Sony VAIO Z (VPCZ133GM) Review
A faster Core i5 processor makes the ultimate ultraportable even better.
Lowest Price: $1,997.45
When we last looked at the VAIO Z, we said it was the closest thing to a perfect ultraportable notebook that we’ve tested. Now Sony has updated its sturdy but sexy three-pound powerhouse with an even faster Core i5 processor while keeping everything else we loved. The VAIO Z VPCZ133GM ($1,969 as configured) still has switchable Nvidia graphics, a gorgeous 1600 x 900-pixel display, a comfy backlit keyboard, and zippy dual solid state drives. Is this lightweight wonder still the king of the hill?
Editors’ Note: Portions of this review were taken from an earlier review of the VAIO Z.
The silver VAIO Z (also available in black for the same price and Carbon Fiber for $50) is decked out in aluminum and magnesium, which gives the system a premium feel. We especially like the brushed metal deck and the circular hinges (complete with the green glowing power button on the right). The black bezel serves as a nice accent, and we appreciate that the surface is matte instead of glossy.
Other design elements include four buttons above the keyboard: Assist (which launches VAIO Care software), a shortcut button, a button for launching the VAIO Media Gallery, and an eject button for the optical drive. On the left side you’ll find a switch for the notebook’s graphics system, which you can toggle between Speed, Stamina, and Auto modes.
Weighing an even three pounds–about 3.2 ounces heavier than most netbooks–and measuring 12.4 x 8.3 x 1.3 inches, the VAIO Z is remarkably light given its features. In fact, we barely felt it in our backpack on the way home from the office.
Touchpad and Keyboard
With plenty of space between the keys and a nice bouncy feel, the keyboard on the VAIO Z is one of the best we’ve used on an ultraportable. Although the keys themselves are a bit on the small side, we typed on the notebook quickly and comfortably. Touch typists will appreciate the large Enter and Right Shift keys.
As you would expect at this price, each key is individually backlit, making it easy for us to continue working as we entered the Lincoln Tunnel while riding on a bus. We just wish Sony would reverse the function keys like other notebook vendors, so you could raise and lower the volume or brightness without having to press the Fn key first, but that’s a minor nitpick.
The VAIO Z sports a fairly wide multitouch-enabled touchpad (3.2 x 1.2 inches) that allowed for smooth and quick cursor navigation. The pinch-to-zoom gesture worked well in the Pictures library, but you don’t have a lot of room vertically to stretch your fingers. Our bigger issue, which we didn’t encounter with the machine we tested in March, was that the cursor sometimes jumped when our left palm accidentally brushed against the touchpad.
Because the touch buttons are separated by a fingerprint sensor, they’re on the small side. Because these buttons are located on the lip of the machine, which has a slight downward slope, they were somewhat difficult to press until we got used to them. However, they offered solid feedback.
Despite having a speedier processor, this version of the VAIO Z actually ran cooler than the last-generation model. After streaming a Hulu video for 15 minutes, we measured temperatures of 81, 90, and 92 degrees, respectively, on the touchpad, between the G and H keys, and on the underside of the laptop. The VPCZ114GX/S we tested in March registered temps of 90, 98, and 101 degrees in the same areas. The only part of the notebook that got noticeably warm was the area near the vent, which reached 106 degrees. However, that’s still cooler than last time around (114).
Display and Audio
One of our favorite features of the VAIO Z–and one of the reasons why it’s worth the premium–is its high-resolution 1600 x 900 LED display. This bright and crisp panel really makes it feel as if you’re working on a larger monitor. Colors popped when we were editing photos and watching DVDs, and the screen’s horizontal viewing angles are among the best we’ve seen. In other words, this ultraportable is ideal for giving deskside presentations, watching movies, and playing games (and it has the graphics chops to back it up). We also love this high resolution for making the most of Windows 7 features like Snap for comparing two windows side by side.
The twin speakers above the VAIO Z’s keyboard produced fairly clean but not very loud audio when we streamed Green Day songs from Slacker. Dialog during an episode of Glee on Fox.com was clear.
Ports and Webcam
The left side of the VAIO Z houses the power jack, Ethernet port, HDMI port, two USB 2.0 ports, an ExpressCard/34 slot, and a Kensington lock slot. You’ll find the DVD burner on the right side, along with another USB 2.0 port, and the VGA port. An SD Card slot and Memory Stick Pro slot are located on the front left side of the notebook, and the front right side has the wireless on/off switch and mic and headphone jacks.
Sony’s Motion Eye webcam delivered a clear picture when we made a Skype video call to a colleague. He noted that the colors were a bit bland but that the audio was sufficiently loud.