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Sony VAIO Z series VPC-Z390X

Sony VAIO Z series VPC-Z390X
  • Pros
    The most powerful ultraportable. Switchable graphics. Excellent performance and gaming scores. Incredibly light. Internal optical drive can be swapped out for a Blu-ray one. Supports dual SSD drives. Excellent resolution. Backlit keyboard. Excellent navigating experience.
An upscale 13-inch laptop to give even the MacBook Air a run for its money, Sony's Vaio Z is fast, slim, and light, and includes a docking station with an optical drive and discrete graphics.

The bad: Even though this updated version of the Vaio Z is less expensive than the previous model we reviewed, it's still a premium-priced laptop. We'd almost rather skip the GPU dock and hit a more ultrabook-style price.Average battery life. No cellular modem.

  • Bottom Line
    With a Core i5 processor, SSDs, and switchable graphics, the Sony VAIO VPC-Z116GXS is hands-down the lightest and most powerful ultraportable money can buy.
    With slim 13-inch SSD laptops now well under $1,000, Sony's expensive, high-end Z series laptop is a tough sell, although the long-life slice battery and unique GPU/optical dock help make its case.

    The stand-alone GPU dock is still a unique feature, and if you're looking for an ultrabook-like laptop that can play serious games, it's got that market locked up. But beyond that, the Vaio Z is a very, very expensive example of what we sometimes call an executive laptop--as in, only the CEO gets one to show off how important he is.

    Price as reviewed / starting price $1,999 / $1,649
    Processor 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-2450M
    Memory 4GB, 1333MHz DDR3
    Hard drive 128GB SSD
    Chipset Intel HM65
    Graphics Intel HD3000
    Operating system Windows 7 Professional (64-bit)
    Dimensions (WD) 13.0 x 8.2 inches
    Height 1.3 - 1.5 inches
    Screen size (diagonal) 0.66 inch
    System weight / weight with AC adapter 2.5/3.6 pounds
    Category 13-inch laptop
    The slim, black carbon fiber body of the Sony Vaio Z is essentially unchanged from the 2011 version of the system, and my aesthetic reaction remains largely the same. The matte-black finish and slatelike chassis look and feel very high-end, although all the various joints and seams stand in contrast to Apple's unibody construction.

    A few oddities make the Vaio Z feel clunkier than it should. Our package (which included the optional slice battery) had two separate AC adaptors, only one of which--the larger one--fits the docking station. The stiff proprietary cable that connects the two components eats up the onboard USB 3.0 (but is replaced by another USB 3.0 port on the docking station), and it's short, so you can't place the dock more than a few inches away.
    The flat-topped keyboard used here has the now-standard island-style layout, which Sony has been using for years (along with Apple and a few others). Because the body of the laptop is so thin, the actual keys are extremely shallow, even more so than on most ultrabooks. You can get used to it, but it may not ever be a favorite for long-form writing. The keyboard is, however, thankfully backlit.
    The touch pad seemed fine in the mid-2011 version of this laptop, but since then, several low-cost ultrabooks have included much larger touch surfaces. The smaller pad here has a subtle patterned texture, with attached, but nontextured, mouse button zones separated by a fingerprint reader. Despite wanting a bigger pad, the multitouch gestures, such as the two-finger scroll, worked better on this system than on nearly any Windows laptop I've tried.

    The native resolution of the 13.1-inch display is 1,600x900 pixels, which is exactly where a high-end 13-inch should be. The last Vaio Z we tested included an upgraded 1,920x1,080-pixel display--as high as mainstream laptop screens get. On a 1080p screen, text could be so small it was hard to read, so that's one add-on that you can safely skip (even though it's only $100). For personal use, the onboard audio, with Dolby Home Theater technology, is fine, but immersive gaming or cinephile video watching would be better served with a set of high-end headphones.

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