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Sony VAIO VGN-Z11WN/B 13.1in Notebook review

Andy Vandervell

By

Reviewed:

Summary

Our Score:

9

Sony has, for some time now, been considered the kings of the ultra-portable notebook. It's a reputation it has fostered for many years and one that was solidified, in our minds at least, when we gave our 2007 Best Notebook award to the much coveted Sony VAIO TZ. Yet, even now the VAIO TZ is starting to look a little old-hat given the plethora of new contenders, like the Lenovo ThinkPad X300, hitting the market. Clearly Sony hasn't been resting on its laurels, however, since the VAIO TT Series (review coming soon) has arrived to replace the TZ and Sony has also been busy revising the rest of its range, replacing the 13.3 inch SZ with today's target, the Z Series.

Like the SZ before it (see: Sony VAIO VGN-SZ61VN), the Z Series is targeted at those demanding users that require a highly portable machine that doesn't sacrifice any performance over a regular laptop. This time around Sony has embraced the evolution towards 16:9 aspect based machines by fitting the Z Series with 13.1 inch displays. Most interestingly, though, this has also precipitated the move to a roomier 1,600 x 900 native resolution. This is even greater in size than the 1,440 x 900 sported by the likes of the ThinkPad X300 and is a very welcome feature.

Indeed, the Z Series is laden with "very welcome" features. Our review model, the VGN-Z11WN/B, comes equipped with freefall hard drive protection, a Trusted Platform Module and fingerprint reader for secure encryption and authentication and integrated HSDPA (mobile broadband), while all systems come equipped with interchangeable discrete and integrated graphics and are sold with a two year warranty. More expensive models also come with Blu-ray drives and in the case of the top of the range configuration, a 128GB SSD. Finally, the Z Series is one of the first Sony laptop ranges to come under Sony's new 'VAIO by you' configuration service, so you can mix and match the components you want if you so desire.

Mind you, the Z11WN/B isn't wanting for much. Granted, at just under £1,500 it's an expensive piece of kit, but for the outlay you get a brisk 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 with a 1,066MHz front side bus and 3MB L2 Cache. This is matched by 4GBs of extremely fast 1,066MHz DDR3 RAM, something you don't often see even today.

For discrete graphics there's an 256MB nVidia 9300M GS and this is joined by Intel GMA X4500M HD integrated graphics, so you benefit from the processing power of one and frugalness of the other. Finally there's a 250GB hard drive, though if one were being picky (we are) it would have been good to see a faster 7,200rpm drive in here rather than the 5,400rpm one offered. When you're spending £1,500 on a laptop, it's the least one could expect.

Still, there are a few other perks worth mentioning in the software department that go someway to alleviating this disappointment; namely, full versions of both Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 and Adobe Acrobat 8 Standard. These, along with Roxio Easy Media Creator, InterVideo DVD, Picasa2, Skype, Google Earth, Google Talk, Google Desktop, Microsoft Works and a sprinkling of Sony branded applications, combine to create one of the more useful pre-installed software selections you'll find.

gettinhigh

October 31, 2008, 7:24 pm

Also worth noticing is the fact that for the extra bit of price Sony always offers consistent and exceptional build quality across its laptop range over other manufacturers like Dell and Lenovo.





I've owned Dell laptops before, and the superiority in build quality and finish of my current Vaio is immediately tangible over anything Dell has ever made.

Steve

October 31, 2008, 8:32 pm

ThinkPad's are the Rolls Royce of the laptop world. Their build quality is nothing short of exceptional.

Gnormie

October 31, 2008, 9:29 pm

Thinkpads are not Lenovo's only laptop line, I agree the Thinkpads are nothing short of exceptional but their more consumer orientated notebooks aren't so well built.

Impulsi0n

November 1, 2008, 12:26 am

I love Sony's style when it comes to there niche end of the market of notebooks, so stylish. I'm just not sure what to get the Vaio Z or the Vaio TT, hurry Trustedreviews i need to hear your review of the TT before i decide :)

Steve

November 5, 2008, 2:54 pm

Seriously tempted to pull the trigger and buy this. Seems to be a great little product. Only thing that's making me think hard is the fact that I've been using ThinkPad's for the last 10/11 years and might find another laptop not meeting the high standards set by IBM that I've come to expect.





