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Vaio Z Flip review: A revived Vaio packs plenty of power into a thin hybrid

Sure, it's not made by Sony anymore, but if you've got the cash, this Vaio might be your dream hybrid tablet-laptop.

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Sean Hollister
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Sean Hollister

Senior Editor / Reviews

When his parents denied him a Super NES, he got mad. When they traded a prize Sega Genesis for a 2400 baud modem, he got even. Years of Internet shareware, eBay'd possessions and video game testing jobs after that, he joined Engadget. He helped found The Verge, and later served as Gizmodo's reviews editor. When he's not madly testing laptops, apps, virtual reality experiences, and whatever new gadget will supposedly change the world, he likes to kick back with some games, a good Nerf blaster, and a bottle of Tejava.

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4 min read

You had to hand it to Sony: the company's laptops were always unique. Sometimes inventive, often stylish, always different from the competition. They usually cost more, too, which could be why they didn't rack up many sales.

vaio-z-flip-008.jpg
7.4

Vaio Z Flip

The Good

The Vaio Z Flip has exceptional performance for a thin and light laptop, a crisp high-resolution screen and an attractive, functional design.

The Bad

Battery life in this expensive system is just adequate, not great. Loud fans and an overly glossy screen detract from the experience too.

The Bottom Line

For those willing to pay top dollar for a stylish, functional, highly portable PC, the Vaio Z Flip is impressive -- but you might do better with a Lenovo Yoga 900, MacBook Pro or Microsoft Surface Book.

The new Vaio Z Flip, an ultrathin 13-inch laptop shipping this February, is Sony on steroids. OK, technically it's not Sony, because Sony sold the Vaio computer brand to a new Japanese company back in 2014. But the new Vaio Z is more inventive -- and expensive -- than ever before. At a time when you can buy a high-quality laptop for under a thousand bucks, the Vaio Z starts at $1,799. That means it's competing with the and , two of the very best laptops we've tried. Why would anyone pick the Vaio over those machines?

Up close with Vaio's latest laptop, the Vaio Z Flip (pictures)

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It's simple, really: Vaio fits the performance and features of that into the svelte dimensions of a .

Vaio Z vs. the competition

Vaio Z FlipLenovo Yoga 90013-inch MacBook ProMicrosoft Surface Book
Starting price (USD) $1,799$1,199$1,299$1,499
Display 13.3-inch 2,560x1,440-pixel resolution13.3-inch 3,200x1,800-pixel resolution13.3-inch 2,560x1,600-pixel resolution13.5-inch 3,000x2,000-pixel resolution
Pixel density 220276227267
Dimensions (imperial) 12.76 x 8.48 x 0.66 inches12.75 x 8.86 x 0.59 inches12.35 x 8.62 x 0.71 inches12.3 x 8.67 x 0.9 inches
Dimensions (metric) 324 x 215 x 16.8mm324 x 225 x 14.9mm314 x 219 x 18mm220 x 312 x 22.8mm
Weight 2.96lbs (1.34kg)2.84lbs (1.29kg)3.48lbs (1.58kg)3.48lbs (1.58kg)
Operating system Windows 10 ProWindows 10 ProOS X El CapitanWindows 10 Pro
Processors Up to 6th-gen 3.3GHz 2-core Intel Core i7Up to 6th-gen 2.5GHz 2-core Intel Core i7Up to 5th-gen 3.1GHz 2-core Intel Core i7Up to 6th-gen 2.6GHz 2-core Intel Core i7
Graphics Intel Iris 550Intel HD 520Intel Iris 6100Intel HD 520 or Nvidia GeForce
Storage 256GB / 512GB256GB / 512GB128GB / 256GB / 512GB128GB / 256GB / 512GB / 1TB
RAM 8GB / 16GB8GB / 16GB8GB / 16GB8GB / 16GB
Touchscreen YesYesNoYes
Stylus IncludedNoNoIncluded

Despite being marginally thinner and a half-pound lighter than Apple's 13-inch MacBook Pro, the Vaio Z Flip has the same class of silicon under the hood: up to a 28-watt, 3.3GHz Intel Core i7 chip with Intel's latest Iris 550 graphics inside. The Vaio Z Flip offers enough oomph to play slightly older games such as 2013's Tomb Raider at 1080p resolution, as long as the graphics are set to medium levels of detail.

