- Excellent build quality
- Great Design
- Most features packed into a 13-inch notebook
- Very, VERY pricey in some configurations
The Sony VAIO Z is the fastest and most expensive 13-inch notebook on the market.
The VAIO Z is Sony’s 13.1-inch ultra-portable powerhouse. Features like Core i5 and i7 processors, RAID0 hard drive arrays and 1080P displays never end up describing a 13-inch notebook, but with Sony it does. The VAIO Z also offers switchable graphics with the NVIDIA GeForce GT 330M to give users solid gaming performance one second and low-power consumption the next. In this review we take a look at a modestly equipped Sony VAIO Z and see how it stacks up against the competition.
Our Sony VAIO Z (VPCZ127GX) Specifications:
- Windows 7
- Intel Core i5-520M 2.40GHz Processor (3MB cache)
- 6GB DDR3 1066MHz RAM (8GB max)
- 384GB (3 x 128GB) Samsung SSD Array (RAID 0)
- 13.1″ Widescreen LED Backlit Display (1600 x 900)
- NVIDIA GeForce GT 330M GPU with 1GB of Dedicated Video RAM and Intel GMA HD integrated
- DVD±R/RW with Double Layer Drive
- Intel 6200 Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n, Gigabit Ethernet LAN, Bluetooth (2.1 + EDR)
- Biometric Fingerprint Sensor
- Ports: 3 x USB 2.0, Headphone Output, Microphone Input, VGA, HDMI, RJ-45 Ethernet, Port Replicator Connector
- 6-cell 57Wh battery
- Dimensions: 12.4 x 8.3 x 1.0-1.3-inches
- Weight: 3.04 pounds (with standard capacity battery)
- Price: $1,919 starting, $2,899 as configured
Build and Design
The outside appearance of the Sony VAIO Z is sleek and compact. The screen is a few millimeters thick and could easily be described as paper thin. The power button and DC-input jack are integrated into the screen hinges, another common trend on VAIO notebooks that aims to improve looks and make use of regularly wasted space. Inside, Sony takes a similar path as Apple did with the newer generation MacBooks with a machined keyboard bezel. The keyboard and palmrest trim are a solid piece of metal with a Chiclet-style keyboard embedded in the surface. Offered in multiple colors including black, silver, carbon fiber, and metal shield, the VAIO Z can be tailored to match different personalities. Overall as far as notebook designs go the Z merges the best in ultraportable notebooks with the best in high-end business notebooks … I love it.
Build quality is very good but I don’t think I would go as far as saying it is rugged by any means. The super thin design has a few weaknesses that could break if the system was treated roughly. The paper thin screen has some flex, but it doesn’t seem to distort the display when bent. The screen cover also resists impacts without pressing against the panel. If the system was accidentally dropped I don’t think it would hold up as well as say an HP EliteBook or Lenovo ThinkPad, but it should hold up better than the average consumer notebook. In my standard day-to-day activities I didn’t notice any abnormal wear on the finish and the textured screen cover seemed to resist fingerprints very well.
The machined keyboard bezel is very strong, preventing flex and also giving the notebook chassis strength. While we were inspecting internals of the notebook we quickly found out the top panel is what gives the body of the VAIO Z much of its strength. As soon as it was removed the lower section of the chassis exhibited a lot of movement. Generally speaking most notebooks get their strength from an internal chassis or the bottom framework.
The Sony VAIO Z isn’t designed to be user-friendly for upgrades. The only easy-access section inside the notebook is the system memory. The other system components are only accessible once you completely dismantle the notebook and remove the entire top plate. Even with the top plate off, most of the internal components such as the hard drives are proprietary in design and not something easily upgraded or replaced by the end-user. With most configurations pushing multiple SSDs, substantial quantities of system memory, and high-end processors… user upgrades probably won’t be on the minds of most owners.
