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About a year ago I reviewed the Sony VAIO VGN-TZ11MN and pretty much thought it was the best ultra-portable notebook that money could buy. That opinion held strong, so much so that the TZ11MN walked away with the Best Notebook 2007 award at the end of the year. Now I have the VAIO VGN-TZ31MN in front of me, and it's time to see whether Sony can hold onto that crown amidst ever tougher competition.
The most high profile competition to hit the market has to be Apple's MacBook Air, but I don't really think Apple's svelte attack on the ultra-portable market is much to worry about. Basically, the MacBook Air is larger than Sony's TZ series, but has no integrated optical drive, only one USB port, a lower resolution (although physically larger) screen and no wired Ethernet connection. Although I'm sure that everyone who has bought a MacBook Air considers it a sound investment by virtue of how "cool" they think they look while surfing the web in Starbucks!
More of a threat to Sony's dominance of the ultra-portable market is Lenovo's X300, which looks set to give the TZ a run for its money. I'll be publishing a full review of the X300 next week and detailing how it compares to the TZ31MN, so check back for the full low down.
On the surface the TZ31MN looks identical to the TZ11MN that I reviewed a year ago, but believe me when I say that this isn't a bad thing. The VAIO TZ series really does represent the pinnacle of notebook design right now. The form factor is perfect, the finish is first rate and the design stylish - and the fact that the TZ is essentially an evolution of the VAIO TX series is nothing to worry about either, since the TX machines were also head and shoulders above the competition at the time.
Sony quotes a weight of 1.19kg, and that's exactly what the TR scales reported when we placed the TZ31MN on them. This makes the TZ31MN a very light notebook and, although it's not as light as the Toshiba R500, it also doesn't feel like it's made of paper. With dimensions of 277 x 199 x 29mm (WxDxH) it's incredibly svelte as well as light - in fact every time I see a TZ series VAIO it amazes me that Sony has managed to squeeze so much into such a small case.
Lifting the lid reveals the wafer-thin screen that has become a trademark feature on Sony's ultra-portable machines. Sony pioneered the use of LED backlights in its ultra-portable notebooks, and despite the fact that much of the competition is doing the same thing now, none of them can match the impression that the screens on the TZ series make. It's not just the thin and light nature of the screen on the TZ31MN that makes it so good, it's also about the best looking notebook display out there.