October 17, 2011
- Ultraportable, solid design
- Unique docking station
- Strong performance
- USB 3.0 & Bluetooth
- Keyboard/touchpad design issues
- Loaded with bloatware
- Below average battery life
The Sony VAIO Z Series are thin and portable 13-inch laptop computers that aim to beat the ever-popular MacBook Air from Apple. They offer Intel Core i5 or i7 CPUs, USB 3.0 connectivity and an SSD hard drive option. While on the expensive side, they are impressive in terms of performance and portability.
The Sony VAIO Z Series laptops measure 13 x 0.66 x 8.27-inches (whd) and weigh about 2.5-pounds, which is about as thick as the MacBook Air's thickest point but lighter than the Air. Sony accomplished this by making the body out of aluminum and carbon fiber, which leads to a lightweight, yet sturdy, design. It has a durable feel to it, so it should be able to withstand a long day's bumps and bruises.
Our review unit had a 13-inch display that had a resolution of 1920 x 1080-pixels, which is full 1080p high-definition resolution. This is quite rare for a 13-inch ultraportable, but to save money, Sony does offer a 1600 x 900-pixel option too. The screen has a glossy coating that gave colors a vivid pop and brightness that was surprisingly bright. However because of the 13-inch screen size and HD resolution that probably isn't meant for such a small screen, some text at smaller sizes was difficult on the eyes to read. Movie performance with this screen, on the other hand, was outstanding.
We felt that the keyboard was a little undersized and didn't give much in the way of tactile feedback, so the typing experience was average at best. The touchpad at the bottom has a good surface, but its already small size is made even smaller because there are two "button zones" built into the trackpad as opposed to physical left/right mouse buttons. We would've preferred if Sony had just done away with buttons totally or made them physically discrete. There is also a fingerprint reader between these pseudo-buttons for added security.
Sony's port selection on their VAIO Z Series laptops include HDMI-out, VGA-out, two USB 2.0 ports and a dual memory card reader. There is an Intel Light Peak port combined with a USB 3.0 port on the laptop that connects to a thin docking station that has an optical drive (either DVD Combo or Blu-ray), more USB 2.0/3.0 ports and a discrete ATI Radeon HD 6650M graphics card with additional video/display outputs. This design is rather unique and rare, yet adds functionality without adding bulk to the laptop itself. There is also support for Intel's Wi-Di wireless display technology for connecting it to an HDTV with a supported Wi-Di adapter.
The internal specifications of our review unit included an Intel Core i7 CPU (2.7GHz), 4GB of RAM, two 128GB SSD hard drives for a total of 256GB, integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics and 802.11b/g/n & Bluetooth wireless connectivity. Sony offers a wide array of configurations for the VAIO Z Series laptops, so almost any budget has a matching configuration. Sony does include Microsoft Windows 7 Professional as the operating system.
Performance with the Sony VAIO Z Series was very good, especially since it has a desktop PC Intel CPU as opposed to a low-voltage mobile CPU. Speeds are also boosted from the SSD hard drives which tend to offer quicker performance in comparison with traditional, spinning hard drives. In comparison to other ultraportables, it offered near best performance, even against the Apple MacBook Air.
Battery life, on the other hand, fell short against the rest of the competition. Expect to get about 5-5.5 hours of battery life, which is an hour or more short of other similar ultraportables. This is probably attributed to the increased specifications of this computer, including the full voltage CPU.
We were disappointed that Sony loads up this computer with lots of bloatware and trialware. Some of the most predominant software includes trials to Norton Internet Security and Microsoft Office 2010. Sony also installs software like PowerDVD and Skype. These programs bog down performance pretty noticeably, especially since many of them run at startup, so you'll want to spend some time uninstalling the unnecessary ones.