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REVIEW: Sony VAIO Z

When it comes to choosing a business laptop some people have it easy. In larger corporates you get what you are given, and while you might lust after whatever computer the person sitting on next to you on the train has, you know that you will have to live with what someone else has chosen for you.

If you are in a smaller organisation you may get involved in the decision making process. If you work for yourself the decision is all yours to make. And if you are a top executive, well, then you might get to make your own decision too.

When you are in control of the purse-strings, value for money really matters. So does paying as much as £2399 for a laptop, even one as thin, well designed and alluring as the Sony VAIO Z, have any kind of appeal at all?

What is the VAIO Z and who is it for?

The Sony VAIO Z is a beautifully made thin and light laptop with top-end features and a top end price to match them. Weighing as little as 1.41kg—depending on the specification—and measuring 314x210x24mm, this is a laptop that it is easy to carry from place to place. Its deep grey carbon fibre chassis, isolation style keyboard and stylish finish mark it out as a laptop for those who place emphasis on looks.

But this laptop is far from a triumph of style over substance. Processor options include Intel’s brand new flagship Core i7, and a dual graphics system gives you the option of discrete or integrated graphics depending on how power hungry the task at hand is—and how much you want to conserve battery power! A three-way switch above the keyboard lets you chose either configuration or simply let the laptop select what it thinks is best for the current situation.

With built-in 3G you can keep in touch with colleagues and clients on the move, and a Web camera is there for those moments when you need to see the person you are Skyping. So, the target market for the Sony VAIO Z would appear to be executives who can afford to pay for a bit of luxury in the looks department but who need their laptop to be both portable and capable of handling demanding workloads.

Does it do it well?

An obvious and immediate question has to be whether the 13.1-inch screen really offers enough real-estate for serious working. The answer really depends on your eyesight as much as any other factor. The screen offers a 16:9 aspect ratio, and depending on the iteration you choose comes with either a 1600×900 or 1920×1080 resolution. Our review sample had the higher resolution and while we were able to work easily with two opened documents side by side, some people may find this resolution too squint inducing for comfort.

The keyboard is superbly comfy for typing on, and an ambient light sensor causes a backlight to kick in when lighting conditions are poor, so you can continue to work in comfort. Of course, to conserve battery, you can turn this off. Those who are particularly hot on ensuring their laptop is protected from prying eyes will like the presence of a fingerprint sensor.

We tested the version of this laptop with an Intel Core i7 processor and its performance was off the chart. We got stunning results from the Windows Experience Index including a rating of 7.6 for hard disk data transfer rate which no doubt benefited from the presence of 256GB of Solid State storage arranged as four 64GB SSDs in a RAID. Other versions of the laptop have either 128GB of SSD storage or 400GB mechanical hard drives.

Where does the VAIO Z disappoint?

It is not all sweetness and light. The price is obviously not insubstantial. There are four iterations of the VAIO Z in the current Sony business range, and their prices run from £1749 to £2300. Even the least expensive, then, is twice the price of two competent alternatives. A case of one for the price of two?

While the build is generally positive we did have an issue with the lid section. This is thin and exhibits a lot of flex. Obviously you aren’t going to grasp the top corners of the display in each hand a twist in opposite directions as we do when testing, but you might put things on top of your laptop when it is on your desk or wedge it up against something solid in your bag. Either action could potentially cause problems. In transit we’d suggest you opt to carry the laptop in its own separate protective case.

The array of ports and connectors could be a little better. All iterations of the VAIO Z have an optical drive, three USB connectors, VGA-out, 34mm ExpressCard slot, HDMI, Ethernet port, headphones and microphone jacks, SD card slot and Memory Stick slot. Two models add a modem port and 4-pin i.LINK connector. We’d like to see the full array on all iterations. But in its favour, the USB ports are all separated from each other so there’s no chance of a peripheral obscuring an adjacent port.

Battery life suffers from all the power-hungry components it has to drive. With the graphics selector on auto we were able to watch a video for shy of 2.5 hours, and more anecdotally would suggest you might struggle to stretch to get through a working day without access to mains power.

Would we recommend the VAIO Z?

The Sony VAIO Z is unquestionably the most powerful small laptop we have ever seen. Its dual graphics mode could help conserve power if you learn to use it correctly and thus prolong battery life, though we suspect most users will rarely be confident enough to travel without the mains adapter.

Ergonomics are excellent, with a very well designed keyboard which we could work at full touch-typing speeds and a screen which we found to be sharp and crisp. Some people may find the higher resolution option a challenge, though.

If you have the money and can live with the middling battery life, then the VAIO Z is a desirable laptop. But if economising is a key factor for you at the moment, you may want to shop around. You’ll probably end up with a less powerful small format laptop, but you’ll have more money in your back pocket. [9]

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Sandra Vogel is an IT journalist with more than 20 years in the industry and experience of working with some of the best loved Web sites and publications. She remembers writing guides on how to install optical drives in desktop computers, reviewing the first PDAs and working in the days before the Web with a mix of fondness and horror. When not writing about technology she enjoys putting the latest gadgets and gizmos to the test.