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Sony VAIO Z – Usability and Audio

Ardjuna Seghers

By Ardjuna Seghers



Our Score:


We were hoping the Z series' usability would hold up as well as its connectivity, but quite frankly we're just a little disappointed. The main reason for this is that, while the chiclet keyboard is nicely laid out and keys are well-spaced with a nice click and nary a hint of flex, travel is so shallow that the typing experience is inferior to the cheaper VAIO S.

Sony VAIO Z 15

It's perfectly usable – in fact, it's by far the best shallow keyboard we've used - but compared to superlative efforts like the Lenovo ThinkPad X1's it just doesn't cut it. It's also nicely backlit in white, as long as you remember to add this £15 upgrade when ordering direct from Sony. To be honest, we're a little surprised it's not standard on such a premium machine.

Like the keyboard, the touchpad is good but not best-in-class, with that honour still going to the Samsung Series 9 900X3A. Though it looks like a 'buttonless' affair with its single surface broken only by a fingerprint scanner, the buttons aren't actually part of its touch surface. To differentiate between the two the sensitive area is lightly textured while the buttons are smooth gloss, and though this looks nice they do pick up annoying fingerprints. In use the multi-touch pad is responsive but, like the keyboard, feedback on its buttons is too shallow.


Unusually, the wireless switch is located above the keyboard, together with Sony's traditional Assist, Web and VAIO triumvirate. However, rather than these being physical buttons as on other VAIO laptops, they're beautifully integrated, touch-sensitive white LEDs, which is a classy… touch. Assist brings up VAIO Care, which is an interactive support centre that activates troubleshooting, diagnostics and recovery, or puts you in touch with Sony's support. We really do wish Sony would stop making the letters for this pink though.

The Web button is rather boring if you press it in Windows, where it merely launches the browser. However, if you press it when the computer is turned off, it boots almost instantly into a Linux-based 'lite' OS which lets you browse the web while using less battery than doing so through Windows. Last but not least, the VAIO button opens the VAIO Media Gallery by default but is user assignable – a function every laptop should have.

Sony VAIO Z 17

When it gets to audio, the Z is only slightly less terrible than its VAIO S cousin. Lack of clarity and bass aside, there's minor but noticeable distortion regardless of volume level. It's definitely another case where good headphones or external speakers are a must for serious entertainment.


June 29, 2011, 2:43 pm

Copy of my comment from the news article...

I have the last version of the Z series (VGN-Z11WN) and it is fantastic! However it is starting to show its age and was thinking about putting in a 256GB SSD to give it a real boost.

On learning of the new Z series I was thinking I could also pass it off to my colleague and treat myself to a new one.

Firstly, I would stick to a 1600*900 screen, the higher 1920x1080 screen would be unreadable (please take note anyone thinking of buying it) on a 13inch screen. Most people I know complain about the 1600*900 screen I use and it does cause me a lot of strain when I use it a lot.

The specs are good for the new Sony Z, the basic model would still be a great business machine and the USB3 port is also welcome.

The PMD price is too steep for me to justify buying that.

However what really kills it for me is the cost of upgrading the basic 128GB SSD to 256GB, which will set you back an additional £440 (+VAT). No thanks! You can buy a 256GB 2.5inch SSD for £225 (+VAT) - so there is no way Sony can justify their pricing, except that the Sony fanboys will probably snap them up.

Their loss really, shame.


June 29, 2011, 2:46 pm

'For those who don't like black, blue, gold and graphite (AKA Premium Carbon) should also become available in the near future'.

I think this sentence needs to be revised.


June 29, 2011, 4:25 pm

Cheers for pointing that out, there was meant to be a semi-colon in there originally :)
In fact, the sentence had been altered to its current state before your comment, but due to caching the article hadn't been updated yet...


June 29, 2011, 4:31 pm

Thanks for reposting your comment.
I definitely agree with both your points, though there are ways to get around the Full HD resolution so ultimately it does give you more flexibility.
The SSD pricing though is a bit much whichever way you look at it!


June 29, 2011, 5:53 pm

First of all: are you sure that the graphics card is Radeon HD 5650?!
Sony's site says 6650m, big difference.
What I would be looking forward to in a lengthier review is how the new Z compares to the old Z, which you've raved about. I am the happy owner of a top of the line VPC-Z1 and to be truly honest find nothing in the new machine that is compelling enough for me to sell the old and purchase the new. Thinness alone doesn't really cut it, as the important measure for me is weight.

What I'd miss most about the old VPC-Z1 is the ability to lie down in the sofa or the bed, plugged into the mains and the lappie in my lap and enjoy some HD-content or play a game of Starcraft. In the new version I'd have an unwieldly external gpu connected by yet another tether - so very 2008...


June 29, 2011, 5:57 pm

@Neil873: "the higher 1920x1080 screen would be unreadable (please take note anyone thinking of buying it) on a 13inch screen"

Well there, a matter of oppinion and good eyesight. I've been using the FHD screen without any kind of eye strain for a year now and can't complain. Had a FHD Thinkpad t61p previously, a 15" screen which was substantially more tiresome than anything else.

