Moving back to the aesthetic side of things, below the screen, the keyboard and palm rest area are covered by a single sheet of gun-metal grey brushed metal. This completes the look of the machine rather nicely, while also creating a smooth and comfortable service on which to rest your hands. Indeed, one of the neater design elements is how the palm rest is slightly elevated above the keyboard. When combined with the subtle upward slope of the whole machine you have the recipe for a very comfortable typing position.
This would be for nought, however, if the keyboard wasn’t up to snuff but it is: it really is. Like most Sony notebooks these days it’s an isolated style keyboard, something it pioneered on the VAIO X505 and has since become popular among some manufacturers. But, unlike previous efforts that did sometimes feel a little shallow, the Z Series keyboards have a prodigious level of travel. Coupled with an immaculate springy and responsive feel and an equally faultless layout, this definitely ranks among the best notebook keyboards we’ve used – bested only, perhaps, by the ThinkPad X300. It says a lot that having started writing this review on the Z Series, we didn’t feel the need to return to our desktop machine to complete it. It really is that good.
After the triumphs of the keyboard the touchpad is a rather mundane topic, but nonetheless it is very good. It’s well proportioned, falling directly under the spacebar, is unfailingly smooth and lacking in friction and its two buttons are crisp and even. Slid in-between the two buttons is the fingerprint reader and though we don’t think this is the most convenient location, at least it’s never in the way.
One area where the Z Series does disappoint a little is in connectivity. Don’t get us wrong, it has all the things you’d normal expect, like HDMI and VGA outputs, but there are only two USB ports (one on either side) and no e-SATA/USB port – something we’ve become accustomed to seeing on laptops of late. Things are rounded off by staples such as a 34mm ExpressCard slot, FireWire, headphone and microphone jacks and modem and Ethernets ports, but there is a lack of some of the more advanced connectivity you’d expect to see on a machine of this price.
Still, what you lack in wired connectivity is made up for by the wireless connectivity. As already mentioned there’s integrated HSDPA, but you also benefit from Draft-N Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and the wired Ethernet is of the Gigabit variety, as befitting a machine targeted primarily at business users.
Another thing business users will appreciate is the non-reflective screen. Clearly Sony has done something very clever here, though, since the coating on this screen manages to re-create the effects of a glossy screen without the drawbacks. This results in a truly brilliant visual experience. Colours are vibrant without being over-saturated and black levels are excellent. This is also reflective of simply how good a panel is being used here, since it manages an impressive level of grey shade differentiation and colour accuracy. This, combined with the powerful specifications, would make this a good option for anyone who deals with image editing on the move since the 9300M GS discrete graphics also adds support for GPU acceleration in Photoshop CS4.