Screen and Speakers
Sony LCD displays have a special place in my heart when it comes to TVs, monitors, and notebook displays. Generally speaking they push the boundaries with their high-end models and offer some of the most vivid colors, best contrast, and good looks out of any other panels I have seen on the market. The VAIO Z is no different in this case with its HD+ 1600×900 13.1″ display. Compared to other screens I have seen in this size the Z blows the competition out of the water. Colors look fantastic and with screen brightness a few notches down from 100% the contrast and black levels are excellent. Backlight levels were also very good, measuring 321nit with our Gossen light meter at 100% brightness. If you intend to get the Blu-ray burner with your VAIO Z, you won’t be disappointed while watching movies from your notebook.
Another unique option that Sony offers with the VAIO Z is a 1080P panel. If you have a taste for high resolution panels in a small form-factor, the 13.1″ 1920×1080 display won’t disappoint. At the time of this review it is a free upgrade option, regularly costing $100 extra. I am not sure if I would spring for it personally-my eyes might kill me for it-but it is very nice to know the option exists. Right now the market is saturated with WXGA resolution panels on larger notebooks, so it is refreshing to see at least some manufacturers still support folks who demand screen real estate.
Sony integrated the speakers on the VAIO Z into the solid metal plate used for the keyboard and palmrest. The speaker size is fairly small, not much bigger than a postage stamp in each side. In our tests we found bass and midrange to be lacking, although peak volume levels were fine for a small room. For gaming or listening to streaming music they should suffice, but using headphones would be the best alternative on this notebook.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The VAIO Z has the traditional Sony/Chiclet-style keyboard with white LED-backlighting. It is very comfortable to type on and fairly solid. I did notice some mild flex on the side of the keyboard directly on top of the optical drive but it was only under very strong typing pressure. The keyboard layout was very easy to follow with proper full-size keys everywhere. None of the secondary buttons were condensed to squeeze into the smaller layout. The direction arrows were spaced just far enough away from the other keys so you wouldn’t accidentally hit something else when you were moving around the screen. Compared to the Apple MacBook keyboard it’s hard to say which one is better as they both have the same layout (barring any key differences between a Windows system and Apple system). In terms of quality I think the MacBook keyboard might be slightly more solid, but only on the more recent unibody designs.
The VAIO Z offers a wide Synaptics touchpad that supports some multitouch features. Controls such as pinch zoom and flick work, but Sony opted for Chiral-scroll and vertical-swipe instead of the increasingly popular two-finger scroll. The touchpad surface was very responsive, with a fast refresh rate and very good sensitivity. We didn’t notice any lag in testing nor did we have any problem with drawing unintended ovals when making circular motions on the touchpad. The touchpad buttons were located right on the edge of the palmrest and easy to trigger with the side of your thumb. Tactile feedback was shallow with a mild click when fully pressed.
Ports and Features
Sony includes a few auxiliary buttons above the keyboard for quick access program buttons like the Sony Assist feature, an eject button for the optical drive (no button is on the drive itself), and a control for the switchable graphics. The graphics button has three modes including auto, stamina, and speed. Stamina correlates to when the system is in integrated graphics mode while Speed is with the Geforce GT 330M dedicated graphics. Besides switching the graphics mode it also changes the system’s power profile to the previous setting in that mode. If you keep the Windows power profile set to High Performance with Speed and power saver with Power Saver with Stamina, it will remember and automatically change that setting when you switch over.
Port selection was average for a 13-inch notebook, but we were still let down considering the price tag on this notebook. The system was equipped with three USB 2.0 ports, VGA and HDMI-out, Ethernet, and audio jacks. Expansion slots included a ExpressCard/34 slot, Memory Stick reader, and a SDHC-card reader. While it was neat to see a tray-loading Blu-ray burner option on this system it would have been nice to see some high speed external storage ports. Sony doesn’t offer FireWire, eSATA, or USB 3.0 on the VAIO Z, which would seem almost fitting given the high-performance nature of this notebook. One feature I did like was the inclusion of a dock connector port on the bottom of the notebook. It includes four USB 2.0 ports, DVI and VGA-out, Gigabit LAN, and an input for the AC-adapter. The docking station is a $200 option and not included with the notebook.