February 27, 2012
- Sleek, attractive portable design
- USB 3.0 & Bluetooth
- Docking station with optical drive & discrete graphics
- Good performance, especially graphics
- Expensive price
This high-end 13-inch Sony VAIO Z Series ultrathin laptop has a tough sell simply because of its price, but it does have a very lightweight design, good graphics performance and extra long battery life. Performance is very good and the included docking station provides you with an optical drive and discrete AMD graphics capabilities.
We had reviewed another laptop in the Sony Z Series before the holidays last year and we had some gripes with the keyboard, touchpad and below average battery life. This new model improves on that, especially the battery life. It also continues with the docking station, strong performance and portable design.
The slim footprint of the VAIO VPC-Z390X is one of the selling points that Sony uses to try to get users to put out the added money to buy this notebook. It has a black carbon fiber body and a matte black finish that makes it look and feel high-quality and expensive. The whole thing measures 13.0 x 8.2 x 1.5-inches (wdh) and weighs 2.5-pounds, so it's definitely portable wherever you want to take it. We do, however, dislike the use of a slice battery that sticks out the back of the notebook that forms a lip behind the display. This battery is optional, so you don't have to sacrifice any portability or size.
The keyboard on this Sony notebook is the usual island-style layout that has become so common, especially among ultrabooks and the like. We liked our typing experience with the keyboard for the most part with no obvious gripes. It is also backlit, which is always a huge plus. The touchpad, on the other hand, was a little too small for our liking but with more use, we became accustomed to the size. Sony has placed a subtile texture on the touchpad and includes two mouse button zones for clicking and a fingerprint reader lies between them.
On our test unit, the 13.1-inch LED-backlit display had a native resolution of 1600 x 900-pixels, which is the average for a higher-end 13-inch notebook. We found the display to be very bright and delivered vibrant colors to our liking. Viewing angles were not too bad either, which can be rare for a 13-inch notebook. If you want an upgrade to 1920 x 1080-pixels, you can do so for an added $100, but some text sizes can be difficult to read on a 13-inch screen.
The docking station that comes standard with this notebook, which Sony calls the Power Media Dock, essentially duplicates the ports on the laptop itself, but also adds an optical disc drive and discrete graphics (more on that later). The dock is connected through the USB 3.0 port on the laptop itself, but is replaced by another on the dock. Both the laptop and the dock have HDMI-out and VGA-ports in addition to one USB 2.0 port on the laptop. The laptop also has Ethernet, the usual audio ports and Sony Memory Stick and SD card slots. The standard dock includes only a DVD+/-RW drive, but for an additional $50 you get a Blu-ray player and for $100 more you get a Blu-ray player/burner drive.
Wireless connectivity includes 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and optional mobile broadband (Verizon/AT&T/Sprint; 4G available through Verizon) for between $50 to $150 extra.
Our Sony VAIO VPC-Z390X's internal configuration included an Intel Core i5-2450M (2.5GHz) CPU, 4GB of RAM, two 64GB SSD hard drives (128GB total), integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics and AMD Radeon HD 6650M discrete graphics on the included dock with 1GB of dedicated video memory. Sony includes many upgrade options for this computer, which is always welcomed. Some of the upgrades include an Intel Core i7-2640M CPU ($250), 256GB ($300) / 510GB ($1100) SSD HDs and 6GB ($60) / 8GB ($120) of RAM.
Performance with this laptop puts it in-line with most ultrabooks and similar 13-inch laptops. Users should have no problems doing the usual computing tasks or watching streaming HD video. Gaming with the integrated Intel graphics is out of the question, but with the discrete AMD graphics the dock provides, it's a different story. With this you can play many of today's 3D games at a playable level without too many problems, so if you're into gaming on a 13-inch laptop, this is the only one that we've seen that can do it.
Battery life with only the internal battery yielded about 5-hours of life, but with the additional slice battery, that number is doubled. This improves on our review of the previous Z Series laptop that we reviewed.