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.
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.
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.