Sony Vaio Z Review

If you need power in the smallest laptop possible, Sony's Vaio Z offers an acceptable compromise.
If you need power in the smallest laptop possible, Sony's Vaio Z offers an acceptable compromise.
If you need power in the smallest laptop possible, Sony's Vaio Z offers an acceptable compromise.


  • Incredibly thin and light
  • Powerful
  • High-resolution display
  • Good battery life
  • External dock enhances functionality


  • Chassis feels flimsy in spots
  • Display and audio quality is sub-par
  • External dock is a pain to pack
  • Expensive

Intel’s new ultrabook specification is thought to be cutting edge, but before the wave of hype and imitators, there were PC laptops that strove to be as thin and light as possible without any prodding. One of those laptops was the product we’re reviewing today — the new Sony Vaio Z.

The Z is a legend among laptops. It’s always been among the thinnest laptops available, and at just under .7 inches thick, the current model is no exception. It’s also always been among the most expensive laptops available, and at a starting price of $1,849, this Z once again fulfills expectations.

Our review unit arrived with an Intel Core i5-2410M processor with 4GB of RAM. It also includes a Radeon HD 6650M GPU – but not in the laptop itself. Instead, the GPU is placed in a “Power Media Dock” which is plugs in to the laptop as a peripheral. This dock also includes an optical drive, which was upgraded to a Blu-Ray drive in our review unit. A 128GB solid state hard drive provides storage.

As equipped, our review unit would ring up at $1899, so this represents an entry-level version of the Z, yet it’s already priced far beyond what most people would ever consider spending. Let’s see if this laptop can live up to its reputation.

Video Overview


Thin, and it shows

The official thickness measurement for the Sony Vaio Z is .66 inches, which means it is a hair thinner than the MacBook Air at its thinnest point. “Thinnest point” becomes the key phrase, however, because the Z’s chassis is the same thickness from front to back while the Air tapers at the front. In practice the Z does feel a bit thicker.

Even so, the thin profile of the Z is striking even from across the room. Several people who saw the laptop remarked on its size the moment they saw it, including a couple strangers. This is particularly remarkable considering the laptop’s drab “Carbon Fiber Black” paint job, which reflects virtually no light and is broken up only by a strip of a silver at the rear side of the display hinge.

sony-vaio-z-review-design-vertical-screen   sony-vaio-z-review-design-side   sony-vaio-z-review-design-front   sony-vaio-z-review-design-right-side-ports   sony-vaio-z-review-design-left-side-ports

Most of the chassis is stiff, but there are some build-quality issues. There are large gaps on either side of the keyboard that seems eager to invite dust and dirt, and it’s possible to flex the interior portion of the chassis if you finger presses at these points. Display wobble is also a problem thanks to a thin display lid and loose hinges.

Despite the thin profile, connectivity hasn’t been left in a ditch. Without the dock, the Sony Vaio Z includes VGA, HDMI, Ethernet, one USB 2.0 port, one USB 3.0 port and a combo headphone-microphone jack. That’s about on par with your average ultrabook, though the inclusion of VGA is exceptional.

With the dock you receive another VGA port, another HDMI port, one more USB 2.0 and 3.0 port, and even another Ethernet port. An optical drive is part of the dock, as well, and can be upgraded to Blu-ray if desired. The plethora of video-out ports makes it possible to hook up three monitors at once if you have the dock attached.

Taking it easy

Fortunately, the build quality issues don’t translate to the user interface. While the Z does exhibit short key travel, feel is still adequate. Combine that with large keys and spacious palm rests and you have an excellent layout. Using this Sony for long typing sessions should produce a minimum of pain.

Backlighting is standard on the keyboard, but differs from what you find a most laptops. Instead of using bright white LEDs the Z uses green-white lights similar to what you find lighting many automobile interiors. The result is so dim that it’s not visible during the day, but it won’t blind you when you’re working after dark. Light leakage around the keys is kept to a minimum, as well.


Touchpad size isn’t a strong point of this laptop, and at first glance seemed to be an issue. After a few minutes of use, however, it grew on us. Though small, the touchpad is responsive without feeling fidgety. Multi-touch gestures work well. The left and right buttons are short on key travel, but otherwise adequate. A finger print reader lies between them.

Don’t look at it cockeyed

Though equipped with only a 13.1-inch display, the Z offers a minimum display resolution of 1600×900. Some models offer 1080p as standard. Our review unit came with the 1600×900 panel, and it proved plenty sharp. Text is crisp as a spring morning and there’s plenty of space to stretch out whatever windows you’d like to open.