Had a 1st gen Z, VGN-Z11 like you before, I think that the FHD is a welcome upgrade.
Also, if you're running a modern OS, there is a thing called DPI scaling that works just wonderfully.


June 29, 2011, 6:18 pm

I thought the old Z had some kind of proprietary RAID SSD that was faster and more compact than a usual 2.5 inch device. If that's the case, it may go some way to explaining the huge hike in price from 128GB to 256GB.

That said, I'm sure there's still an element of BMW-esque options list robbery going on.


June 29, 2011, 8:02 pm

My VGN-Z11WN only has a 5400rpm hard drive which is super slow (admittedly, more so since I got a SSD in my Desktop). I am guessing that the Raid SSD you are talking about was probably an option I dismissed at the time, because of the cost.

I would update the hard drive tomorrow, if it wasn't still covered under the 3 year warranty I got. Whilst it has been a great laptop, that warranty has come in useful, twice!


June 29, 2011, 8:43 pm

Sorry, typo. Yep, it is a 6650. It's changed, just awaiting cache refresh.

To be honest I'm with you in preferring the graphics card in the laptop, but it's rather exciting to think that this configuration gives Sony the theoretical ability to upgrade it...

However, HD material won't be a problem for the HD 3000 - even demanding Full HD video should be played without a hitch. And you shouldn't even need mains power :)

Tony Walker

June 30, 2011, 2:27 am

For those on a more constrained budged, treat yourself to a Thinkpad X220. Make sure you spend the extra £33 on the SIPS screen though. And budget for an SSD if you want to make the thing rock!


June 30, 2011, 3:44 pm

I'm not convinced with the external dock. i've got a current generation Z series and quite happy to have the dedicated graphics card inbuilt into the machine. Ok, so its a few hundred grams extra weight, but at least i dont have to carry my laptop around in two pieces! Also with this new Z series it looks like you are stuck with an optical drive if you want dedicated graphics card! I think like many 'power users' i rarely need to resort to using an optical drive these days.

A couple of 'power issues'. I bought the compact mains adapter for my Z series and its pretty heavy! The non compact one must be even heavier! It would be nice if TrustedReviews would give a one line summary of the power adapters in reviews, or even just the dimensions. This really matters to most people buying an ultraportable notebook.

I miss the days when Sony used to make super light super slim mains adapters!

The other power issue is with Sony Batteries. I've had 4 vaios over the last 7 years or so, and all of them have lost their battery capacity quite quickly. My Z series is about 8 months old now and there is a noticible drop in the capacity. Still a fantastic machine though!


June 30, 2011, 5:38 pm

The two worst things about Sony Vaio laptops are:

1) The support - too long to discuss here, but totally inexcusable in light of the selling prices of the business oriented machines. Lenovo is not only in a different class, more of a different planet alltogheter

2) Driver support - total FAIL. My laptop is less than 1 yr old, premium €2500 machine and they haven't bothered to update the graphics driver. There is a newer version released, but one has to hunt for it through the pre-installed drivers of the VPC-Z13 model (I have VPC-Z11)
Sony and the proprietary hw solutions they have may be great in terms of hardware, but the software is lousy, bug-ridden and the support is non-existant.

So, don't hold your breath that Sony will release an updated gfx card


June 30, 2011, 6:55 pm

This is all very well and good, but this has nothing to do with Just in Timberlakes buying My Space.

Chris Hamer

August 31, 2011, 4:15 am

Is it 37 fps or 47? In the article you say 37fps and the graph it is 47?
It seems you are comparing the cheaper Vaio S, I have the more expensive version with a 6630m HD graphics card which would probably be nearly as quick as the Z.
Also my Vaio S has the Intel 2.7Ghz-2620M processor, the same as the high end Z.
It can also last over 5 hours on battery with the dedicated chip turned off and has all the connectivity and external battery.
All for £1200 with the extra battery, tbh i don't see the improvements over the S.
Except for the build quality and screen and weight (only 500g or so less).


August 31, 2011, 2:50 pm

No indeed it does not, Sir. :)

@Chris Hamer:
Sorry, typo in the chart - it is 37fps. Cheers for the spot, corrected.

To be honest, size and weight are the main improvements, and for most folks something a little heavier and a lot cheaper will be a better solution. Of course, the optional Blu-ray drive and all that extra connectivity might also swing it for some, not to mention the screen resolution.


August 31, 2011, 3:39 pm

I've had similar issues like some here have mentioned in the past with Sony VAIO's.

When I used to use VAIO's, Driver support was horrid, 6 months down the line and it's they have totally forgotten about you.

Battery's life was terrible, ok when brand new, but a couple of months down the line you'd be lucky if you got an hour. Couple of years, you'd be lucking if you got 10 mins.

Cooling/Dust protection. Sony really need to put dust filters or something in the cooling ducts. My old VAIO's CPU would constantly put the CPU into protection mode because of overheating problems. Constantly having to get some compressed Air and blowing the dust out wasn't ideal, and it's not like I'm even in a dusty area.


February 20, 2013, 11:34 am

Well i have to 2010 Sony Vaio netbook and i haven't had any problems with it and also it runs smoothly and i dont have a problem with the battery life its because if you consantly charge things the battery life goes down and also dont charge it when you are on your laptop.

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