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Sony VAIO Z Series (VPCZ217GG) laptop
Would you pay $3999 for a laptop?
- Light weight
- Excellent screen
- Keyboard and touchpad
- Can get very noisy
While the Sony Z Series definitely has a 'wow' factor, it's a 'wow' factor that is mostly a reaction to: "so how much does it cost?". But hey, if you can afford it, then you'll end up with a 1.15kg, super-slim laptop that also features high-end processing performance and very fast drive speeds.
Price$ 3,999.00 (AUD)
The 13.1in Sony VAIO Z Series is one of the most expensive ultraportable laptops on the market. It has a super-thin design along with a powerful configuration and some interesting features and it's designed for executives who want something that will make a statement (as well as let them get some work done). But is extreme mobility and high performance in the same unit worth a $3999 price tag? We don't think so, especially because the Z Series isn't as comfortable to use as we would like; but of course, it all depends on your needs and how deep your (or your company's) pockets are.
What's so good about the VAIO Z Series?
If you ever get a chance to hold this thing, the first thing you'll notice is that it's light. It's very light! It feels almost like a toy, yet it actually does have rigid construction. It weighs only 1.15kg and that's because there isn't a whole lot inside it except for electrical circuits. You get a full-voltage Intel Core i7-2620M CPU, 8GB of DDR3 SDRAM and two 128GB solid state drives set up in a RAID 0 array. Graphics are handled by the Intel CPU, but there is also an external dock that boosts the graphics performance and also adds a Blu-ray reader. That's a very impressive configuration for any laptop let alone one with an 11mm thick base. The entire laptop with its lid closed is only 15mm thick. Despite being so thin, it still has a user-replaceable battery, but this is the only user-replaceable component on the laptop itself.
The screen is attached to the body in such a way that you can lift it open with hand — it's wonderfully balanced. When opened past 90 degrees, the bottom of the screen will jack the laptop base up about half a centimetre, which allows the base to breathe easily while it's being used on a flat surface. The screen itself is very impressive: it offers rich colour reproduction and high brightness and it has a Full HD resolution. It's one of the best screens we've seen on such a small laptop — much better than the screen on the Toshiba Portege R830, for example. The only problem is that 1920x1080 pixels on a 13.1in screen can be quite small and perhaps uncomfortable for users who struggle with their eyesight.
An ambient light sensor is built in to the laptop and it can control the screen brightness and keyboard backlight. It was mostly subtle during our evaluation period and this is a good thing. The keyboard backlight is a soft, yellowish colour that's easy on the eyes. It only comes on when the conditions are detected as being too dark and it switches off after preset periods of inactivity.
What's not so good about the VAIO Z Series?
We're not fans of the Z Series keyboard. While it looks nice and it's backlit, its keys just don't produce enough travel for our liking. They feel too shallow when they're hit and they don't have a sharp response. The last thing we'd want from a $3999 laptop is an uncomfortable keyboard, but unfortunately, this is what's provided by the VAIO Z Series. Furthermore, the period key, the forward slash key and the right shift key are all smaller than the other keys around them, which we found awkward. That said, you do get used to this keyboard after a while, but it never truly becomes comfortable.
While using the keyboard, you'll need to be careful about how you rest your hands. The shape of the VAIO Z's base is trapezoidal and there are hard and pointy corners on each end. These can become a source of pain and discomfort if you forget they are there, mainly because they'll dig in to your wrists. While people joke that you can use the MacBook Air's chassis to cut your veggies because it's so thin, the VAIO Z's hard and pointy corners can be used to tenderise meat.
The touchpad isn't great either. It's 73x41mm in size, not including the left- and right-click buttons, which are part of the pad itself, too. There is a texture on the pad that can sometimes feel ticklish. During our test period, the pad's accuracy was questionable. Sometimes, tapping caused the cursor to jump a few millimetres to another location and this was annoying when trying to click on links in a Web page, for example. Its multi-finger gesture support was good though, and we could easily scroll and flick through pages using two and three fingers, respectively.
There are three shortcut buttons located above the keyboard that can be used to launch the VAIO's multimedia management interface, the default Web browser and the VAIO Care control panel. They are touch buttons that illuminate when touched and we think they are a nice part of the laptop's overall design. What's not a good part of the design is the power button. It's very hard to press unless you aim slightly to the left of the indicator LED.
Next page: Performance, battery life and final observations.
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PCW Evaluation Team
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