The keyboard surround is finished in glossy black, which distinguishes the matte black keys well, as well as looking great. The wrist rest is also finished in matte black, along with the touchpad, while the buttons mounted on the very edge of the wrist rest are once again glossy. There's no denying that Sony knows how to get the aesthetics right on a notebook, but one shouldn't underestimate that the engineers have managed to squeeze in a complement of first rate input devices into a very small notebook - the fact that the overall effect looks great is just a bonus.
Inside, the changes are subtle but nonetheless important. Whereas the TZ11MN sported the first Intel dual core Ultra Low Voltage chip, running at 1.06GHz, the TZ31MN also comes equipped with a dual core ULV processor, but this time running at a nippier 1.2GHz. Another step up is the memory complement - whereas the TZ11MN was fitted with 1GB of RAM, Sony has seen fit (and thankfully so) to give the TZ31MN a more generous (or more realistic considering how resource hungry Vista is), 2GB of system memory. So basically, you're now getting the same CPU and memory specification that you used to get in the top of the range VAIO VGN-TZ12VN, in the entry level MN machine. In case you were wondering, the TZ31VN will ship with a 1.33GHz Ultra Low Voltage chip - I'll be reviewing the top-end TZ31VN very soon.
The TZ31MN benefits from a 100GB hard disk, which is, in my opinion, more than enough for an ultra-portable machine. One area that hasn't been updated since this time last year is the motherboard chipset, with the TZ31MN still utilising the Intel 945 chipset, rather than the newer 965 backbone that was introduced with the Santa Rosa platform. As a result, the Front Side Bus is stuck at 533MHz, rather than the 800MHz seen on most modern notebooks, while the machine as a whole won't benefit from the dynamically clockcable FSB feature that's part of the 965 chipset.
Communications have also received a boost, with the TZ31MN supporting the Draft-N wireless standard for super-fast wireless networking, when connected to a compatible access point that is. Of course the older 802.11a,b and g wireless standards are also supported. On top of the impressive Wi-Fi support, you also get Bluetooth 2.0 with EDR, Gigabit Ethernet and a built-in 56k modem. More expensive models of the TZ31 series will also come equipped with integrated HSDPA, but that's sadly missing from this entry level model.
As always, Sony has managed to shoehorn a massive amount into the chassis of the TZ31MN, despite its miniscule dimensions. The right edge is dominated by the integrated DVD writer - a feature that Apple would have you believe isn't necessary in an ultra-portable notebook, even one that's far larger than this one. I wouldn't be surprised if the next generation of TZ comes equipped with a Blu-ray drive, which would make it a mobile entertainment powerhouse. Also on the right is a D-SUB port for outputting to an external monitor, while the power button is mounted into the round hinge, just like on the X505.