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Sony VAIO Z Series (2011) review

Verdict

A bold, uncompromising redesign and stratospheric price makes for a truly unique ultraportable

Review Date: 1 Jul 2011

Reviewed By: Sasha Muller

Price when reviewed: £1,699 (£2,039 inc VAT)

Overall Rating
5 stars out of 6

Features & Design
5 stars out of 6

Value for Money
3 stars out of 6

Performance
5 stars out of 6

PCPRO Recommended

The VAIO Z Series was born of Sony’s desire to build the ultimate notebook. Feather-light yet immensely powerful, it fused ultraportable dimensions to desktop performance and made precious few compromises along the way. Now, Sony’s all-new VAIO Z has arrived, and it's ready to rewrite the ultraportable rules once again.

Sony VAIO Z Series - rear

Physically, the VAIO Z bears little resemblance to its former self. Sharp, boxy lines are formed from slices of carbon fibre, to create a chassis which measures a mere 17mm thick. It looks positively delicate, and its 1.15kg weight means it feels just as barely-there in the hand. There certainly isn’t the unflinching tautness of the Apple Macbook Air, and the obvious seams and slight give in the carbon sheets don’t exude the tough, go-anywhere air of Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1.

Sony VAIO Z Series - front edge

Achieving such slenderness has required more than just bold aesthetic changes, however. Sony has also done away with two of the VAIO Z's most notable features, namely the internal optical drive and dedicated graphics.

This is where the novel Power Media Dock steps in. Resembling a simple external optical drive, it crams in an AMD Radeon HD 6650 graphics chipset, and acts as a docking station too. Look to the rear and there's one USB 2 port, one USB 3 port, a Gigabit Ethernet socket plus D-SUB and HDMI video outputs. Unhook a flap on the dock's top edge, and you’ll find another USB 2 port for quick attachment of a USB flash drive or similar.

Sony VAIO Z Series - side view of Power Media Dock

It’s an elegant solution. A power supply feeds the Power Media Dock from the mains, but a single connector provides both a data and a power connection to the laptop itself. Sony’s proprietary implementation of Intel’s Light Peak technology (the very same used in the ThunderBolt ports on Apple's recent MacBook Pro) then jets all the graphical, USB and network data via the VAIO Z's single USB 3 port. Plug it in, and the laptop's screen flickers off and on as the AMD chipset takes over from the integrated GPU.

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User comments

Nice, but no cigar

If the various dock add-ons weren't so stratospherically rip-off expensive this might be a good design, but they are and it ain't.

I criticised the Macbook Air for its lack of ports, and disk player on the basis that form had overcome function (or convenience at least). This is the same, but in spades.

By wittgenfrog on 1 Jul 2011

sorry to repeat myself

but a why not a desktop + tablet instead? cheaper and better in every way.

By gavmeister on 2 Jul 2011

Nah!

I have a older Z series and sony's have a notoriously loud reputation as far as the cooling fans are concerned. If you want a smaller power options I think there are better and def quieter options.

By mcmpro1 on 3 Jul 2011

Unified solution

@ gavmeister - I have a Z12. In the office I use it as a desktop by plugging it into an HDMI screen & connecting a wireless mouse & keyboard & various other accessories using a USB hub. When travelling I just have to unplug the power, HDMI & single USB cable & I can be elsewhere knowing that I have everything I need including the performance. Only having one system to manage and having all your information and programs on one place is perfect for me. That the one system is super light and portable means you never have ponder whether or not it's worth taking with you. On price, the official Sony prices are pretty racey, but there are plenty of other retailers out there who I are happy to supply at far more reasonable prices. For my requirements it's superb.

By Zaphod1666 on 3 Jul 2011

Fan noise

@ mcmpro1 - I have a Z12, fan noise isn't an issue. For the vast majority of the time you can't hear the fan. It's only audible when the Z12 is working very hard, but even then it isn't an issue.

By Zaphod1666 on 3 Jul 2011

Mobile office

@gavmeister - As an IT Consultant/Developer I am always on the go, I am carrying my laptop, my programming environment, software with me. And I am creating/developing solutions on the client offices. I need a high end portable machine to run server VM's, a nice keyboard to type code and a high res screen to see as much as I can at once. A desktop and tablet combo is out of question for this task.

What Sony Z adds to the equation is slimness, lightness. I believe it will be easy to carry. And that is the reason it asks for this premium. I am willing to pay for that portability.

There not many options if you need this level of portability and performance at the same time, Lenovo X220, Sony Z, Sony SA maybe(btw. where are the reviews?)

This is a premium laptop for people;
a. who need it
b. who want the buy the most expensive laptop to be cool.

if you are not one of those, you shouldn't buy :)

By tanere on 3 Jul 2011

Wouldn't it be cheaper

to employ someone to carry my desktop and monitor around with me?

By Lacrobat on 4 Jul 2011

Looks good but I'll stick with my HP DM 1050ea :)

By deejerox on 4 Jul 2011

^^ Which I only paid £420 for before christmas! It's not sandybridge but I've still to find it lacking.

By deejerox on 4 Jul 2011

Wodge

Its very nice, but what a stonking great wodge of moolah (as my granny would say) to shell out for a mini computerette.
I believe its possible to purchase one of those Raincoat thingys for less.

