Though its chassis might leave us with mixed feelings, at least there's nothing particularly unlikeable about the VPCCA1S1E's specifications. It starts the show off with a healthy dual-core Core i5, which runs at 2.3GHz but can manage up to 2.9HGz thanks to Intel's Turbo Boost, and with support for up to four virtual cores (or threads). Obviously this is not going to do the best job of highly intensive, multi-threaded tasks, but for this laptop's target audience it should be more than sufficient.
It's backed by the expected 4GB of DDR3 RAM, which is plenty for Windows Home Premium 64-bit to be getting on with. The hard drive is on the stingy side, with a 5,400rpm, 320GB model meaning you may need an upgrade soon – though of course external storage is cheap and plentiful, and with USB 3.0 to hook it up to, will be almost as fast as a local drive. Another minor budget point is that Bluetooth is version 2 rather than 3 (though this has very little real-world effect), but Wi-Fi is of course up to N standard. It's also nice to see an HD webcam.
Dedicated graphics are also on hand in the form of an AMD Radeon HD 6470M with 512MB of RAM. However, it doesn't hold up all too well as a gaming card, as evidenced by a relatively weak score of 23.4 frames per second in Stalker: Call of Pripyat at medium detail and a sub-native 720p resolution – though TrackMania Nations Forever hummed along happily at 83fps on the same settings. In other words, casual gamers only need apply.
If you're more demanding in this regard, something like the Sandy Bridge version of the Dell XPS 15z or even the the MSI FX600 will do a better job (and that's not to suggest that Nvidia cards are specifically better for mobile gaming, these are just random examples).
Still, at least what you do manage to run will look good on the 14in, 1,366 x 768 display. We found it to have decent horizontal viewing angles (though vertical ones were as poor as ever) with only minimal colour shift when sitting centrally. The glossy finish does cause annoying reflections in an environment with ambient lighting, but also lends colours that little extra punch and enhances perceived contrast. Not that the VPCCA1S1E really needs this, as it just about manages to distinguish the darkest shades and features even backlighting with no bleed. A lack of obvious banding or dithering also helps to make viewing a generally pleasant experience. So while it doesn't live up to the standards set by the Samsung Series 9 900X3A, it does the job nicely.
Aurally, this Sony doesn't hold up quite so well. While there's nothing wrong with the sound its speakers produce, they're lacking in volume and don't manage much in terms of depth or bass. In other words, external models are recommended for serious entertainment.