Is the Vaio quality really as good as people claim? And the keyboard looks a little odd, would it be a come down from a ThinkPad keyboard or is it really as good as this review suggests?

Andy Vandervell

November 5, 2008, 3:00 pm

Steve: Well if you're transferring from ThinkPad you might find the keyboard a bit unusual at first, but I definitely feel it's very good indeed. It might be worth you seeking out a demo unit to try one out. You might be able to find one at a Comet or PC World, or Tottenham Court Road if you live close enough to London.





As for build quality, they feel pretty good, though the lightness of the Z Series might seem like flimsiness - not a view I'd subscribe to. Not as good as ThinkPad's, but still pretty good. Again, go find one and judge for yourself really.

Steve

November 5, 2008, 4:19 pm

Thanks for the reply Andy :)

Steve

November 6, 2008, 4:17 pm

Ordered it this morning! Without seeing a demo unit! I live on the edge ;)

Andy Vandervell

November 6, 2008, 4:22 pm

Excellent stuff, that's the kind of attitude we like to see! Let us know how you get on.

Steve

November 13, 2008, 6:25 pm

I've had the machine for a few days now. Apart from an annoying error that I occasionally get on start-up ( http://club.vaio.sony.co.uk/cl... ) the machine has been a joy to use.





The size & weight is exactly what I was after and it's fantastic to have so much power in such a small & light machine.





One of my fears was not adjusting to the keyboard and I'm happy to report that it hasn't been a problem at all. It's not quite up to ThinkPad standard, but it's very comfortable to use and each key has the perfect amount of travel.





The screen really is fantastic. It's the first WXGA++ panel I've used & the 1600x900 resolution ensures that my desktop will never be 'cramped'.





I really can't find much wrong with this notebook yet and I'm a fussy bugger to please. Hopefully the glitch on start-up will be resolved in some way although the Vaio forums haven't been particularly helpful in offering a fix. If I have one grumble it's not with the machine itself but the price of the accessories. A spare PSU is a wallet busting 䀁! Outrageous! On the plus side I managed to get a further two years warranty from Amazon for a very reasonable 㿲 (the Sony Store wanted double that amount).





So yes, I'm very pleased. I'll be ecstatic once I sort the start-up problem out.

Andy Vandervell

November 18, 2008, 6:10 pm

Well, Steve, I'm glad you're happy. Believe me it makes my job all the more enjoyable for it. :)

Mark Horton

November 18, 2008, 8:09 pm

I was looking for a laptop like this for months. I was so glad when I found this Vaio, Had it now for the last 3 months and it's the best thing I have every owned. Love it. HDMI out to my TV to watch TV programs, and films etc.





When I bought the laptop there wasn't an option for a Blu-ray drive, in some ways I wished I waited. Would have loved the option of watching Blu-ray on my TV, nevermind.





Well worth the money, and had a excellent service from Sony as well. With most things Sony nothings cheap but you get what you pay for. Do recommend the carry pouch from the Sony Style website product number is VGPCP15.AE which comes in at 㿊, expensive for what it is, but well worth it.

Steve

November 18, 2008, 9:10 pm

@Andy





I'm very happy with it! Thanks! :)





@Mark Horton





I bought the carry pouch you mentioned, it's expensive but the laptop fits snugly inside and helps protect it, so it's 㿊 well spent.





Regarding the warranty length, the Sony website states 12 months, this review states 2 years. I assumed the Sony website would be accurate which is why I bought the extra 2 years cover giving me 3 years in total (about the lifespan of a notebook). After registering the extra two years it told me my support contract had been extended from 11-2011 until 11-2013! So the standard warranty of the machine is 3 years! Gah!

basicasic

November 18, 2008, 9:47 pm

I would definitely get an extended warranty with any Sony laptop. In my (admittedly limited) experience the number I get in for repair is surpisingly high for a premium brand and the exorbitant price of spares makes a lot of them uneconomical to fix (though thats true of most makes).





Never see a Thinkpad.

Mark Horton

November 18, 2008, 11:41 pm

@Steve





Agreed it is worth it, after all it's a � laptop your carrying around.

