By >Daimaou - G.G-B
[Review] 2011 Sony Vaio Z
Since their first Vaio notebook, Sony never failed to amaze us with a never-ending list of features and stunning computers. More than a decade has past and Sony still offers some of the best computers on the market. Today’s 2011 Vaio Z is no exception!
Since its launch, the Z Series from Sony has been pretty popular among geeks looking for a powerful yet compact laptop. Sony did not disappoint here as well, but this time, the company decided to go a little further by opting for an ultra-skinny laptop, even if they had to sacrifice the good old optical drive for a clutter-less mobile experience.
Is this sacrilege, especially with Sony being a strong Blu-Ray proponent? Not really, since Sony took this opportunity to go beyond, making the first PC using Intel’s Light Peak Technology. This allows Sony to bring not only an external Blu-Ray drive, but also powerful AMD Radeon HD 6650M graphics into a slim and elegant docking station. This brings “true” power to your Z while at the office and real portability on the go.
Being radically different from previous Z, the 2011 model comes without any unnecessary or frivolous aesthetic lines, but with rather a simple yet elegant monolithic appearance inspired by the company’s new approach to design when it comes to TVs and other Home Entertainment products. Simple is here and is the essence of elegance. The Vaio Z masters this very well indeed!
Thin and light are the first things that will stick with you even before this new Z’s elegant lines. Shedding away both its optical drive and its high-powered graphics, the 2011 Z has a total weight of 1.2kg (2.65 lbs.) with a thickness of 25.4mm (1 inch), tapering to just 15.24mm (0.6 inches). To put things into perspective, Apple’s best-selling 13” MacBook Air weighs a bit more at 1.35kg (2.96 lbs.), but thinner at 17mm (0.68 inches), tapering to just 3mm (0.11 inches – both figures according to Apple’s website).
Lighter but thicker than a 13” MacBook Air, the Vaio Z comes with Sony’s carbon fiber and aluminum casing that, despite being seemingly as strong as Apple’s all-aluminum casing, it is less attractive and more sensitive to scratches than Apple’s laptop.
Still, such decision is by far the best approach if you are aiming for the lightest notebook on the market. That said, Sony’s materials are quite good, and we really like the touch and feel of the Vaio Z’s body with the exception of its touchpad.
Being addicted to Apple’s glass touchpad, it is for me difficult to find other solutions as good. I have to say the trackpad on the 2011 Vaio Z is by far the worst one I have been the “privilege” to use.
Available in BTO (Build To Order) configurations, the 2011 Vaio Z is available in different flavors including the choice between Intel’s Sandy Bridge Core-series processors, ranging from the Core i3 up to the Core i7, as well as with the choice between a 128GB, 256GB or 512GB SSD, WiFi, and USB 3.0. The computer Sony sent us came with a Core i5-2520M (2.5GHz) processor and 4GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD with a full HD 13.3” display. This is the entry-level Vaio Z available all across Japan in many different stores where Sony’s Vaio computers are sold.
Let’s talk about this 13.3” full HD display: While in Europe or North America for that matter, the Vaio Z comes with a stock 1600×900 screen resolution. We in Japan, however, have the full HD version that comes, for once, with a matte screen. The matte screens give you excellent horizontal and vertical viewing angles with vivid colors and deep blacks that are underlined by an extremely bright LED backlight giving you a perfectly readable screen regardless of your position.
But the greatest thing of all is, for the space junkie, the gorgeous 1920×1080 resolution of the Vaio Z, giving the 13.3” display an amazing amount of screen real estate with a stunning pixel density.
Note the fastest model of all, the Core i5 we tested was actually really impressive and made us wonder how amazing the Core-i7 could be. We are not too crazy about benchmarking since it always depends on so many things. Two identical computers will never give you the same result twice; so forgive us if we skip the benchmarking part. Trust us when we say that this Core-i5 Vaio Z is fast!
This said, our test sample was booting pretty quickly at around 30 seconds from (cold boot) and was capable to handle everything that we threw at it like running Photoshop 5.1, with Firefox, Word, Skype and MSN Messenger running at the same time. All this without any noticeable lag. Impressive.
Impressive is the exact word that describes the Vaio Z on the go, but the word “impressive” is inadequate when you are connecting the Vaio Z to its Light Peak Docking Station with the integrated Radeon 6650M graphics.
By default, the Vaio Z will run on the built-in Intel HD 3000 graphics that are quite enough for your basic needs on the go. When at home or the office, and once the Vaio Z Dock plugged in, you have a real “monster”, turning this laptop into a really capable gaming PC, thanks to the powerful Radeon 6650M graphics.
While I admit that I am not a “PC gamer” – I have an Xbox 360 and PS3 for games – I basically spent most of my time testing the Vaio Z with its dock attached, compressing and editing full HD video with Adobe Premiere. This is the first time I enjoyed having a “compact” setup along with me, capable of blasting 1080p video encoding like a good old desktop will do.
Remove the Blu-Ray / Radeon HD 6650M dock combo and you will find yourself stuck with Intel HD 3000 graphics. They do just fine when you need to watch HD movies, but will be totally useless for video editing and playing games. Sure, the dock is pretty compact and easy to connect to the Vaio Z, but having to always carry it around with you kind of drag. If you were planning to use your Z on the go, like most of us do, you will quickly miss not having this raw power in your Z at all times and will hate having to plug/unplug your dock every five or ten minutes.
Another problem that I have with this Vaio Z is its trackpad. While the keyboard did not really bother me much when typing news and articles for AkihabaraNews, I had a lot of problems with the Z’s trackpad. First and foremost I have to admit that I am completely addicted by my MacBook Pro’s glass touchpad and its touch & feel experience. Having a piece of plastic under my fingers did not really make me feel right at home. But the most annoying issue I had with the trackpad is its lack of response and its rather unnatural mix of honeycomb-patterned and sticky flat plastic that not only makes the overall touch experience weird but also pretty inaccurate.
I really did not enjoy this Vaio Z trackpad and hope that Sony will quickly give up on using this new design for something more elegant and “smoother” to the touch.
Last but not least, let’s talk about the Vaio Z’s battery life. Depending on your usage and setup, the Vaio Z will give from 3 hours to 5 hours of battery with its stock 4000mAH battery. Here again, everyone will use their Vaio Z differently and depending of what you do, the battery life of your Z could be drastically different from one day to the next. Basic web surfing and text editing will give you up to 5 hours of battery life. Playing videos or editing them on the go with Intel’s HD 3000 graphics will quickly kill your Vaio Z’s battery. We achieved, during our tests, an average of 3 hours of battery life. Heavy-duty tasks not only drains your notebook battery quickly but will also kick in the Vaio Z’s two noisy little fans. They do their job pretty well to cool your computer down, but also do it in a very noisy way.
Despite my struggles with the Vaio Z trackpad, I have to admit that it has been a while since I enjoyed a PC as a working tool. The Vaio Z is not only well built, but also sturdy and elegant. Add to this setup a nice docking station with a Blu-Ray drive and AMD Radeon 6650M graphics and you will have not only a truly portable and capable PC, but once at home or at the office, a real desktop-like experience for both gaming and video editing.
Now will I get one? Maybe not. Having to plug the docking station to fully use the AMD Radeon 6650M graphics to edit video on the go may quickly become annoying. As far as I am concerned, and despite its gorgeous lines, I will probably not purchase a Vaio Z to replace my actual laptop.