Sony VAIO VGN-TZ31MN review

3 Mar 2008

This impressive ultraportable fills a narrow but handy niche in between the MacBook Air and Lenovo X300.

Price when reviewed 
1,467
4

Up until recently, Sony had the high-end ultraportable market almost to itself - but that lack of competition didn't stop it achieving great things. The VAIO TZ21 we reviewed in January impressed us with its incredibly low weight and unprecedented portability, even if the price put it well out of most buyers' reach.

Since then, though, the MacBook Air and Lenovo X300 have been launched, and they look set to steal some of Sony's market share. Its new TZ series laptop, then, should be aiming to defend this position, but has it got what it takes?

The new TZ31 shares the same compact chassis as its predecessor, but comes in slightly heavier due to a slightly more rigid case. That's not to say that its weighty - at 1.48kg, this is still one of the lightest laptops with an integrated drive on the market. Even with the charger, it weighs 1.6kg.

The TZ21's screen was impressive, so it's no disappointment to see it here unchanged. With a diagonal of just over 11in it seems incredible to get a resolution of 1,366 x 768, and especially with such great quality. Colours are vivid and the backlight dazzlingly bright.

Text is superbly clear, even with a battery-friendly dimmed setting. The screen surround is also slightly more rigid than the TZ21's, so we'd be less worried about transporting this in a soft bag.

The keyboard is very compact, but the quality is equal to that of many larger laptops. Keys have a surprising amount of travel, depress gently and give good feedback.

The diminutive size of the keys means that a single finger tip covers the majority of each, but because it mimics the MacBook's keyboard there's a valley around each that avoids accidental key presses. With laptops this small, usability is pushed to the limit, but Sony has done a great job to squeeze the most out of the space available.

Again, with the trackpad, space is at a premium. It may measure just 38mm tall, but it still pushes the mouse buttons to the very bottom of the chassis. Despite this they fall comfortably under the thumb when typing, and are protected from accidental pushes by a thin strip of plastic at the front of the case.

The front of the case also features a cluster of switches and buttons. A hardware wireless switch on the front turns off Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and a full set of media buttons control audio playback.

Unfortunately the rightmost of these is an eject button, which can accidentally be pressed by a protruding belly. These media buttons also control the Instant On feature, which lets you play music and video without booting up.

Upgrade options aren't normally a consideration with ultraportable laptops, but the TZ31 nonetheless offers an ExpressCard/34 slot, two USB ports and a mini FireWire port. There are Memory Stick and SD card slots too, so roughly five times the number of options provided by the MacBook Air.

While the TZ31 is comfortable to use, extremely portable and has an unrivalled battery life, there is a trade-off with power. It feels nippy enough, and applications load without delay, but the 1.2GHz ultra-low-voltage U7600 processor failed to break any records in our 2D benchmarks.

It scored 0.62, which isn't bad for a small laptop, but it can't match the recent offerings from Lenovo or Apple. The X300 scored 0.68 and the Air 0.69.

So, has Sony done enough to defend against the newcomers to the ultraportable market? The laptop is an impressive package, representing a slight but welcome update to the TZ21. It may be thicker than the razor-thin Air, and slightly heavier too, but it offers a host of useful ports and an optical drive, which Apple has had to sacrifice.

Details

Price ex VAT £1,276
Price inc VAT £1,467
Overall rating 4

Warranty

Warranty 1 year(s) return to base

Physical specifications

Dimensions 277 x 198 x 24mm (WDH)
Weight 1.480kg

Processor and memory

Processor Intel Core 2 Duo U7600
RAM capacity 2.00GB
Memory type DDR2

Screen and video

Screen size 11.0in
Resolution screen horizontal 1,366
Resolution screen vertical 768
Resolution 1366 x 768
Graphics chipset Intel GMA 950
VGA (D-SUB) outputs 1
HDMI outputs 0
S-Video outputs 0
DVI-I outputs 0
DVI-D outputs 0
DisplayPort outputs 0

Drives

Capacity 100GB
Optical disc technology DVD writer
Replacement battery price inc VAT £0

Networking

Wired adapter speed 1,000Mbits/sec
802.11a support yes
802.11b support yes
802.11g support yes
802.11 draft-n support yes
Integrated 3G adapter no

Other Features

Wireless key-combination switch yes
ExpressCard34 slots 1
ExpressCard54 slots 0
PC Card slots 0
USB ports (downstream) 2
FireWire ports 1
PS/2 mouse port no
9-pin serial ports 0
Parallel ports 0
Optical S/PDIF audio output ports 0
Electrical S/PDIF audio ports 0
SD card reader yes
Memory Stick reader yes
MMC (multimedia card) reader no
Smart Media reader no
Compact Flash reader no
xD-card reader no
Pointing device type Touchpad
Integrated microphone? yes
Integrated webcam? yes
Camera megapixel rating 0.3MP
TPM no
Fingerprint reader no
Smartcard reader no

Battery and performance tests

Battery life, light use 490
Battery life, heavy use 231
Overall application benchmark score 0.62
Office application benchmark score 0.65
2D graphics application benchmark score 0.63
Encoding application benchmark score 0.58
Multitasking application benchmark score 0.62
3D performance (crysis) low settings N/A
3D performance setting N/A

Operating system and software

Operating system Windows Vista Business
OS family Windows Vista
Recovery method Recovery partition