Sony VAIO VGN-Z21MN/B review
Sony's 13.1in Z-series redefines the ultraportable template, and justifies every single penny of its sizable price tag
It wasn't long ago that we looked at Sony's gorgeous, if pricey, VGN-Z11WN/B ultraportable, but now we've sneaked an exclusive first glance at its forthcoming replacement.
The VGN-Z21MN/B is, to all intents and purposes, the big brother of Sony's 11.1in VGN-TT11WN/B. The 314 x 210 x 33mm dimensions conceal a generous 13.1in display and belie a headline grabbing weight of just 1.43kg. Factor in the power brick and the Z-series still weighs in at a highly portable 1.88kg.
If you've not seen or heard of Sony's Z-series, then you're missing out. Visually, it's fairly unassuming, with a matte black lid complimented by a silver hinge and a dark grey interior, but its subtle curves scream luxury in a way that eludes other laptops. There is the slightest hint of the Spectrum 48k in the workmanlike curves and scrabble-tile keyboard - but the lack of pretension and useless glowing lights is definitely a good thing in our book.
Built to last
Just like its supremely expensive stablemate, the VGN-TT11WN/B, the VGN-Z21MN/B boasts a carbon-fibre reinforced chassis. The keyboard surround is moulded from a single piece of aluminium, and it's neat design touches such as this which allows the Z-series to tout such outstandingly low weight without feeling delicate and insubstantial. Indeed, grab the chassis with both hands and the build is surprisingly taut.
The 13.1in display is outstandingly slim, measuring mere millimetres thick, but while this makes it worryingly flexible, the delicate components inside seem well protected. We had to really twist and jab at its rear before any force was transmitted to the display itself in the form of image distortion or ripples. As ever, though, the lack of ruggedisation means that frequent travellers would be advised to make sure their laptop bag is a well-padded one.
The build is top-notch, and usability is beyond reproach too. It takes a little while to acclimatise to the scrabble-tile keyboard after traditional designs, but the widely-spaced keys have a surprising depth of travel and the positive break at the end of each stroke makes for supremely comfortable typing.
The display is another fine example from Sony. As one of the lower models in the Z-series the resolution is limited to 1,366 x 768 pixels, rather than the 1,600 x 900 found higher up the range, but what it lacks in resolution it more than makes up for with quality. LED backlighting makes for squint-inducing brightness, but the sheer vibrancy of the images it creates is jaw-dropping.
Power and portability
But, where many ultraportables, Sony's own VGN-TT11WN/B included, sacrifice power for long battery life, the VGN-Z21MN/B has it all. The Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 processor is a powerful mid-range option, and with 4GB of DDR3 to back it up it scythed through our benchmarks with a sterling 1.31 in our benchmarks.
Graphically, the Z-series has a neat party trick - flick the button above the keyboard's top edge from Stamina to Speed, and Intel's weedy GMA X4500MHD graphics are supplanted by the more capable Nvidia GeForce 9300M GS chipset. Impressively, you don't even have to reboot Windows to do it - just log off and log on again, and the graphics chipsets exchange places.
The GeForce 9300M GS still isn't a thoroughbred gaming chipset, but a result of 24 frames per second in Crysis at 1,024 x 768 and low detail does at least prove that it has a little gaming capability. Task it with less demanding titles, such as Half Life 2 or Call of Duty 4, and it'll help while away those interminable transatlantic flights.
|Price ex VAT||£1,276|
|Price inc VAT||£1,467|
|Overall rating||5 stars|
|Warranty||1 year(s) collect and return|
|Dimensions||314 x 210 x 33mm (WDH)|
Processor and memory
|Processor||Intel Core 2 Duo P8600|
|Motherboard chipset||Intel PM45 Express|
|SODIMM sockets free||0|
|SODIMM sockets total||2|
Screen and video
|Resolution screen horizontal||1,366|
|Resolution screen vertical||768|
|Resolution||1366 x 768|
|Graphics chipset||Nvidia GeForce 9300M GS|
|Graphics card RAM||256MB|
|VGA (D-SUB) outputs||1|
|Hard disk usable capacity||175GB|
|Internal disk interface||SATA 300|
|Hard disk||Toshiba MK2546GSX|
|Optical disc technology||DVD writer|
|Optical drive||Matshita UJ862AS|
|Replacement battery price ex VAT||£114|
|Replacement battery price inc VAT||£131|
|Wired adapter speed||1,000Mbits/sec|
|802.11 draft-n support||yes|
|Integrated 3G adapter||no|
|Wireless hardware on/off switch||yes|
|Wireless key-combination switch||no|
|PC Card slots||0|
|USB ports (downstream)||2|
|PS/2 mouse port||no|
|9-pin serial ports||0|
|Optical S/PDIF audio output ports||0|
|Electrical S/PDIF audio ports||0|
|3.5mm audio jacks||2|
|SD card reader||yes|
|Memory Stick reader||yes|
|MMC (multimedia card) reader||yes|
|Smart Media reader||no|
|Compact Flash reader||no|
|Pointing device type||Touchpad|
|Audio chipset||Realtek HD Audio|
|Speaker location||Above keyboard|
|Hardware volume control?||no|
|Camera megapixel rating||N/A|
Battery and performance tests
|Battery life, light use||572|
|Battery life, heavy use||105|
|Overall application benchmark score||1.31|
|3D performance (crysis) low settings||24fps|
|3D performance setting||Low|
Operating system and software
|Operating system||Windows Vista Business|
|OS family||Windows Vista|
|Recovery method||Recovery partition|
|Software supplied||Adobe Photoshop Elements 6, Roxio Easy Media Creator 10, InterVideo WinDVD 8|