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While many notebook computers are beasts with huge screens and full sized keyboard, I prefer my laptops like my pizzas - thin and light. For serious work or play I prefer a desktop computer with a screen as large as possible but when on the move though I want something I can pack into a bag and not have it weigh me down.
The Sony Vaio VGN-SZ2XP that I reviewed a couple of months ago, fitted nicely into this category. It wasn't the smallest and lightest notebook around but at 1.7Kg it was still thin and light enough to slip into a bag. It also offered some serious battery staying power to ensure that, depending on usage, it could last a working day.
In that review I observed that the SZ2 was already outdated due to the announcment of the SZ3 with integrated 3.6Mbps HSDPA connectivity. Well, the VGN-SZ3 is now here in front of me and I was almost right - HSDPA is offered with the notebook. However, rather than being integrated, it's offered through an Express card. Aside from the memory card reader bundled with the SZ2, this is the first Express card device we've actually seen.
The module is a Merlin XU870 and can be flash upgraded to 7.2Mbps when network support is up and running. That won't be for some time though as in the UK even 3.6Mpbs networks are yet to come online. In the meantime you can connect at up to 1.8Mpbs, which is still pretty good going. By the TrustedReviews offices I was only able to get three bars of signal strength indicated by the Communication Center software and was able to download at around 114Kpbs.
The Express Card design is smaller and easier to hold than the standard PC Card and rather than having a eject button has a more elegant spring loaded mechanism. The Merlin card has a cool angular light on it that is a regular little disco ball, flashing between red, blue and green. It's got a small flip up aerial but it's only a bit of plastic that's the width of the module so I can't imagine it being much use.
Of course a plug-in module isn't as elegant as an actual built-in module, but to do that Sony would have had to have a new chassis made to accommodate the unit. Using an Express card means it didn't have to make any changes to what is already a good design and enabled it to bring it to market quicker.