preloads the machine with Windows 8 (64-bit).
Performance: Basic, but with Very Good Battery Life
The Sony VAIO Fit 15E’s performance, is at best, limited. This is a machine that will boot quickly enough and apps will load without hiccups. However, multitasking will be limited because of just 2GB of RAM. The first couple of apps open quickly, but multi-tasking shows its load beyond that. Another aspect where the lack of RAM shows up is when viewing a 1080p video file. Playback begins smoothly, but if you try to hop too much between the timeline, the video stutters and there was even the odd incident of VLC crashing. This is clearly a machine meant for someone who is either buying their first laptop, or need this for basic daily usage - because this will not do multitasking with a smile on its face or handle any bit of gaming. But, within the boundaries of specific usage, the VAIO Fit 15E is meant for someone who needs a machine for basic tasks at work, web browsing, music playback and for use when traveling. However, it is clear that the VAIO Fit 15e is meant for a specific purpose - being a laptop worth its battery within a strict budget.
The excellent battery life makes this a road warrior, something a lot of laptops have forgotten along the way. In the stressful battery tests that we ran on this machine, the Fit 15E clocked more than 2 hours on a single charge. Typically, translated for web browsing and document work during the day, this should last around 4.5 hours with ease. That is pretty close to the last year’s ultrabook territory, and for anyone who is buying a laptop on a budget, this aspect will be impressive for those who need this for what it is meant to do.
Display: A Good Window!
What we also like is the Fit 15E’s display, which is crisp, bright and mostly non-reflective. This 15.5-inch real estate makes usage very comfortable even when you are sitting in an office with bright lights shining down from the ceiling, because of the less reflective finish. The reflective displays plague most laptops, and the fact that this one is leaning more towards the matte type is a huge positive in itself.
Reading text on the Fit 15E’s screen is a comfortable exercise, because of the crisp and edge-noise free rendering. Multimedia playback is smooth, but files will stutter at times, that being a shortcoming of the limited RAM. But, fast motion scenes are handled well. Contrast is good, with deep blacks, with the optimum balance at brightness around 60%. If you push up the brightness more than that, the clarity remains intact, but the contrast goes slightly off - the blacks aren’t as deep anymore.
Keyboard: Good, but there is Room for Improvement
The VAIO Fit 15E’s keyboard is very well spaced out, and the key size is at par with the best keyboards out there - the Apple MacBooks and the HP ENVY dv6 series. However, key travel is a tad on the lesser side, and the key response isn’t the sharp click that we expected. Instead, it is a lazy thud, muffled by a pillow, that doesn’t give too much quick typing confidence at first. This is where the HP Sleekbook has the advantage, because it features the newer iteration of keyboards that HP is now using for most machines, has a much sharper and precise response and travel, aiding in quick typing. With the VAIO keyboard, it is more about getting used to the slightly less travel, before you can feel completely comfortable with this.
Sound: Goodness, with Heart and Soul!
A lot of Sony’s sound technologies seen till now on the smartphones and tablets have now made their way into the laptop ecosystem as well- xLoud and Clear Audio, as well as S-Force Front Surround 3D and Clear Phase. On the hardware side, the Fit 15E gets a subwoofer, and two speakers. Well, all that is something more for the spec sheets and for showing off, but the fact is simple - Sony has tried to make the experience a lot better than what most other machines in the same price band bother with. Sound quality is indeed quite good, and even for speakers that are fairly small, they do pack in considerable power.
The Fit 15E’s volume level does hit a virtual ceiling at around 70%, but till then, the clarity is pristine. Watch an HD movie, and the wider audio immediately grabs your attention - you can simply hear a lot more elements of the soundtrack from the speakers. Plug in your headphones, and that is when all these fancy sounding technologies really delight you. Be it music or movies, these are the better sounding speakers across all laptops, and this does come close to the much more expensive HP ENVY dv6 notebook that packs in Beats Audio. However, unlike the Beats Audio (and even the Dolby Audio) offerings’ control panel for tweaking the sound, we did not find any such software on the Fit 15E.
To Buy or Not to Buy: Yes, Please!
Without doubt, the Sony VAIO Fit machines are very impressive. Particularly the one that we have tested here, the Sony VAIO Fit 15E (SVF15212SNB), with an MRP of Rs. 34,990. What you get are fairly standard specs for this price bracket, but the build quality is extremely impressive and the well sculpted looks give it a much more expensive feel. The tested battery life figures point to excellent real world performance. Its only real rival is the HP Sleekbook 15, and the final choice will ideally rest on which one you prefer more. Between the two, the VAIO wins in terms of design and audio performance. The HP Sleekbook is still ahead in terms of how comfortable the keyboard is. The final decision lies on how comfortable you are with either keyboard, because if you are churning out anything more than 200 words a day, we believe that is an important criterion!