Sony VAIO VGN-FZ21S review
With Blu-ray and one of the clearest screens we've seen on a laptop, the VAIO is a great-value option.
Review Date: 11 Feb 2008
Reviewed By: Matthew Sparkes
Price when reviewed: (£830 inc VAT)
Up until recently, buying an HD drive was risky. Early adopters were forced to choose between HD DVD and Blu-ray without knowing which would eventually go on to replace DVD. Things got a little clearer last month, though, when Warner Bros announced it would be dropping HD DVD in favour of Blu-ray later this year. While the format war may not officially be over, this news should make you more confident about choosing a Blu-ray-equipped laptop, such as Sony's VAIO VGN-FZ21S.
Importantly for a laptop with an HD drive, the VAIO's 15.4in 1,280 x 800 resolution screen is very good quality. In fact, it's one of the best we've seen on a laptop at this price, and it displays HD resolutions up to 720p crisply and cleanly. Colours are intense and the glossy screen has great contrast, although its reflective nature can be annoying in brightly lit environments. The inclusion of an HDCP-compliant HDMI output is also a sensible addition, giving you the option of using the VAIO as a Blu-ray player for your living room, hooked up to an HDTV.
The extra resolution provided by Blu-ray may be a joy to watch, but it's more intensive on the processor than DVD is. We found that with the laptop in Vista's Power saver mode, the CPU struggled to render frames fast enough, resulting in a slightly jerky picture. That rules out watching films on the move, as to boost the frame rate back to acceptable levels you have to put the laptop back in High performance mode, which drops the battery life down to around an hour.
It isn't just while playing optical discs where battery life takes a hit. The VAIO managed only 1hr 45mins in our intensive test, and 2hr 51mins under light use. We'd have liked a little longer, especially as the FZ21S is fairly portable at 2.8kg, but we'd hesitate to take it for trips away from base without bringing the power supply along for peace of mind.
We've no complaints when it comes to usability. Although some keys have been shrunk, such as the left Shift and Caps Lock, the VAIO's MacBook-style keys are very easy to type on. Below it, the trackpad is smooth and accurate, and small enough to avoid accidentally tapping it when typing. And this sensible design extends to the laptop's media controls, which are above the keyboard where they're safe from accidental activation.
Moving to the side of the chassis, there are three USB ports, shared on both sides - which means you won't block access to all the ports when you plug in one bulky flash drive.
The chassis is well built, and the screen protected by a sturdy bezel and backing - there's virtually no flex and everything feels very robust. As you'd expect from Sony, it's a very attractive design. The silver and black colour scheme looks fresh and modern.
There are a couple of flaws, though. The built-in speakers lack volume and they can also become tinny and slightly distorted if you push them too far, plus there's no S/PDIF output (the HDMI output can also handle audio, so this can be forgiven if you have a compatible TV). Also beware the optical drive only reads Blu-ray discs; it doesn't burn them.
However, these are minor quibbles in an otherwise impressive laptop. The specification is particularly good for the price: note the 200GB hard disk, 2GB of RAM and the 2.2GHz Core 2 Duo T7500 processor. These core components powered the VAIO to a highly respectable 1.15 in our application benchmarks.
There's even potential for some gaming. Nvidia's GeForce 8600M isn't the very top of its range, but it's enough for most games on the market today. You shouldn't expect blistering speed - in Call of Duty 2, at our Low settings, it managed 25fps - but it's nice to have the option for some after-hours blasting.
- Fitness trackers could pose stalking risk
- BT: Tech City's broadband is fine - startups just need to pay more
- Will the iPhone 6 arrive a month before the iWatch?
- SilentPower PC keeps cool with copper foam
- 1Password coming to iOS 8 apps
- What's on this week's PC Pro podcast?
- Finally legal to rip music from CDs - just don't break DRM
- Hot hardware video: Google Glass
- Microsoft to launch two new Windows Phones
- Amazon reveals why ebooks should cost less than $10
- How Google Glass ruined my lunch hour
- Smartphone battery packs: can a USB power pack beat the festival battery blues?
- Windows Easy Transfer – not so "easy" in Windows 8.1
- Formula 1: what a difference virtualisation makes
- Office of the future: comfy chairs and tablets everywhere
- I went to Glastonbury and the only thing that got high was my smartphone
- Meet the robots helping teach children
- PaperLater: would you pay to print the internet?
- Amazon vs Kobo: how much to make the ebook switch?
- Phishing emails: how I nearly got caught out
- ARM vs Intel processors: what’s the difference?
- 13 computers that changed the world
- How to download YouTube videos to a PC or laptop: is it legal to download YouTube videos?
- Dropbox vs OneDrive vs Google Drive: what's the best cloud storage service of 2014?
- Hacking the Internet of Things: from smart cars to toilets
- BlackBerry Passport release date, specs, features, and rumours: when is the new BlackBerry coming out?
- What's changing in the computing curriculum
- Teaching kids to code
- Best free translation apps for iOS, Android and Windows Phone
- Five worst SMB security threats... and how to solve them
- Top five VoIP mistakes
- How to add in-app purchasing to an iPhone, Android or Windows app
- Remote-control ransomware: TeamViewer and software hardball
- Why laptops with serial ports matter to the Internet of Things
- Make your mobile battery last longer
- Small steps into handling Big Data
- Nexus 5: does it really run stock Android?
- How to get broadband to a garden office
- How to write your company's IT security policy
- Raspberry Pi and Wolfram: a must-have for every child