- High-quality wide-format display
- Fingerprint scanner
- Very slim and lightweight
- Only two USB ports
- Lacks 3G built-in connectivity
Sony's VAIO notebooks famously combine attractive design with somewhat less attractive price tags, and the ultraportable VAIO VGN-TZ11XN runs true to form. At £1,531 (ex. VAT), this system is likely to be beyond the budget of middle-ranking mobile professionals, but it might fit the bill for more senior types seeking a classy ultraportable.
There are three models in the range, our review sample being the most fully featured and expensive. The entry-level VGN-TZ11MN costs £1,276 (ex. VAT).
The VAIO VGN-TZ11XN/B definitely qualifies as an ultraportable notebook, weighing 1.19kg including the battery and a built-in optical drive, and measuring 27.7cm wide by 19.8cm deep by and 2.25-2.98cm thick.
An ultraportable is designed to be carried, and it's disappointing that the VAIO VGN-TZ11XN/B lacks a solid clasp to hold its screen and keyboard sections together. The hinge works well enough when the system is on a desk, but in a travel bag the two sections could easily get prised apart if the notebook is not stored in its own slip case.
Build quality is mixed. The main section is solid and tough, but the screen section, which is very thin indeed, has quite a lot of give. We wouldn't want this to be subjected to much pressure.
A small notebook necessarily has a small screen. In this case, the display measures 11.1in. from corner to corner and has a native resolution of 1,366 by 768 pixels. Although this is fine for web browsing, it's not ideal for composing or editing long documents.
The screen's viewing angle is ample, and its LED backlighting makes it bright and sharp. However, Sony's 'X-black' technology, which is designed to enhance readability, is also rather reflective. This is most noticeable when a light source is angled onto the screen, such as on a train with the sun streaming through the window. Some people will find this no problem at all, but others will find it irritating.
The keyboard is unusual in that its rubberised keys are spaced about 3mm apart. This lends a distinctive look to the VAIO VGN-TZ11XN/B when it's opened — very reminiscent of the old Cambridge Z88, in fact. The keyboard's unusual design has no discernable effect on the ability to touch type at speed: we certainly had no trouble finding the keys and they delivered ample return, although those with larger hands may have a different experience.
Above the QWERTY keys is a row of two-thirds sized function keys. There is a small barely recessed touchpad beneath the keyboard with vertical and horizontal scrolling embedded in its right and bottom sides. Beneath this, flush to the bottom of the wrist-rest area are two mouse buttons.
The VAIO VGN-TZ11XN/B runs Windows Vista Business and is built around an Intel Core 2 Duo U7500 processor running at 1.06GHz with 2MB of Level 2 cache and a 533MHz frontside bus. It ships with 2GB of RAM, which is the maximum the system can accommodate. The chipset is Intel's 945GMS, which includes the integrated GMA 950 graphics module.
Wi-Fi connectivity comes courtesy of Intel's PRO/Wireless 3945ABG module and Bluetooth (2.0+EDR) is also built in, but there's no integrated 3G/HSDPA for wide-area wireless connectivity. If you want to add that, you'll need to get a USB 3G modem such as Vodafone's or T-Mobile's, as there's no PC Card slot in this notebook — only the smaller ExpressCard format.
The hard drive is a 100GB Toshiba unit that spins at a relatively sedate 4,200rpm. And despite this system's slim dimensions, Sony found room for an optical drive — a multi-format DVD rewriter — on the right-hand side.
There's an integrated VGA-resolution 0.3-megapixel stills/video camera, whose tiny lens is above the screen. The camera can be used for video calling, although we prefer swivel-mounted rather than fixed lenses.
On the right-hand side, behind the optical drive, is an analogue connector for an external monitor. The back edge is entirely occupied by the removable Li-ion battery, leaving no room for any connectors.
The left-hand side carries RJ-45 (Ethernet), RJ-11 (modem) and 4-pin FireWire (IEEE 1394) ports under a hinged plastic cover towards the back. In the middle is an ExpressCard slot, with a pair of USB 2.0 ports towards the front.
The front edge has headphone and microphone slots, plus a pair of stacked flash card reader that accept Memory Stick and SD/MMC media respectively.
The front edge also houses a series of tiny buttons that can be used to control media playback from the optical drive. Their silver colouring looks neat against the notebook's black livery, and they can be used without the notebook being booted up first. Beneath the multimedia buttons, and invisible unless you lift the notebook up off the desk, is a wireless on/off switch.
The power socket and on/off switch are located on the left and right lid hinges respectively. The power switch glows green when the notebook is switched on.
Security-conscious business users will appreciate the fingerprint sensor, which sits between the two mouse surrogate buttons on the wrist rest area. The system also includes an Infineon Trusted Platform Module (TPM).
Performance & battery life
During testing, we appreciated this notebook's portability and high-quality wide-format screen. However, the keyboard design took a little getting used to, and we often rued the relative dearth of USB ports. The two that are present lie side by side, and some peripherals made it impossible to use both at the same time.
Microsoft's Windows Experience Index (MWI) reported a rather poor 2.0 overall rating (out of 5.9). The overall MWI rating is determined by the lowest component score, which was for Graphics ('Desktop performance for Windows Aero'). The scores for Processor (4.3), Memory (4.1) and Primary hard disk (3.9) were far more respectable, although Gaming graphics (2.7) was also low — no surprise given the system's integrated GMA 950 module.
So long as you don't want to do much graphically demading work, or after-hours gaming, the VAIO VGN-TZ11XN/B should perform fine. Sony quotes a battery life of 425 minutes (just over seven hours) for the system, with a charging time of 4.5 hours.