The past few months have seen a series of noteworthy ultraportable laptops trotted out, and joining the Toshiba R500, the Averatec 1579, and the Dell XPS m1330 (technically not an ultraportable but still impressively small), is Sony's new VAIO TZ series. Already out in Japan for a few months, this 11.1-inch laptop is now available in the U.S. and replaces the older 11.1-inch VAIO TX as the new flagship of Sony's VAIO line. Combining an ultrathin, LED-backlit display with an Ultra Low Voltage Core 2 Duo CPU, integrated WWAN, and even an optical drive, this system is amazingly only about an inch thick.
At $2,299, our VAIO TZ 150 N/B is actually at the low end of Sony's six preconfigured TZ models and lacks the solid-state hard drive of the $3,000-plus versions. Still, for more than $2,000, getting only 1GB of RAM feels like a bit of a rip-off. And although the dual-core CPU is a step up from the VAIO TX's pokey yet efficient Intel Core Solo processor, the VAIO TZ150's performance failed to impress, possibly weighed down in part by Sony's penchant for bloatware. Still, for those with expensive tastes and strong sense of aesthetics, there isn't an ultraportable laptop out there that matches the VAIO TZ's industrial design. It's desirable, head-turning, and carefully crafted--but somewhat shy of perfect.
|Price as reviewed||$2,299|
|Processor||1.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Ultra Low Voltage U7500|
|Memory||1GB, 533MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||250GB 4,200rpm|
|Graphics||Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950 (integrated)|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Premium|
|Dimensions (WDH)||10.9x7.8x0.8 inches (1.2 inches in rear)|
|Screen size (diagonal)||11.1 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter (in pounds)||2.7/3.3 pounds|
Almost impossibly slim, the body of the Sony VAIO TZ measures just less than an inch thick. Adding the standard battery raises the rear of the laptop slightly, to 1.17 inches thick, but this is still one of the smallest systems you'll find outside of a UMPC. By comparison, another recent 11.1-inch laptop, the Averatec 1579, looks downright obese at 1.5 inches thick. Because it weighs less than three pounds, the VAIO TZ feels a little fragile, especially around the hinges, but the carbon-fiber casing should offer adequate protection. We'd still treat the TZ with extreme care, if only because of its high price.
The keyboard uses evenly spaced flat keys, much like an Apple MacBook. The tiny keys and touch pad felt usable, but it takes a little practice before you get accustomed to where everything is. A row of tiny media control buttons sits on the front edge, while the glowing, green power button has been relegated to end of the system's circular hinge.
The LED backlit display is incredibly thin, and it even includes a Web cam. The Web cam features a low 0.3-megapixel resolution, making it more suitable to Web conferencing than taking snapshots, but that's the price you pay for something that can squeeze into a space less than a quarter of an inch thick. With a native resolution of 1,366x768 (the same as the 11.1-inch Averatec), text and icons can be small and hard to see, but that's an inherent trade-off for such a tiny screen. Standard resolution for a 12-inch ultraportable is 1,280x800, as 11-inch models tend to squeeze the screen into a more letterboxed shape. One thing we especially like about the display is that it lacks the overly glossy screen coatings we see on far too many current laptops.
|Sony VAIO TZ 150N/B||Average for category (ultraportable)|
|Audio||headphone/microphone jacks||headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||Two USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, multiformat memory card reader||Two USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, SD or multiformat memory card reader|
|Expansion||ExpressCard slot||Type I/II PC Card or ExpressCard|
|Networking||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, WWAN||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||None, or DVD burner|
With such a small chassis, there are inevitable compromises to be made when it comes to ports and connections. The VAIO TZ supplies just two USB ports and only VGA for video output, but it still manages to cram in a mini-FireWire jack, an ExpressCard slot, and a media card reader, so overall it's in the plus column for an ultraportable. Besides the standard 802.11n Wi-Fi, the system also includes an integrated WWAN antenna (the older TX had a flimsy antenna attached to the hinge--this one supposedly is integrated inside), with mobile broadband service (EV-DO Rev. A) from Sprint. Especially for smaller laptops meant for on-the-road use, that's becoming an increasingly important option. Hotspots aren't too hard to find these days, but they're far from everywhere.
Aside from the four available colors, the six preconfigured versions of the Sony VAIO TZ differ little from one another, with higher-end models including a second GB of RAM, a slightly faster but still Ultra Low Voltage U7600 CPU, and an optional 32GB solid state hard drive. Add those three features, and the cost goes from $2,299 to $3,299, attributable largely to the SSD hard drive. Although it doesn't speed up boot times as an SSD hard drive would, Sony's G-Sensor shock protection anticipates drops and locks the hard drive to reduce the risk of damage and data loss should you knock your VAIO TZ off a coffee bar.
We're happy to report that there are two other useful security features that can help business users make the case for their company to find room in the budget for a VAIO TZ. First, there's a fingerprint reader, positioned between the two mouse buttons below the touch pad. Second, the VAIO TX features an embedded TPM security chip that protects your data from would-be hackers and thieves. And if you're eyeing the VAIO TZ for play, you'll like its Instant Mode that lets you access music, movies, and photos without booting Windows.
While we're pleased to see the VAIO TZ offer a dual-core CPU to the previous VAIO TX's Core Solo processor, the same emphasis is placed on battery life over raw performance, a fact we saw on both our benchmark tests and in anecdotal use. The included Intel U7500 may count as part of Intel's Core 2 Duo line, but it resides at the very bottom of the performance scale, clocked at just 1.06GHz to increase efficiency and battery life. We experienced minor slowdowns and stuttering during casual office work and Web surfing--not the most demanding user scenarios by far. Sony doesn't help matters by including tons of bloatware (including preloaded versions of the first two Spider-Man movies, which take up 3GB of hard drive space, but cost $9.99 each to unlock). Start times, in particular, were interminable, until we cleaned out the start-up folder.
The slower performance wasn't a deal breaker, however, and most of our hands-on time with the VAIO TZ was acceptable, apart from occasional stuttering. For Web surfing, office documents and basic multimedia, it performs adequately, but those interested in video editing or working with big Photoshop files already know that an ultraportable laptop is not the best choice for them.
The Sony VAIO TZ150 redeems itself with an incredibly impressive battery life. Using the standard battery (Sony also offers an extended battery, but is costs an extra $299) we got 4 hours and 7 minutes from our DVD battery-drain test. That's excellent for any laptop, much less one so small, but it still failed to top the record-holding VAIO TX, which ran for nearly 10 hours. Remember that our DVD battery drain test is especially grueling, so you can expect even longer life from casual Web surfing and office use.