- Review Price: £910.62
Ah, Sony. At times it may exist on a different plane of reality, but good lord do the designers at the company know how to make technology to salivate over. Regular readers will know about the Sony TZ which we’ve now reviewed in two flavours: the VGN-TZ11MN and the top of the range, SSD equipped VGN-TZ12VN. And, in whatever flavour, it’s at the very pinnacle of mobile computing today. You can take your UMPCs and smart phones, because there’s nothing out there right now I’d rather have.
But, if this weren’t enough evidence of Sony’s design mastery, one must only look at its past achievements to find all the evidence required. Take the VGN-X505VP, which must still be the thinnest notebook ever to be produced, or the VAIO VGN-TX3XP – both fantastic designs, even by today’s standards. Even the troubled PlayStation 3 has its merits, and whatever one’s take on the pricing and all the other issues surrounding the PS3, it is hard not to appreciate the sheer engineering involved in making a console that’s powerful, but also so quiet.
Thankfully, there is a point to this preamble because Sony is at it again with the CR Series. It’s the spiritual successor to the C Series range which I looked at in the form of the VGN-C2SL back in February, and though that was nice enough it felt like an immature product compared to Sony’s more interesting wares. No such accusations can be placed upon the CR Series, and the rather striking ‘Blazing’ Red edition VGN-CR11Z/R I have sitting in front of me today. Suffice to say, Sony has brought its ‘A’ game with it once more.
Naturally, the first thing that draws the eye is the red exterior and rightly so because it’s wonderful. More recently I looked at another notebook with a colourful exterior, the new Dell Inspiron, and it’s plain to see that the quality of the finish on the new VAIO CR Series is far beyond that on the Dell. It simply oozes quality, while the silver VAIO logo looks as stylish and refined as before. Of course, if red isn’t your thing there are other options available, including: ‘Indigo’ Blue, ‘Pure’ White, ‘Luxury’ Pink, and Black.
Unlike the Dell, though, the design touches don’t begin and end with the coloured exterior. Elsewhere on the notebook there are plenty of stylish and refined touches, such as the chrome finished edges and the separated keyboard, which was first pioneered on the VGN-X505VP but made popular by the MacBook and more recently the Sony TZ.
Measuring 335.1 x 249 x 31.7mm (WxDxH), weighing 2.44kg and featuring a 14.1in display, the CR11Z/R sits just above the ultra-portable category while remaining very portable. In many respects it’s very similar to the HP Pavilion dv2560ea, which also has a 14.1in display and is near identical in size and weight.
Under the hood things are fairly similar too, though the HP does have some advantages. This configuration, the VGN-CR11Z/R, sports an Intel Core 2 Duo T7100, which runs at 1.8GHz and features 2MB L2 Cache and 800MHz Front Side Bus. This is supplemented by 2GB 667MHz DRR2, a 160GB 5400rpm hard drive and an ATI Mobility Radeon X2300.
This makes it fairly well stocked, with the Core 2 Duo T7100 and 2GB of RAM more than capable of running Windows Vista Home Premium with the all the bells and whistles. An ATI Radeon X2300 obviously helps too, though it’s barely much better than Intel’s X1300 integrated solution, and as such shouldn’t be misconstrued as providing any kind of gaming potential.
Other features include a DVD-Rewriter drive and a 1.3-megapixel camera, while network connectivity is provided by 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi, 10/100 Ethernet with Bluetooth 2.0 EDR making it too. Clearly then there’s no Draft-N wireless, nor any other ‘Santa Rosa’ features other than the updated CPU and motherboard and though this is a bit of disappointment, Sony is hardly alone in this respect.
Indeed, the only area where the CR11Z/R disappoints compared to the HP is with the processor, because the HP comes with the faster Core 2 Duo T7300 which clocks in at 2GHz and features 4MB L2 Cache compared to the 1.8GHz and 2MB found in the T7100. This Sony is also slightly more expensive, being available for around £910 compared to the £899 HP Pavilion dv2560ea, and a good deal more expensive than the similarly specified HP dv2530ea which is available for just over £700.
As ever then it’s a case of paying a premium for a Sony, and whether this is acceptable comes down to your disposition. As it is, the HP range that’s competing with the CR Series is no less easy on the eye sporting a lovely finish and some great features, but the CR11Z/R and its siblings do seem to have that something extra that just sets them apart. Colourful finishes certainly aide in this, but everything about the design enhances this feeling of quality, which to my mind makes the extra cost justifiable.
On the connectivity front the CR11Z/R covers most areas, though it certainly doesn’t offer anything that you wouldn’t see from any other manufacturer. First on the left there’s D-Sub and four-pin S-Video connections, followed by two USB 2.0 ports, a four-pin FireWire, Mic and Headphone jacks and a Wireless On/Off switch.
There are no connections on the front of the notebook; just the media control keys and status lights which are inset into the chrome. Similarly on the back there isn’t a great deal to see, just the DC-in and Modem connections.