By c_webb31 on 4 Jul 2011

Video editing?

There is another category of potential user. Someone who sometimes needs a light machine for 'basic' (word processing, desktop publishing tasks) when travelling and who sometimes needs to do video editing when travelling. OK me, but I'll bet I'm not alone. This could be an (expensive) option - leave the media dock behind for the former, take it with you for the latter. So would it not be nice in a review in PC PRO (not, you note, PC SLACKER) if the reviews considered real world work tasks. I wipe all the games off my computers (or I would never work) but it seems that the ability to role play virtual slaughter efficiently is the number one factor in PC Pro reviews. How well would this machine function as a video editor?

By PeterMcIntyre1 on 7 Jul 2011

Video editing

Hi Peter

Our Real World Benchmarks test performance across a wide range of different applications. In particular, the Media portion evaluates a system's ability to conduct MP3 encoding with iTunes 10; image editing with Photoshop CS5 and video editing with Sony Vegas Pro 10.

The full details can be found by copying and pasting the following link: http://www.pcpro.co.uk/blogs/2011/03/02/the-all-ne
w-pc-pro-real-world-benchmarks/

With the bog-standard Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and a nice big external USB 3 flash drive or hard disk, the Sony VAIO Z Series could make a very nice, if expensive, portable video editing rig.

By SashaMuller on 7 Jul 2011

linux?

anyone tried a linux version on a Sony Z (or S)? Or would you recommend running linux inside virtualbox or similar?

By krthie on 16 Jul 2011

The New Sony Vaio Z (2011) - No more no-compromise design!!!

PROS:
1- Very powerful - full-power processor!!
2- Thin, and super-light.
3- Long battery life.
4- Extended battery sheet option.
5- SDD and super-fast booting.
6- Light Peak implementation.


CONS:
1- No built-in optical disk.
2- No built-in switchable discrete graphics.
3- Small track pad.
4- Poor speakers volume.
5- Dose not look as premium as last year's Z
6- The extraordinary cylindrical hinge design is gone.
7- Way overpriced.
8- Not yet a uni-body design.
8- Power Media Dock.
9- Only one built-in USB 2 port.


Overall Rating: 4 of 10


SUMMARY:
I am a loyal Sony customer, and have been like that since the last 25 years or so. I have owned many VAIO laptops since it’s introduction in 1997. I also owned the first generation of Z, and loved it a lot. Then I upgraded to top of the line of last year’s Z, and I love it even much more, except of course for its poorer speaker’s volume.

I was looking forward for the new VAIO Z, BUT, when it arrived, I got totally shocked and disappointed!!!!!! Why? Because the main purpose, and advantage of the Z series was always to have a “no-compromise” design, and that is to have it all, at the lightest, and thinnest 13” form factor and certainly with a premium build quality .. All that glory is gone now!!. In fact, this year’s Z version defeated the Z purpose when Sony, foolishly, removed the optical drive, and the powerful graphic card!!! I never expected Sony to make such an amateur mistake!!!

All loyal Z owners also loved the extraordinary cylindrical hinge design which was a brilliant trademark of Sony VAIO Z laptops, and now, it is gone and replaced with an ordinary boring design!! Actually, last year’s overall look and design is by far better. Sony had a winning formula so why ruin it!!!? If Sony was smart enough, they could have easily introduce a new series that implement this year’s concept, and keep the original’s no-compromise design of the Z series!!

Sony, haven’t you heard the proverb: (If it ain't broke, don't fix it!) Because of this stupid mistakes, Sony WILL lose loyal Z customers like me who loved the concept of the original Z, and were very happy to pay a premium to get it!

And don’t you dare telling me that optical disk, and high performance graphics are only used at home or office!!! Just to think like that is totally wrong, because I always use both features while on the go, in my car, in the airplane, in my friend’s house, and in train, and I am 100% sure that many people are like me. As a matter of fact, I do extreme video editing on the go, and I backup my work to DVD on the go. I also like to watch DVD and BD movies on the go, and while relaxing on my bed. NOW, with the new concept, it is extremely annoying and inconvenient to do so, as you MUST carry that extra stupid Power Media device to have it all!!!!

The new Sony Z is a huge let down, and along with its non-sense price, I am sure it will fail big time. What a shame Sony!

By AboAmmar2011 on 14 Sep 2011

Video Editing

Hmmm... Thank you for this review. I was about to order one of these as a mobile sound/picture editing notebook. What attracted me was the external GPU unit... But you tell us it must be plugged into the single USB3 socket. Then what do we plug our fast USB3 external drive into?

I will have to think again...

By Gilesy on 24 Apr 2012

Losing USB 3.0?

OK, I see... When the fancy schmancy dock is connected, there is still a free USB 3.0 port, and some others besides. Why didn't I spot this in the PCPRO review before. Sony are offering some very good deals on this notebook at the moment - end of the season sale or maybe they aren't shifting too many of these... Either way, this should be ideal for me - video and sound editing on the move or just editing text on the move and has to be light enough to go into my shoulder bag on the pushbike or whilst running for a bus or tube... I wish it was another company making this... It might be cheaper and more rugged.

By Gilesy on 26 Apr 2012

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