Sony's new VAIO TT is a beautifully put-together ultraportable notebook, although its premium price rules it out for most business users. Even the 'entry-level' TT11M/N will set you back £1,368.99 (ex. VAT); our review sample, the TT11WN/B, is a top-of-the-range model costing £1,949 (ex. VAT).
The VAIO VGN-TT11WN/B is superbly made, with a sleek design that's familiar from the VAIO Z11WN/B we reviewed in November last year. However, where the Z-series' mostly black shell was tastefully highlighted with a silver VAIO logo on the lid, the TT is peppered with slivery bits — including the cylindrical hinges, the left and right edges and, inside, the mouse buttons. We preferred the more understated look.
Last year's VAIO Z11WN/B was a 13.1in. ultraportable weighing 1.5kg, but the 11.1in. TT is even smaller and lighter: it measures 27.9cm by 20cm by 2.35cm, and weighs just 1.3kg.
The TT's carbon fibre casing makes for robustness, although there's still a fair amount of flex in the lid. We were also irked by the absence of a clasp between the lid and keyboard sections. The front edges of the notebook don't quite fit together flush and on our review sample the hinge was not overly tight, so a protective sleeve is advisable when you pack this system in your travel bag.
The VAIO TT VGN-TT11WN/B has an 11.1in. display, weighs 1.3kg and costs £1,949 (ex. VAT).
The 11.1in. screen is small even by ultraportable standards, and its native resolution of 1,366 by 768 pixels won't suit every kind of work environment. Wide spreadsheets and web pages are rendered very well, but documents needing height rather than width are less well served. Sony’s X-black LED-backlit technology delivers a uniformly readable display, and we had no trouble working with a light source behind us. On the top right-hand side of the keyboard, just above the Delete key, is an ambient light sensor that automatically adjusts screen brightness (you can disable this if you wish).
The keyboard is Sony's now-familiar chiclet-type. If you've not used a keyboard of this type before it may take a little getting used to, but we were able to type at speed easily enough after a while.
The keyboard is reasonably spacious, and includes a row of two-thirds-height function keys and an inverted-T cluster of cursor control keys. The space between keyboard and screen — often occupied by various buttons in other notebooks — is bare. However, there's an array of five thin, lozenge-shaped buttons on the front right edge of the casing with icons above them. One mutes the volume, two handle volume up and down, a fourth opens the VAIO Control Center (which accesses a wide range of system settings) and the fifth ejects the optical drive tray.
The touchpad, which incorporates vertical and horizontal scrolling, has two elongated silver mouse buttons beneath it. Between the mouse buttons is a fingerprint sensor.
The screen surround houses a fixed-position 0.3-megapixel webcam. Sony accompanies this VGA-resolution camera with a copy of ArcSoft Webcam Companion, which lets you capture images, use the camera as a motion sensor and, of course, make video calls. For such an expensive notebook, we feel Sony has short-changed us a bit on the camera and its software. We'd prefer a higher-resolution camera, and software with face-tracking capability and automatic brightness adjustment. Sony has merely provided a minimum configuration here.
The VAIO VGN-TT11WN/B uses Intel's 1.2GHz Core 2 Duo U9300 processor, supported by the system's maximum complement of 4GB of RAM. Disappointingly, there's no discrete GPU: instead, graphics processing is handled by the GMA 4500MHD module integrated in Intel's Mobile GS45 Express chipset. This performs fine for most mainstream business applications, but it will be a bottleneck for graphically demanding programs.
Connectivity features are exemplary, though. Mobile broadband is integrated, in the shape of Sony's Everywair HSDPA module (the SIM slot is in its customary location underneath the battery). As you'd expect, you also get Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g, Draft-N), Bluetooth (2.1+EDR) and Gigabit Ethernet.
The hard drive in our review unit was a 160GB SATA drive spinning at 5,400rpm. Considering the TT11WN/B's price of this notebook we'd prefer a larger hard drive, plus the option of specifying a faster solid-state drive (SSD). The hard drive does benefit from (adjustable) shock protection though, which is pretty much de rigueur for a travel-friendly ultraportable such as this.
Sony being Sony, this slim (2.35cm) system manages to accommodate an optical drive, on the right edge. This tray-loading unit has its own eject button, but it's very small and fiddly to reach — which is no doubt why Sony added the aforementioned front-mounted eject button.
The TT11WN/B is not exactly overburdened with ports and connectors, but you get the basics. The right edge has room for nothing beyond a VGA connector at the back, as the optical drive takes up almost all available space.
The left edge carries a pair of audio jacks, a FireWire (IEEE 1394) port and, between these, a pair of USB ports. These are the only USB ports, and it's a pity that they are adjacent to each other. As is often the case, if your peripherals have bulky connectors or are awkwardly shaped, you may not be able to use both ports at once. A USB hub may be a necessary accessory. The left side also houses an ExpressCard/34 slot and, under a hinged cover at the back, an Ethernet (RJ-45) port and an HDMI connector. The former is quite fiddly to access, which could prove annoying if you frequently connect to a wired network.
The left-hand side of the front edge carries an on/off switch for the wireless radio and two flash card readers — for Memory Stick- SD -compatible media. All three of these items are a little tricky to access thanks to the inward curvature of the casing.
Performance & battery life
The Windows Experience Index (WEI) for the TT11WN/B was a rather disappointing 3.2 (out of 5.9). The WEI rating corresponds to the lowest component score, and as usual this went to the graphics subsystem — specifically, Graphics (desktop performance for Windows Aero). Gaming Graphics (3D business and gaming graphics performance) was little better at 3.3. The top score of 4.8 was shared by both RAM (Memory operations per second) and Primary hard disk (Disk data transfer rate), while Processor (calculations per second) scored 4.4.
Sony says this system's 5,400mAh Li-ion battery should keep the system going for over 7.5 hours (460 minutes). To test this, we chose the Balanced power plan, switched all wireless connections off and asked the VAIO VGN-TT11WN/B to play a DVD, which it did for just shy of 4 hours. This is a challenging, if anecdotal, test and the relatively long battery life is pretty impressive.
This is an attractive ultraportable, although we could happily do without the silver sides and mouse buttons. The high-quality 1,366-by-768 screen, good keyboard and integrated mobile broadband add to the allure. However, it's very expensive, and for the asking price we'd have liked a larger hard drive, a better webcam, more (or at least better located) USB connectors and better graphics performance.