The TZ is the spiritual successor to the much-loved TX series. It's marginally bigger than its predecessor, but it is lighter and so promises to be more portable.
More importantly, it's Sony's first laptop to ship with an ultra-low voltage Core 2 Duo processor -- it therefore promises plenty of substance to go with its style. The TZ series, more specifically known as the TZ11XN, is available in several guises, but we've reviewed the £1,799 version, which revels in the product code VGNTZ11XN/B.CEK.
The TZ is utterly gorgeous -- almost eliciting feelings of lust. But whereas the TX5 was sexy in a Christina Aguilera sort of way, the TZ is sleek, and much more sophisticated. If it wasn't for the fact it's Japanese-built, we'd think of it as the Kylie Minogue of laptops.
It's arguably as tiny as the diminutive antipodean, too, occupying the same approximate footprint as a tabloid newspaper folded in half. It's 4.6mm longer and 3.3mm deeper than the TX5, but weighs 1.19kg to the TX5's 1.25kg, so it's slightly more portable.
Sony has bucked the trend of caking laptops in a glossy, piano-black coating. The TZ is mostly finished in matte black, which makes it easier to keep clean than the smudge magnet that is the Asus U1. The only trace of glossy plastic is around the keyboard section, although the 11-inch screen is far worse for collecting smears.
Kudos to Sony for the clever placement of the power button. This sits at the right side of the laptop's hinge -- towards the rear. The button is translucent and glows green when powered up, or amber when the laptop is idle, which is a nice touch. The AC adaptor plug connects to the opposite side of the hinge, but we think the exposed AC port looks rather naff without its plug connected.
The keyboard on the TZ is different to those on the TX series. It looks like a miniature version of those found on an Apple MacBook Pro. Each key is flat and perfectly rectangular, not tapered, as is traditional. They're also slightly smaller than those found on most laptops. Despite this, we achieved a typing speed close to what we'd manage on a full-size keyboard.
The mouse trackpad is as responsive as it should be, although it could do with being slightly larger. The mouse selector buttons are within easy reach below it. Both are easy to press with your thumb, and the area between them isn't wasted -- Sony has installed a fingerprint reader for secure logins.
Around the left edge of the laptop there are modem and Ethernet ports (hidden behind a flap, so they don't collect dust or spoil the laptop's lines) plus two USB ports. At the front edge there's a Memory Stick reader and an SD card slot, alongside mic and headphone ports. At the right side there's a D-Sub port and, miraculously, a DVD rewriter drive. How Sony managed to fit all this in is beyond us.
Once you've gotten over the TZ's style, you'll be impressed by its substance. One of its best assets is the awesome 11.1-inch LED display, which has a native resolution of 1,366x768 pixels. It looks superb in everyday use, and provided you don't venture into direct sunlight, its gloss-coated X-Black screen is great for everything from spreadsheets to DVD playback. Don't expect it to play games though -- its graphics card is powered by the ageing Intel 945GM chipset, which is, for want of a better word, rubbish.
Hard-drive space tends to be limited in ultra-portable laptops, but the TZ uses the biggest available drive that will physically fit inside it. The Toshiba-built MK1011GAH packs 100GB of storage, which should let you stash a few dozen DivX movies, hundreds of MP3s and plenty of images. You can control playback of audio files via a set of media buttons along the front edge of the laptop.
It uses Sony's G-Sensor HDD shock protection system, which helps prevent the disk becoming damaged in the event of falls or shocks. If you're super-paranoid about data loss, and you aren't concerned with storage space and an exorbitant price, you might opt for the top-spec TZ, the VGNTZ12VN/X.CEK, which has a 32GB solid-state hard drive. Obviously it's two thirds smaller and £200 more expensive, but it theoretically has faster disc access and boot-up times, and is more robust.
The TZ doesn't use the new Intel 965 chipset seen in the latest Centrino Duo laptops, but it does have a pretty special CPU. It's the first laptop we've seen with an ultra-low voltage dual-core processor from Intel. This itself is a first -- whereas the TX5 and its ilk used Core Solo processors, the TZ uses a twin-core Intel U7500 clocked at 1.06GHz. Its ultra-low voltage status means it doesn't consume much energy and prolongs battery life, and the fact it's dual-core means it's fairly nippy, too. The laptop has 2GB of system memory, so it's ready, willing and able to handle modern applications.
Wi-Fi comes as standard in 802.11a/b/g flavours, as does Bluetooth, but we were disappointed at the lack of a built-in 3G SIM card. Unlike the Dell Latitude D420, which lets you surf the Web anywhere, the TZ requires you to be in the presence of a Wi-Fi hotspot.
Sony bundles a range of its own software for hardware diagnostics, AV playback and video editing, but many of these are available in the Microsoft Vista Business edition operating system, which comes as standard. You get a one-year collect and return warranty, which is rather tight-fisted if you ask us -- the laptop costs nearly £1,800, after all.
The TZ generally impressed us with its performance. Its dual-core ultra-low voltage CPU seemed wimpy, though. It racked up a PCMark 2005 score of 1,049, which is good, but lower than the 1,508 achieved by the TX5. 3D performance was about the same as the TX5. It scored a useless 124 in 3DMark 2006, a slight improvement on the TX5's 111.
Battery life is the most impressive aspect of its performance. Sony believes it'll last 7 hours away from the mains, but in our highly intensive BatteryEater tests it ran for 208 minutes, or just under 3.5 hours. This is pretty impressive, despite being lower than Sony's claimed figures -- BatteryEater munches battery life by bombarding the laptop with 3D modelling tasks. We reckon with lighter use, the TZ will last you closer to 4 hours.
The TZ runs coolly and quietly. Rarely do its cooling fans cause a racket -- and it doesn't get particularly hot during use either. If you're worried about burning your lap, the TZ is the one to go for.
Nearly £1,800 is a lot of dosh to spend on a laptop -- even if it is a Sony Vaio. You could buy a similarly sized, similarly specced Dell Latitude D420 for around £500 less. And what the Dell lacks in an integrated DVD rewriter, it makes up for with a built-in 3G datacard for on-the-go Web access.
If you have the cash, however, and care more about DVD playback than 3G, the Vaio TZ series is one of the best ultra-portables we've ever seen.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Nick Hide