Backlight brightness reaches from fairly bright to almost blinding. This, combined with a semi-gloss panel that doesn’t show reflections easily, makes outdoor use pleasurable even on a sunny day.

Display quality isn’t perfect, however. Though the high resolution results in sharp images, black level performance and overall contrast isn’t remarkable, which results in flat performance when playing games and watching movies.


That issue pales in comparison to what might be the Z’s biggest flaw: viewing angles. Vertical angles are so limited on this laptop that it’s impossible for the entire display to appear uniform if you’re viewing it from more than two feet away. When this is combined with the display wobble we described earlier, the result is annoyance on an epic scale. Typing causes the display to move forward and back, which in turn causes the display to brighten or darken as the viewing angle is slightly altered.

The Z’s speakers do nothing to redeem the multimedia experience. They’re flat, lack bass, and have very little volume. Virtually any background noise will make listening to music on this laptop impossible, so you’d better pack a pair of headphones with you on your travels.

Product Review

The Asus ZenBook 14 is a tiny notebook that gets lost in the crowd

The ZenBook 14 aims to be the smallest 14-inch notebook around, and it succeeds thanks to some tiny bezels. Performance and battery life are good, but the notebook lacks a standout feature other than size.

Don’t even bother with the rest. Here are the only laptop brands that matter

If you want to buy your next laptop based around a specific brand, it helps to know which the best brands of laptops are. This list will give you a good grounding in the most reliable, quality laptop manufacturers today.

You could spend $1,000 on an iPhone, or buy one of these awesome laptops instead

Finding a decent laptop is easy, but finding one under $1,000 is a bit tricky. Luckily, we've taken some of the guesswork out of picking out a budget laptop. Here are some of our favorites, the best laptops under $1,000.
Product Review

Why spend more? The Yoga Chromebook outdoes most laptops for $600

The Yoga Chromebook features great build quality, a 1080p display, and all-day battery life. All that for $540? That’s right, but there’s one catch.

Latest Facebook bug exposed up to 6.8 million users’ private photos

An API bug recently left an impact on Facebook users. Though the issue has since been fixed, some of the apps on the platform had a wrongful access to consumers photos for 12 days between September 13 and September 25. 

You can now get a Surface Laptop 2 for $800 at the Microsoft Store

Along with deals on other variants, starting configurations of Microsoft's Surface Laptop 2 are now going for $800 online at its retail store, cutting $200 from its usual $1,000 starting price. 

You’ll soon be able to scribble all over PDFs on your Chromebook

Chrome OS users may soon be able to doodle all over their PDF documents with the possible addition of a new feature in Chrome OS' PDF viewer. The annotation feature is expected to allow users to hand draw or write over their documents.

Need a monitor for professional photo-editing? These are the very best

Looking for the best monitor for photo editing? You'll need to factor in brightness, color accuracy, color gamut support and more. Fortunately, we've rounded up the best ones for you, to help you make an educated purchase.

HDR monitors are beginning to have an impact. Here are the best you can buy

HDR isn't the most common of PC monitor features and is often charged at a premium, but the list of available options is growing. These are the best HDR monitors you can buy right now.
Virtual Reality

Oculus Rift vs. HTC Vive: Prices drop, but our favorite stays the same

The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are the two big names in the virtual reality arena, but most people can only afford one. Our comparison tells you which is best when you pit the Oculus Rift vs. HTC Vive.

Microsoft’s Windows 95 throwback was just an ugly sweater giveaway

Microsoft's "softwear" announcement wasn't what we had hoped for. Thursday's announcement was not the new line of wearable tech or SkiFree monster sweater we wished for. But it did deliver the 90s nostalgia we wanted.
Home Theater

Confused about LED vs. LCD TVs? Here's everything you need to know

Our LED vs. LCD TV buying guide explains why these two common types of displays are fundamentally connected, how they differ, what to look for in buying an LED TV, and what's on the horizon for TVs.

Canada’s winters inspired a startup to warm homes with cryptomining heat waste

Cryptomining may be the key to untold riches and the future of currency, but it’s also an environmental nightmare. Heatmine, thinks it has the answer, but it could mean bolting a mining rig onto every home and business in the country.

The best MacBook deals for December 2018

If you’re in the market for a new Apple laptop, let us make your work a little easier: We hunted down the best up-to-date MacBook deals available online right now from various retailers.