Sony Vaio Z (2011) VPCZ21M9E review

Sony's latest ultraportable laptop is a real looker thanks to its incredibly thin and light design as well as its unique use of Intel's Light Peak technology. Alan Lu weighs up its slender build and high price in our review.

IT Pro Verdict

There’s no doubt that the Vaio Z is a very desirable laptop and in many ways it’s a pleasure to use. However, it’s also very expensive at £1,599 ex VAT and it can be even pricier if options such as a Core i7 processor, a larger SSD and a Blu-ray version of the Power Media Dock are added.It is possible to get a Vaio Z for £1,195 ex VAT by removing features such as the Power Media Dock, the 3G modem and opting for Windows 7 Home Premium instead of Professional. Even so, design issues such as the keyboard, concerns about sturdiness and the heat means it’s still a plaything for status-conscious C-level executives rather than an ultraportable workhorse for wide or even limited deployment. There's nothing quite like it at the moment, but more practical alternatives include the Apple MacBook Air, the Toshiba Portégé R830 or Sony’s own Vaio SB1V9E.

Sony is well known for its bold but expensive ultraportable laptop designs and the company's latest model is no exception. The new Vaio Z catches the eye immediately thanks to its sleek, sharp-edged black carbon fibre body and incredibly slender design at its thickest point it's just 17mm. It's also incredibly light too at just 1.2kg which is around the same weight as many netbooks.

The 2011 Sony Vaio Z as viewed from the side showing off its slender design. Note how the hinge props up the keyboard at an a

The 2011 Sony Vaio Z as viewed from the side showing off its slender design. Note how the hinge props up the keyboard at an a

The 2011 Sony Vaio Z as viewed from the side showing off its slender design. Note how the hinge props up the keyboard at an angle.

Body builder

We have our concerns about the robustness of the super slim design though. The carbon fibre body flexes under pressure far more than we would like which is all the more surprising given Sony's high asking price. We wouldn't want to drop it, but if we do then at least there's no fragile hard disk to worry about the 128GB SSD should come through unscathed. One neat design touch is the hinge. When opened up, the hinge props up the keyboard slightly which can make typing more comfortable for some.

ITPRO Recommended award

The Vaio Z is no weakling when it comes to applications performance though. Sony has managed to squeeze in a full-strength 2.3GHz Core i5 2410M processor, rather than a slower but more power efficient ultra low voltage processor, along with 4GB of RAM into the remarkably thin chassis. This means that the Vaio Z is remarkably fast for an ultraportable laptop scoring 54 points overall in our demanding Windows applications tests. An extra 4GB of RAM can only be added when ordering since the Vaio Z is sealed, preventing access to the interior for upgrades and replacing the battery - an increasingly common sight in thin and light laptops.

The disadvantage of the fast processor in such a slender chassis is that the underside of the Vaio Z can become incredibly hot when it's churning through demanding tasks so much so that you won't want to use it on your lap. To be fair this is true of many other laptops, but especially so in this case. When using Office apps and web browsing the Vaio Z runs cool enough for lap use and without the loud cooling fans ramping up to unbearable levels.

We had our concerns that the Vaio Z's battery life would be meagre at best, so we were surprised when it managed to last a lengthy eight hours and 47 minutes in our light usage web browsing test. This is long enough to last a transatlantic flight or a normal work day, but if this isn't long enough it's possible to extend this by attaching an external battery to a dedicated underside port. This does cost an extra 60 though, increases the thickness and boosts the weight to around 1.8kg although this is still light.