Sony VAIO Z Series Review

What We Think

A high performing, very attractive, ultra-portable laptop with its own dock to ensure that extra boost when stationary. Unfortunately, the Sony Z Series comes with a corresponding price. Though if money isn’t an object and portability is, get it.

Introduction

The Sony Z Series VPC Z21M9E is an alluring prospect for those looking for a companion in club class. Sony’s latest attempt at the top end of the laptop market offers the holy mix of enviable aesthetics, diminutive size, and as much power as most will require on the go.

Unlike more flashy ultra portables, Sony’s long enough in the electronics game to ensure substance must at least equate style. The Z Series we reviewed was a subtle black and silver carbon fibre bodied device that would be pride of place in Harrods. Saying that, the carbon fibre ensured it felt tough enough for the more rustic life and there was no give under pressure in either part lid or keyboard of the Z series. All amazing considering it’s 16.5mm thick at the widest point and only 1.2KG in weight.

This doesn’t mean Sony’s hasn’t packed in the goodies. An Intel 2.3 i5 processor, with 4GB of RAM compliments the 13.3inch machine. Add to this a fresh 128GB SSD and the excellent Power Media Dock which adds a graphics card among other things into the mix, and you’ve got a very desirable machine. The most significant downside of which is the price tag of £1999 including VAT, with additions increasing the cost by reasonably more (£4000 with top of the range extras).

Design

It’s also the sort of computer you’ll be proud to slip out of your bag. The understated nature of the laptop will certainly warrant closer inspection from laptop aficionados, nearby. When open, one of the nice features here is the screen. Innovatively the hinges lift the keyboard at a slight angle, making it easier to type.

The keyboard itself is full sized, though without numeric buttons. It’s also backlight – ideal for late nights; however it does take some getting used to. Because of the slim nature of the Z series, there is little room for more than 1mm give in the keys. This can feel unnatural at first and there is a little stiffness at the top of the tap, though is in no way a real hindrance to using the laptop.

The touchpad also takes a little use. The Z series’ touchpad is one button and for some, the lack of left and right physical buttons can be a little throwing. The touchpad is also not large enough to cover the full screen, though this is common with ultra portable laptops. Below the touch pad is a finger print reader used for logging into Windows and also for website passwords – the latter is great in theory, though it does cause the browser to crash on seldom occasions. Saying this, when you see the 13.3in screen you may be able to overlook these issues.

Screen

At 13.1 inches, the screen is a standard size for an ultra portable laptop, though with a resolution of 1600x900p, it offers a higher resolution more clarity most others. This ensures the screen offer excellent colour rendering, and those that use photo-editing software will see the difference between the swatches. Contrast is 860:1 with blacks deep and whites sharp. Black and shadow detail is also quite good, something laptops of this diminutive width don’t often manage to get right.

Sony has also managed to avoid issues with glare and though the screen is glossed, it is only partially so, and daytime viewing is reasonably good. It’s a bright screen, and colours were dynamic in display. We also found reading text to be quite good, though Anna Karenina might be a bit much in one sitting – it does offer great image quality, however. Fortunately, it also has the power specifications to match, considerably awe-inspiring considering its diminutive size.

Performance

There are a number of extras that can be added to the Z series, though the benchmark model comes with an Intel Core i5-2410M 2.3GHz processor with its own inbuilt graphics capabilities, which offers plenty of grunt. There’s also 4GB of RAM, meaning you’re not short of power when it’s needed. All of this is amazingly slipped into the diminutive Sony.

The computer can boot Windows up in 20 seconds with fast BIOS enabled thanks to a 128GB solid-state drive (SSD). It’s possible to add a 512GB SSD, though it will set you back over £1700 extra. Buyers can upgrade to the i7-2620M 2.7GHz processor with 8GB of RAM can be done for £270 more.

This high performance and small chassis do lead to the computer’s underside getting quite hot and also means the fan has its fair share of work. We often envisaged a tiny aeroplane propeller beneath the chassis such was the noise of the fan. Battery time was far better than expected in both usage modes. We saw nearly three hours pass by in heavy usage tests before the power went. In battery save mode the Z series lasted over 8hours and 30 seconds before the end was nigh. Both these figures can be doubled with an additional battery pack which fits to the underside of the Z series, though does make it 10mm deeper.

The Power Dock Media station powers and charges the laptop via USB3 though runs off an external power source only. The slotted DVD player like box, houses the former and can be upgraded to BluRay for an additional £100. It, however, comes with a AMD Radeon HD6650 chip which really improves graphical abilities and doubles frame rates in the case of most games. It offers HDMI, VGA and Ethernet ports as well as allowing the ability to connect two monitors, adding to the two that can be connected on the laptop itself and allowing for the prospect of an ultra portable workstation.

The Z series offers okay connectivity and has one USB3.0, a USB2.0, HDMI, dualband 802.11n connectivity  and two memory card slots, as well as a mic/headphone jack. The dock adds more USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports to the mix and allows for better connectivity. The computer also has Bluetooth, but only 2.1, not the latest 3.0, which was a little disappointing considering the princely cost.  One thing we would say about the dock is to ensure to unmount it, as an unprepared removal causes Window to crash.

Our Verdict

For a machine not much larger than a netbook, the Z Series packs quite a punch. It’s a fantastic computer and a great feat of engineering from those Japanese wizards, with its beautiful super slim carbon fibre chassis, relative power, array of features and portability. Stick the Z series in a bag and it’s barely noticeable and it’s as good as many larger laptops for processor heavy tasks. The Media Dock obviously adds the heavy-duty fire-power when stationary and is a great addition to the laptop for processor intensive programs.

However, at nearly £2000 for the basic model, its price is mammoth and warrants a lot of thought before purchase, nearing twice the price of the basic Toshiba Portege or MacBook Air. Essentially though, it’s truly is a case of getting what you pay for, and cost aside it’s an excellent ultra portable laptop. If you have the money the Z series may only maybe trumped by the VIAO SB VPCSB1A9E which has an i7 processor and amazing performance and costs a little less at £1700, though it is heavier. Overall, the Z series is an excellent ultra portable laptop and one we imagine is future proofed to last the test of time.

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