Sony VAIO Z-series ultraportable offers high-end specs

Sony’s VPCZ137GX strikes a balance between portability, ergonomics, and performance that’s hard to beat. It’s not quite as light or as small as many of its ultraportable competitors, but it offers a 13.1-inch, 1600 by 900 display, great ergonomics, and the onboard DVD burner that’s rare in the category. It’s still smaller and lighter than your basic all-purpose 14 or 15 inch laptop, too. It’s also looks great and is a fantastic performer.
However, the VPCZ137GX – and the Z-series laptops in general – aren’t cheap. The VPCZ137GX costs a whopping $2300. Even the cheapest 13.1-inch Z-series unit is nearly $2000, and there are configurations ranging up to $3700.

There are some good reasons for the lofty sticker price, including a 256GB SSD. It’s an expensive component, but it bestows a snappy feel to the installed Windows 7 64-bit operating system that you simply won’t get with a standard rotating hard disk, even with CPUs faster than the VPCZ137GX’s highly competent 2.53GHz Intel Core i5 460M. There’s also 4GB of 1066MHz DDR3 system memory and an Nvidia GeForce GT 330M discrete GPU with 1GB of video memory.

Put those components through PCWorld’s benchmarking suite and you wind up with an excellent 118 Worldbench score, as well as fantastic game frame rates for an ultraportable laptop. 1080p HD video played smoothly on the gorgeous display and the audio was surprisingly clear and spacious sounding. Bass was lacking, but that’s standard for most laptops.

Better yet, battery life hardly suffers at all from the great performance. The VPCZ137GX lasted 6 hours and 20 minutes in our rundown test.

Even with a DVD burner on board, Sony manages to squeeze in most of the usual ports including 3 USB 2.0 (sorry, no USB 3.0), both VGA and HDMI, and a gigabit Ethernet port. Bluetooth and N-wireless is provided and Sony’s Share My Connection software allows you share a broadband connection with 5 other users. There are also Memory Stick MagicGate and SD memory card slots, as well as microphone and headphone jacks. There are no eSATA or, unusually, Sony (4-pin Firewire) jacks. The Webcam only offers up to 640 by 480 resolution video. Sony also provides a handy three-way button at the top left of the unit that allows you to switch the power scheme between speed, stamina, and auto modes.

The VPCZ137GX uses the same genre backlit, Chiclet-style keyboard as the MacBook Air and Toshiba M645, but unlike with those units, the backlight leaking from around the keys doesn’t distract at any angle. The keyboard has a nice firm feel and the touchpad is well-tuned.

The VPCZ137GX isn’t as light or slim as some ultraportables. It weighs in at just over three pounds and measures 11.4- by 1.3- by 8.3 inches. However, the upshot is a better form factor when it comes to actual usage. Never once did I have the feeling of sacrificing functionality for portability.

Sony loads its VAIO laptops with a plethora of software titles. Many are branded utilities that duplicate Windows 7 functionality, but some are provide unique and useful functionality like the aforementioned WiFi hotspot utility and ArcSoft’s WebCam Companion 3. There are also trial versions of Microsoft Office 2010 and Norton Internet Security which will cover you until you install your own software.

I’m going to pay the VPCF13AFX and Z-series a high compliment. If I could keep any laptop that’s come through the PCWorld test center in the last year, this would be it. My only quibbles are the lack of USB 3.0, and Blu-ray only being available at twice the price in a signature series model.


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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