Sony Vaio Z Series with Core i7 Laptops Review



Sony Vaio Z Series with Core i7 Laptops Review
Sony's stunning VAIO Z Series has long been the standard by which all high-end ultraportable laptops should be compared.

Packing style, usability and high-performance into a sleek and sturdy sub-2kg chassis, the VAIO Z Series has frequently and vastly bettered such high-quality rival laptops as the Toshiba Portégé R600 and Apple MacBook Air.

It was with some trepidation, therefore, that we received the news that Sony was fitting its latest flagship model – the Sony VAIO VPCZ11Z9E/B – with a high-powered processor from Intel's cutting-edge Core i7 range, a discrete Nvidia graphics card and a staggering 6GB of DDR3 memory – components far more at home in the largest high-end desktop replacement.

Is it really possible to pack such powerful components into such a slim and lightweight ultraportable laptop? And if so, wouldn't it massively overheat the chassis and reduce battery life to almost zero?

In short, we felt that Sony had set itself a challenge to break the laws of physics. Believe it or not, Sony has managed the impossible.

As soon as you pick up the Sony VAIO VPCZ11Z9E/B, you're immediately struck by the high quality of the build.

Designed using hybrid carbon fibre and milled aluminium, the 1.4kg chassis is lightweight and highly resilient, making it ideal for a busy life on the move. Only the base of the chassis flexes very slightly under pressure, but not enough to be a concern.

The gunmetal grey colour scheme and metallic finish makes the Sony VAIO VPCZ11Z9E/B something of a high-end executive status symbol, and it looks fantastic.

With the chassis slanting from 33mm at its rear when closed to just 22mm at the front, it can comfortably be carried in the hand when walking and slips easily into and out of a carry case when travelling.

Despite its slim dimensions, the chassis provides ample connectivity.

On the left-hand side you'll find a Gigabit Ethernet port for high-speed wired network access, two USB 2.0 ports for connecting external peripherals, a compact 34mm ExpressCard slot and an HDMI-out port for digitally connecting to a high-definition TV.

The right-hand side of the VAIO VPCZ11Z9E/B's chassis is sparser, with just a single USB port and a VGA-out for connecting the VAIO to older analogue monitors and projectors.

An integrated DVD/CD rewriter occupies the remaining space – this is still a surprisingly rare feature for such a slim machine, so it's to Sony's credit that it's been included here.

Rather than an eject button on the drive itself, a small button above the keyboard is used instead. This sits alongside two other buttons seen on many new VAIO laptops.

The 'VAIO' button launches Sony's Media Gallery multimedia software, for browsing your photos and music, while 'Assist' launches Sony's handy troubleshooting and system maintenance tool.

Essential for a mobile business tool such as this, the spacious keyboard is a pleasure to use. Built using the popular isolated-key – or 'chiclet' – style, each key is cut through a hole in the VAIO Z Series' top panel.

Not only does this provide ample space between each key, but it also prevents dust and debris from falling beneath and affecting responsiveness of the keys.

We found the keys to be firmly fixed and responsive, moving with a quiet motion. The raised palm-rest adds to the keyboard's comfort, making it easy to work for long periods of time with the VAIO VPCZ11Z9E/B.

While there is no dedicated numeric keypad, a Num Lock key transforms sixteen of the alphabet keys into a numeric keypad for entering data.

The keyboard is also backlit, with an ambient light sensor detecting how bright your location is and adjusting the backlighting accordingly – dimming when not in use, to preserve battery life.

Unfortunately, we found the keyboard to lack the brightness of rival machines such as the Apple MacBook Pro and it was not as easy to view in low-light conditions as we'd have liked.

We liked

Packing Intel's full-powered Core i7 processor and 6GB of DDR3 memory into such a small machine is a phenomenal feat, and easily makes this the most powerful ultraportable laptop around.

The use of a high-powered discrete Nvidia graphics card in such a small chassis is another impressive addition. Offering enough power for full-time multimedia use and gaming, you can enjoy the performance of a much larger laptop.

The combination of hybrid carbon fibre and milled aluminium used in the manufacturing of the chassis creates an exclusive and high-class look and feel for the VAIO VPCZ11Z9E/B, making it as tough as it is eye-catching.

Somehow, Sony has managed to combine the vibrancy of its glossy X-Black screen technology with the non-reflective surface of a standard TFT screen, making its 13.1-inch backlit LED screen a joy to behold. The Full HD resolution is the icing on the cake.

The spacious and well designed keyboard makes the VAIO VPCZ11Z9E/B a pleasure to work with at all times. Its keys respond firmly and quietly, and at no time does the board ever feel uncomfortable or frustrating to use.

We disliked

While the keyboard's backlighting and ambient light sensor is a good idea in theory, in practice we'd have preferred the backlighting to have been significantly brighter. Even in pitch-black conditions it just isn't enough.

The same can be said of the 13.1-inch LED screen's. While it is more than bright enough for use in most conditions, we've seen better on other laptops, and improved brightness would have really brought the screen to life.

The use of a Full HD resolution by Sony is commendable and adds to the professional specification of the VAIO VPCZ11Z9E/B, but its use on such a small screen is sure to pose a problem for those with limited eyesight, as text is extremely small and hard to read.

Five hours of battery life is an amazing achievement for such a high-powered machine, but we can't help but nitpick and say that we'd have preferred something closer to eight hours of use. Call us picky but this would've made this fantastic laptop even better.

While SSD storage certainly has its uses, a slim 2.5-inch hard drive could've doubled storage to 500GB and many users wouldn't have noticed much difference in the extra weight it added or the minutes it may have shaved off the battery life.

Verdict

With the release of the Intel Core i7-powered VAIO VPCZ11Z9E/B, Sony has raised the bar even higher than before, offering an as-yet unmatched combination of cutting-edge performance and features ideal for the most demanding needs.

While the price is certainly high, there's no doubt that this is the best ultraportable laptop you can currently buy.

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