Sony Vaio Z (2011) VPCZ21M9E review

Sony's latest ultraportable laptop is a real looker thanks to its incredibly thin and light design as well as its unique use of Intel's Light Peak technology. Alan Lu weighs up its slender build and high price in our review.

As intriguing as the Light Peak-based Power Media Dock is, there's more to the Vaio Z than just fancy new technology. The 13.3in display is also unusual since it has a high resolution of 1,600x900 pixels whereas most 13in laptops have resolutions of 1,366x768 pixels. This means there's plenty of room for working with programs that have lots of windows and palettes or for working on expansive content such as large spreadsheets or panoramic photos.

The high resolution could be hard to see if you have less-than-perfect eyesight. It is very bright though thanks, in part, to the glossy finish. The glossy sheen does reflect light quite easily, but the resulting glare isn't as distracting as it is on other glossy laptop screens we've seen. Image quality is less than perfect which is disappointing at this price - viewing angles are restricted and contrast is noticeably less than perfect.

Control freak

We have mixed feelings about the Vaio's keyboard. It's large and backlit, but the flat keys have a very short amount of travel and don't give much feedback when pressed. They're very responsive though, so it is possible to type quickly and comfortably on it, although it does require a lighter touch than usual which will take some getting used to. It's a keyboard you learn to live with, rather than one you love and can work on straight out of the box.

The keyboard and touchpad of the 2011 Sony Vaio Z

The touchpad is reasonably large and feels accurate. As with some other laptops, the buttons are built into the pad itself but the action is stiff it's still more practical to press on the lower half where physical buttons would have been anyway.

Nestled just below the touchpad is a fingerprint reader. Fingerprints can be used instead of passwords for logging into Windows and websites, although the web browser plug-in responsible for handling the latter was a little unstable, crashing frequently. Still, it's a useful feature to have for security-conscious users and it works well enough for logging into Windows.

The warranty lasts for just two years and only provides collect and return service. At this price we'd expect more generous warranty coverage.

So what's our verdict?

Verdict

There’s no doubt that the Vaio Z is a very desirable laptop and in many ways it’s a pleasure to use. However, it’s also very expensive at £1,599 ex VAT and it can be even pricier if options such as a Core i7 processor, a larger SSD and a Blu-ray version of the Power Media Dock are added.

It is possible to get a Vaio Z for £1,195 ex VAT by removing features such as the Power Media Dock, the 3G modem and opting for Windows 7 Home Premium instead of Professional. Even so, design issues such as the keyboard, concerns about sturdiness and the heat means it’s still a plaything for status-conscious C-level executives rather than an ultraportable workhorse for wide or even limited deployment. There's nothing quite like it at the moment, but more practical alternatives include the Apple MacBook Air, the Toshiba Portégé R830 or Sony’s own Vaio SB1V9E.

Processor: Intel Core i5 2410M, 2.3GHz

Memory: 4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 RAM

Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 3000; 1GB AMD Radeon HD 6650M

Hard disk: 128GB solid state disk

Display: 13.3in 1600 x 900 pixels, LED-backlit screen

Features: 1.3 megapixel camera, microphone, stereo speakers

Connectivity: 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Gigabit Ethernet, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR, HSDPA 3G

Ports: 1 x USB3, 1 x combo USB3 and Light Peak docking connector, HDMI and VGA outputs, combo 3.5mm headphone and microphone audio socket

Dimensions: 330x210x17mm (WxDxH)

Weight: 1.2kg

Warranty: 2 years C&R warranty

OS: Windows 7 Professional 64-bit

Part code: VPCZ21M9E

BENCHMARK SCORES

Video 79

Image 51

Multiple apps 49

Overall 54

Battery, light usage 8h47m

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