The Vaio SZ2VP is a laptop that uses two graphics cards. One is a low performance model that helps prolong battery life while running everyday tasks; the other is a more potent gaming card that lets you enjoy 3D games and more demanding imaging tasks.
The SZ2VP is yet another good-looking laptop from the Vaio range. It has a thin, wedge-like shape that decreases with thickness from the rear to the front of the unit, and a very thin lid section, the top of which is finished in a subtle brushed-metal effect and adorned with the familiar Vaio logo.
There's no screen catch, so opening the laptop is very easy. Unlike some laptops the screen isn't magnetically sealed, so there's a very slim chance foreign objects could worm their way between the screen and the keyboard during transit, causing damage to the display or the integrated webcam that sits just above it.
Being a 13.3-inch laptop we expected the SZ2VP to weigh in the region of 2Kg, but it clocks in at 1.69Kg, which is impressive given its specification. We had no problem carrying it to and from meetings -- it was heavy enough for us to notice we had it in tow, but small and light enough to remain inconspicuous.
Open the screen and you'll notice the curious addition of a switch labelled 'Stamina' and 'Speed', which lets you cycle between the laptop's two graphics cards. To the left of this switch are two user-programmable software shortcut buttons for launching your favourite programs, and to the right, a second switch for enabling or disabling the Wi-Fi adaptor.
The keyboard is surprisingly large. The vast majority of the keys, including the Return, backspace and cursor buttons, are all larger than those on a standard desktop PC keyboard, but rather than make it easier to use, these oversize keys actually hinder usability. The keys have a large amount of vertical travel, and because there's very little space between the buttons, it's all too easy to accidentally hit adjacent keys when touch typing. We managed to get used to the keyboard after prolonged use, but its design is still a contentious one.
Below the keyboard there's a standard mouse touchpad in a square-ish 4:3 aspect ratio. This doesn't match the widescreen ratio of the screen, but it's very responsive and comfortable to use. Below this is a pair of mouse buttons, and sandwiched between them is a fingerprint reader that can be used to log onto Windows without entering a password.
The Vaio SZ2VP bears the latest Centrino Duo technology. It uses an Intel T2600 processor running at 2.1GHz and 1GB of DDR2 533MHz RAM in conjunction with the Intel 945GM chipset -- which puts it at the high-performance end of the Centrino spectrum.
The integrated graphics processor provided by the chipset is a common feature on many laptops, and it provides the image processing power when the SZ2VP is in 'Stamina' mode. Switching to 'Speed' mode and rebooting the system lets you enjoy the benefits of an Nvidia GeForce 7400 graphics card with 128MB of Turbocache memory. Unfortunately our preproduction prototype wouldn't let us try this feature, although Sony has promised us a final retail sample shortly.
The SZ2VP's 13.3-inch display is of a good standard. It uses a widescreen aspect ratio and runs at a native resolution of 1,280x800, so it's great for watching DVD movies and provides a good amount of desktop space to view and edit documents. It uses Sony's X-Black glossy screen coating 'technology', so it suffers from high reflectivity, which reduces its usability in direct sun or office light. X-Black does, however, give the display increased contrast and sharper, brighter colours.
Like many of Sony's high-end laptops the SZ2VP has plenty of disk storage space. There's a 120GB hard drive as standard, which is more space than is feasibly required by the average business user. The disk is protected by Sony's G-Sensor technology which parks the disk's drive heads if the laptop is dropped -- protecting the disk against damage. There's also an 8-speed DVD rewriter drive that's capable of writing to single layer (4.7GB) and dual-layer (8.5GB) discs.
Sony has opted to use an ultra-light drive, which is smaller than standard laptop optical drives, in order to help keep overall weight to a minimum. It's also chosen to use a significant amount of carbon fibre instead of magnesium alloy in the construction of the chassis. This material is light and strong, and can be found on Formula 1 racing cars.
Being a Centrino laptop, the SZ2VP has an 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi adaptor, but it only has two USB ports -- which is poor considering the similarly sized Dell XPS M1210 has four. There's a Memory Stick Pro port on the left side of the unit, and a port that houses a memory card adaptor supporting xD, SD and MMS cards.
We were unable to fully benchmark the SZ2VP's hybrid graphics capabilities as it was a pre-production sample, but it ran everyday tasks in a satisfactory manner, and wasn't noticeably faster or slower than laptops with a similar core specification. It's Intel T2600 processor is a fast, dual-core chip that has proved its worth in many high-end Centrino laptops, and Sony claims the system can achieve 5 hours of battery life in Stamina mode. No figures were offered for Speed mode. We'll update this preview with a full review including performance results when we get a final retail sample.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield