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Sony VAIO VGN-TZ11MN
If you're a regular reader of TrustedReviews you'll know that I've been a fan of Sony's TX series notebooks for some time. The VAIO TX3XP coupled amazing battery life with a great screen and feather-light weight, but there was one aspect of that ultra-portable machine that annoyed me - it didn't have a dual-core CPU. You see in order to achieve the great battery life, Sony opted for Intel's Ultra Low Voltage CPU, which only came in a single-core package, but that was then and this is now…
With Intel's recent update to its notebook platform, it finally decided that the Ultra Low Voltage mobile chip deserved to be a dual-core affair. So now you can get a dual-core, mobile Core 2 Duo chip running at 1.06GHz on each core, and that's exactly what Sony has used to drive its new VAIO TZ Series notebooks.
It doesn't take a genius to realise that the TZ Series is the natural successor to the TX VAIOs, but it's clear that Sony was waiting for this new chip to arrive before changing the letter designation. That said, the TZ Series is far more than just a processor bump over the TX, it's a completely different machine, with new chassis and (although this is hard to believe) an even more sleek and stylish design.
There are a few variations on the TZ1 notebook, with prices ranging from £1,399 all the way up to £2,099. The Sand coloured VAIO VGN-TZ11MN that I've got in front of me right now sits in the middle of the price range at £1,498.99 and probably represents the best option for the vast majority of potential buyers. What's particularly impressive is that historically the TX Series machines carried far higher entry level price points at launch, so perhaps Sony is trying to open its ultra-portable range up to a wider audience.
There's no getting away from the fact that design plays a big part when it comes to ultra-portable notebook computers, and there are few manufacturers out there who can do a better job in this department than Sony. It's interesting that I've read a few news reports around the Web stating that Sony has copied the Apple MacBook when it comes to the keyboard design of the TZ1. Unfortunately for all the Apple fans out there, this is simply not true. In fact, Sony implemented this type of separated-button style keyboard in the groundbreaking VAIO X505VP back in 2004. It worked well then and it works well now - clearly something that Apple realised when it was designing the MacBook.
Like the keyboard on X505VP, the keyboard on the TZ is surprisingly good, despite its unconventional design. The keys are all well separated and spaced, and there's a discernable amount of travel when striking each key. I had no problem sitting down at the TZ11MN and typing at full pelt, but then I do have pretty small hands. That said, I think that someone with particularly big hands probably won't be looking at a notebook this small in the first place, regardless of keyboard design.
The keys are finished in matt black, which allows for a stunning contrast with the glossy casing surrounding the keys. Sony has also ensured that the Ctrl key is in the bottom left corner where it belongs instead of putting the Fn key there as notebook manufacturers often do. The correct placement of the Ctrl key is paramount for anyone who relies on keyboard shortcuts regularly. The rest of the keyboard layout is also spot on, with the Tab, Shift, Return and Backspace keys all large for easy access. Despite the svelte dimensions, the cursor keys are also dropped away from the main keyboard making them easy to find and use.