The Vaio Z is Sony's sculpted little reminder that companies besides Apple can make exciting laptops too.
Why It Matters
This is the dream machine. It weighs 2.6 pounds. It's 0.66 inches thick. But this 2.7GHz Core i7 notebook also has a gorgeous, super-pixel-dense 1920x1080 13-inch display. An auxiliary dock houses a discrete AMG Radeon 6650m video card for extra graphics juice, along with a BD-ROM drive, HDMI, Light Peak, ethernet and VGA ports. No compromises here.
The first thing you notice upon picking up the Z is how light this thing really is. A toddler could wave this thing around their crib, one handed. It almost feels like there's nothing under the keyboard. And because the body is made of a polycarbonate material, it's seemingly frail, but in truth the shell is rigid and durable.
You'll also notice the speed. Apps fire up with little to no delay. Google's Chrome browser rarely lags, even with a healthy number of tabs open. Thanks to the SSD, it starts up in just under 25 seconds and powers down in just over 7 seconds. The battery, like most other "all-day" batteries, gets you through most of a day of work (give or take depending on what you're doing), but not the entire day. Nearly all of the average person's more intensive tasks can be handled by the Z. Flash video, high-res photos, light editing work and 3D gaming, etc. And if you need some more horsepower, you're not totally left hung out to dry.
The Blu-ray dock is not just there for aesthetics. The Radeon 6650m video card it houses legitimately juices the machine. Using Geekbench, the Z generally scored between 5700 and 5800 overall. With the dock attached that score was regularly in the 6000-6100 range.
The screen is beautiful. Borderline jaw-dropping. Packing a full 1080p display into a 13-inch panel means that the picture is razor sharp. But it's also bright, which makes watching HD content a joy. Carrying this around in a bag while out and about, you'll hardly notice it's there. The design is no-frills, but Sony has pulled this off in such a way that it isn't bland or utilitarian, like an enterprise computer. It's full of sharp, often acute, edges. Oddly enough, I found myself liking the dock. For most people, they won't need the extra horsepower on a whim, but when people want to edit an elaborate video project, or embark on an epic, pixel-intensive fragfest, they generally have a set, singular location for such activities. So the dock works.
Unfortunately, for all the things it does right, it has one critical error, the trackpad. It's undersized, attempts to use a biometric sensor to separate right and left click buttons (clumsy and annoying), and has a rough, prismatic surface. You'll be reaching for your mouse in no time. The speakers are pretty lackluster. An apt comparison would be those of the first gen MacBook, and if you've used those, you know they're truly awful. The keyboard is well-spaced, but mushy. Most of us like our keys to have a clackyness to them, and the Z doesn't deliver in that area. Sony couldn't resist throwing in a Wi-Fi hard switch and a set of half-assed, touch-sensitive hotkeys along the top of the keyboard.
Should I Buy This?
The Vaio Z is proof that Sony can still do some things very right. But for everything this computer does well (which is a lot!), I just can't get over the damn trackpad. Maybe if you have hobbit hands it'll suit you, but I just wanted to cut my fingers off at the end of the day. That said, if you have a couple of money stacks to throw around and want a PC that combines size, speed and utility in a generally well-conceived way, the Vaio Z is a fine machine.
Specs (as tested)
Sony Vaio Z
Screen: 13.1-inch, 1920x1080 Full HD
Processor: 2.70 GHz Intel Core i7
Storage: 256GB SSD
Ports: Ethernet, HDMI, USB, Light Peak, VGA
Weight: 2.6 pounds
Dimensions: 13in. x 8.3in. x .66in
Battery Life: ~6 Hours (average internet use)