Unlike most thin and light laptops these days, the new Vaio doesn't look like it's directly aping the design of the . Yet it feels competitive with that popular system, with a dark anodized aluminum lid and a matte-finish carbon-fiber base that insulates your legs from excessive heat. The aluminum deck extends around the edge of the laptop, making it feel thinner and making it harder to accidentally press the power button.

vaio-z-flip-004.jpg

The Vaio Z Flip.

John Kim/CNET

Like any recent high-end laptop, the Flip has a fantastic screen. It's a 2,560x1,440-pixel resolution In-Plane Switching (IPS) panel that's easy to read at most any angle, and doubles as a responsive touchscreen. Pictures, websites and games look great since the screen can display 100 percent of the SRGB color spectrum, delivering pure and vibrant color.

Plus, it has a trick up its sleeve, one learned from the original Sony Vaio Flip in 2013: flip a switch to unlock a hidden hinge, set horizontally in the center of the display, which lets the screen fold down into a tablet configuration. Sadly, the gap between the screen and chassis still makes it a little awkward to hold as a tablet, as it doesn't fold down completely flat, and the glossy glass screen is extremely reflective.

Connections include two full-size USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port and an SD card slot that lets you push the card all the way in so it fits nearly flush with the body (that's rare in computers this thin, but makes it easy to expand the on-board storage). No dongles should be necessary, though one does come in the box: a VGA adapter so you can connect to those old projectors at work. Not only is the Vaio's power adapter tiny, but the plug is smartly designed, too: it'll pop right out of the socket if you trip over it, instead of yanking your laptop to the floor.

vaio-z-flip-009.jpg

Half-flipped.

John Kim/CNET

How many laptops have a touchpad that just works, like the ones on Apple's MacBooks? Historically, Windows laptops have had a tough time with simple operations such as two-finger scrolling and pinch to zoom, but the Vaio Z is far better than most. The plastic-topped mica surface feels a little rougher than Apple's glass trackpads, but I've yet to find myself cursing because one of the gestures didn't work.

The shallow keyboard is thin, so the keys don't travel far, and the sleek aluminum keyboard deck can give slightly while typing. Yet I also found the Vaio Z's keyboard precise, well-spaced and fairly comfortable. It's smudge-resistant, too, admirably resisting my fingerprints. Even the laptop's speakers are well above average, loud and full enough for movies and music. It's just a shame the laptop's fans sound like a tiny jet plane taking off whenever the processor heats up.

vaio-z-flip-010.jpg

Tablet mode, with the included stylus.

John Kim/CNET

The Vaio Z Flip is expensive, but it includes some cool extras. Every Flip comes with a pressure-sensitive stylus -- the same one bundled with the Vaio Z Canvas . It's not quite as responsive as the one included with the Surface Book (and there's no place to store it) but it's neat to have. There's also an 8-megapixel camera on the back if you want to take a quick picture and annotate it with the pen. The AC adapter has a USB port that can trickle-charge a phone. Also, the most expensive configurations of the Vaio Z come with a tiny wireless router that snaps right onto that USB port, so you can turn a wired Ethernet connection into a Wi-Fi one.

The Vaio Z is a well-rounded, feature-packed machine that's worth considering if you have a hefty budget. That doesn't mean it's your best bet for a laptop like this. With just over 7 hours of battery life in our standard drain test, it definitely falls shy of the Surface Book (11.4 hours) and 13-inch MacBook Pro (15.7 hours) that it's most closely competing with. And if you're looking for something a little lighter and cheaper, you can't ignore the Lenovo Yoga 900, which starts at just $1,199 with better battery life (nearly 9 hours) and only slightly less muscle under the hood.

For the best performance and most features per cubic inch, the Vaio Z Flip is a pretty solid pick. But you also might consider waiting until we're a few months into 2016. You're likely to see new MacBooks, and there'll also be a $1,499 version of the Vaio Z that does away with the fancy hinge, stylus and high-res touchscreen in favor of a bit more battery life. For many, that'll be a better deal.

Handbrake Multimedia Multitasking test 3

Vaio Z Flip 389Lenovo Yoga 900 372Microsoft Surface Book 522
Note: Shorter bars indicate better performance (in seconds)

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test

Vaio Z Flip 189Lenovo Yoga 900 212Microsoft Surface Book 214
Note: Shorter bars indicate better performance (in seconds)

Local video playback battery drain test

Vaio Z Flip 424Lenovo Yoga 900 537Microsoft Surface Book 684Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2015) 946
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance (in minutes)
vaio-z-flip-008.jpg
7.4

Vaio Z Flip

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8Battery 6Support 0
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