On the right edge there’s a MemoryStick reader, should you have a device that uses Sony’s own brand of memory card. Thankfully, Sony has been wise enough to include an SD memory card reader as well, while below these is a 34mm Express Card slot. Rounding things off is one more USB 2.0 port and an Ethernet port, with the rest of the space taken by the optical drive.
If one were being fussy it would be nice to have an HDMI port on here, but given this is less an entertainment and multimedia notebook and more a portable all-rounder it’s a forgiveable oversight. Moreover, with a notebook this good looking there’s no good reason why you’d want to leave it hooked up to a TV all day; it’s meant to be seen.
For software the CR11Z/R comes with the usual range of Sony VAIO branded Photo and Video software, along with WinDVD for VAIO. Sony’s SonicStage software also makes an appearance, along with Hard Disk Recovery and the whole gamut of Google utilities such as Google Desktop and Toolbar for Internet Explorer. There are also trial versions of Microsoft Office 2007 and Norton Internet Security – the latter of which I’d uninstall immediately, in favour of something more streamlined like AVG.
One notable and very welcome addition though is a fully licensed version of Adobe Photoshop Elements, the baby brother of Adobe’s professional grade Photoshop range. This is a very good piece of software, featuring all the tools an average user might need without all the extra weight of ones they don’t.
One of the typical strengths of Sony notebooks are the screens, and the CR11Z/R is no exception. Measuring 14.1in it sports a modest 1,280 x 800 resolution, which is fairly typical and makes it ideal for watching DVDs and videos, especially if encoded at 1,280 x 720 – otherwise known as 720p. As with many notebooks there’s a high contrast glossy finish, utilising Sony’s own X-black technology. This produces superb black levels and vibrant colours, further enhancing the video playback credentials.
The internal speakers, which are situated either side of the keyboard, are decent enough and do for casual usage, however they don’t quite the match those found on the HP Pavilion dv2560ea.
One of the more eye-catching features of the CR Series notebooks is the keyboard, which as I’ve already pointed out uses the separated style keys as found on the Sony TZ and Apple MacBooks. Initially the keys on the CR11Z/R feel a little on the shallow side, however after a little while this feeling is alleviated and you come to appreciate just how pleasing they are to type on. It helps too that the keyboard has an immaculate layout, avoiding all the annoying little niggles that perennially appear on these web pages.
Just above the keyboard are more shortcut buttons to complement the media keys below, with these adding ‘AV Mode’, Mute, Volume, Capture and Display Off controls. AV Mode, if you’re wondering, launches a menu bar that appears at the top the screen and provides shortcut buttons for media playback programs. In short, it’s a shortcut button for shortcuts – how many shortcuts does it take make a longcut? Still, snarky comments aside, it’s not quite as divisive as Toshiba’s definitively pointless Flash Cards program, and it can be easily ignored.
For performance testing the CR11Z/R was put through our usual set of notebook tests, including PC Mark 05 and our own in-house Photoshop Elements and Virtual Dub tests. There was also a subjective battery test, which was conducted by using the notebook for standard word processing and web browsing with the Balanced performance profile, Wi-Fi enabled and display brightness set to maximum.
In PC Mark 05 the CR11Z/R was a good match for the dv2560ea, achieving comparable scores in all but the CPU test where the faster Core 2 Duo T7300 in the HP produced a significantly higher score. This was certainly a major contributing factor in our in-house tests too, with the HP proving significantly faster in both tests.
How this will affect you in real world scenarios rather depends on usage. For most purposes the Sony has more than enough power, and will happily run a few programs concurrently without faltering. But, if you like to dabble in the occasional bout of on the move image editing then the faster CPU in the HP may prove more attractive.
Battery testing produced another good result, with the CR11Z/R managing close to three hours under our testing conditions. This with just a standard six-cell battery marks a pretty good return, and ensures a good amount of working time before you’ll need to re-charge or insert a new battery.
Overall the CR11Z/R, and the whole CR series, is another excellent example of Sony design and quality. Fine, it’s not the cheapest out there but then nothing in this class looks or feels quite as good, which adds its own sense of value beyond that of simply specs and raw speed. Much the same can be applied to the Sony TZ series, but whereas the TZ is more or less alone in its class the CR has more competition, and as such lacks that sense of exclusivity and uniqueness. This ultimately robs it of a Recommended Award, but if you like the form factor and want something that offers style and impact, you can’t get much better than this.
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Score in detail
Processor, Memory & Storage
|Processor||Intel Core 2 Duo|
|Processor Speed Standard (Gigahertz)||1.80 GHz|
|Memory (RAM) (Gigabyte)||2 GB|
|Hard Disk Drive (HDD) (Gigabyte)||160 GB|
|DVD Optical Drive||DVD-RAM/±R/±RW|
Graphics & Sound
|Graphics||Intel GMA X3100|
|Display (Inch)||14.1 in|