SAM9f1

November 20, 2008, 8:59 am

Hello,I'm about to buy the Z series, but to my surprise , vaio has just released Z 26, Z 27, and the current z series (Z12 )is still available but not on display any more, any Idea or thoughts why vaio would replace and Already new released product that soon??I had came across 2 isolated complains in the show room, one regarding the fast drain battery, and the other one the hard desk but not sure what is it exactly, any advices guys?

Steve

November 20, 2008, 4:42 pm

@SAM





The Z27 appears to be a model only available in Asia. The models available here are the Z11 & Z21. There's doesn't seem to be much difference, only that the Z21 has a 2.53GHz CPU and costs about 𧶲 extra. That's a lot of wonga for a minimal performance gain! I presume it will have a knock-on effect on battery performance too...





Link here: http://vaio.sony.co.uk/view/Sh...

Fouad Diouman

December 17, 2008, 2:52 pm

Hi TR and all writers, thanks for your valuable input. Sony did it again. This Z series is a jewel. I travel 10 times a year and have a heavy Thinkpad. Fast and robust but the keyboard is rubbery/crap, the screen will make me go blind and it weighs 3 kgs+ (on top of my cabin luggage) with its bag and adaptor. Even though I get it for free at work, I am going to buy the Vaio next spring with my own money for work. It is really worth it. I was not surprised by the positive review.

Business User 1

December 23, 2008, 7:55 pm

DO NOT BUY THIS NOTEBOOK if you need to use a docking station. It does not work with the docking station. My experience with Sony "support" was extremely disappointing. After many phone calls and countless hours on hold I gave up and returned the product. Sony initially refused to accept the return even though it was within the 30 day window. I am extremely dissatisfied.

drsorcerer

December 26, 2008, 3:55 pm

Thanks for an excellent review Andy. I am in the market and choosing between this, the TT, Lenovo X200s/X300. Do you know if the hard drive in the Sony Z or TT are easily replaceable? I think in a year or so I might want to swap with a new fast SSD drive (& likely more affordable then) but on some of these 11/13" it is virtually impossible to get to the drive? (Lenovo is easily replaceable)

Lloyd 1

January 14, 2009, 7:40 pm

Hallo, I see the comment above about problems using this Sony Z notebook with a docking station - that it does not work. Can you/anyone else add more information? I am thinking of buying one with a docking station & am now nervous about it. Thanks.

Chris H

January 27, 2009, 10:38 pm

I've got the Z21 together with it's docking station. It does work, but it's a very disapointing docking station for such a good laptop. There's no power button, so you have to use the button on the laptop, which requires the lid to be lifted. The docking station won't show anything on an external monitor until the OS and display drivers have loaded. Even then you may have to log in and configure it to use the external monitor each time if you've booted the laptop undocked inbetween. These aren't major things, just annoying. Why couldn't Sony have put as much thought into the dock as they did into the laptop.

Emer

March 1, 2009, 2:25 am

Hi Andy. I've been dithering between a Sony Z and a Dell Latitude E4300... I'll need to use Dragon Naturally Speaking voice recognition software with it, so I've two questions. Firstly, is there a lot of fan noise? And secondly, is the version of Vista 32 bit or 64 bit? (Dragon is not yet 64 bit compatible.) Any comments on the quality of sound recording would be appreciated.

Steve

March 10, 2009, 11:24 am

@Emer





This is a small amount of fan noise when the laptop requires cooling (the CPU kicks out a surprising amount of heat), but it's not a noisy fan although I had expected it to be quieter than it is.





Basically, it's no better or worse than most notebooks when it comes to fan noise.

Southside

March 10, 2009, 7:59 pm

Hi Folks and hi to Trusted Reviews folks in particular. You have a great site! Anyway, I'm thinking of buying this. I've got a few concerns. 1) First, the start-up glitch Steve reported--Steve, is that still a problem? 2) Also, I've read some posts elsewhere about the Z battery draining even a decent amount when it's not in use for just a day. Anyone had a problem with this? 3) Any further impressions re the Z's docking station or Sony's customer service? FWIW, I'm also thinking about the Lenovo X301, so would welcome any comparisons people care to offer. Finally, and this is a strange question I admit, does anyone have trouble fitting a laptop this size into safes in hotel rooms? I travel a fair amount for work and it seems that sometimes my current 12.1" just makes it into those safes. Thanks for any info or advice.

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