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Sony VAIO VGN-Z11WN/B review

Verdict

Sony's Z-Series is an ultraportable to aspire to, but it's not without its faults.

Review Date: 19 Sep 2008

Reviewed By: Sasha Muller

Price when reviewed: £1,277 (£1,469 inc VAT)

Overall Rating
4 stars out of 6

Features & Design
4 stars out of 6

Value for Money
3 stars out of 6

Performance
5 stars out of 6

A couple of months back we took a tentative first look at Sony's forthcoming range of business ultraportables, the Z-Series, in PC Pro's blogs. Now, finally, we can stop gazing adoringly at the press photos, as Sony has sent us the first VGN-Z11WN/B in the UK.

Sony's other ultraportable, the VGN-TZ31, won our hearts when it arrived back in PC Pro's offices not so very long ago, and the Z11WN is its bigger, pricier brother. The TZ31's 11.1in screen grows in stature to a more sizable 13.1in panel, and the already generous 1,366 x 768 native resolution swells to a not-far-off full HD 1,600 x 900 pixels - by far the highest resolution panel we've seen on an ultraportable.

Of course, that extra screen size means that the whole chassis is that bit bigger, measuring 314 x 210 x 33mm, but although you'd expect weight to start troubling the 2kg mark at that size, you'd be wide of the mark. Indeed, pop the Z11WN/B on the scales and it reaches a stunningly svelte 1.47kg - less even than substantially smaller TZ31.

What's impressive then, is that despite the Sony's extreme light weight, it still manages to feel sturdier and more resilient than its diminutive predecessor. The base is far more resistant to flex, or just heavy-handed twisting and tugging, and it feels far capable of surviving the rigours of regular travel and transatlantic flights.

The ultra-thin LED-backlit display proves less flexible than the TZ31, but in all honesty, that's not a huge compliment. It looks stunningly slim, granted, but that thinness doesn't seem to afford the display a great deal of protection. The panel seems well isolated from twisting motions, and you still have to prod reasonably firmly on its rear to transmit any showthrough to the display itself, but this is one laptop that's best ensconced in the safety of a well-padded laptop bag.

Say what you will about its durability, but quality is not an area where this display is lacking; every one of the display's 13.1 inches is stunningly bright. LED-backlighting provides incredibly vivid brightness and its contrast is beyond reproach. There's the tell-tale subtle red push that we so often see on Sony displays, but while it leaves whites a little impure, it more than makes up for it with real world performance, with eye-poppingly vibrant colours. Crysis' jungle environments burst forth from the screen with alluring intensity and 1080p movie clips are similarly well-handled.

And, any talk of the Sony's display segues nicely into another one of its talents, namely its twin graphics chipsets. When light gaming is on the agenda, the Sony has a discrete Nvidia 9300M GS chipset ready to deal with 3D duties. But, when battery life is more crucial than graphical grunt, simply flick the switch above the keyboard's left edge from speed to stamina, and there's an Intel GMA X4500MHD chipset to fall back upon. It's a trick we've seen before, but it's enough to swell the Sony's battery life, under light usage, from 5hrs to 5hrs 46mins.

Even with that Nvidia chipset enabled, though, gaming performance is merely adequate. Our least demanding Crysis test, run at 1,024 x768 resolution and low detail, saw the Sony manage a barely-playable 24 frames per second. Cranking that up to 1,280 x 1,024 resolution and medium detail proved far too much for the 9300M GS, and the Sony slowed to an unplayable 6.6fps. It's no match for more focussed gaming laptops, but for an ultraportable it is admittedly an impressive performance.

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User comments

Disaster

This is my 4th Sony Vaio laptop over the years and I always went back because of the quality.
I have the Z11 6 months now and so far:
- The power adapter burnt out
- The screen is loose and clicking on opening.
- Stop working altogether today, won't power on, have to send back to Sony for repairs..

Really disappointed, and figure they are producing a sub standard product currently.

By CormacH2011 on 18 Feb 2011

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