Sony VAIO VGN-CR11Z/R review
An inexpensive laptop that, when it comes to style and quality, more than punches above its weight.
If you like your technology to match your outfit, Sony has designed the CR range for you in a choice of red, blue, pink or white. The vibrant tones are strictly confined to the lid, however, with the inside a more conservative black, edged with metallic trim, and the underside a matte silver. But, despite the lavish appearance, the CR11 collection is one of Sony's more modestly priced ranges, with prices starting at just £765 exc VAT.
In addition to its good looks, the CR11 exhibits the build quality we've come to expect from Sony. It feels solid, with no obvious weak points in the chassis. The shiny finish on the lid feels as though it should prevent the odd scratch, although you'll still need to look after it to keep it looking its best.
Complementing its good looks and sturdy construction, the CR11Z/R (the 'R' denotes the fiery red finish) on review is well specified. Its 160GB hard disk is more than sufficient, but bear in mind that you'll find only 130GB left at your disposal once the Windows Vista Home Premium installation and recovery partitions have taken their slices.
There's fair news on the performance front. The 1.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7100 offers plenty of power, although the top-end T-series is now up to 2.4GHz. A healthy 2GB of 667MHz RAM is included, though. The overall application benchmark score of 1.00 shows the CR11 is certainly more than powerful enough for everyday tasks, with a little left over for more intensive jobs.
There's even the possibility of some gaming. The ATi Mobility Radeon HD 2300 graphics scored 16fps in Call of Duty 2 at low settings, which may not set the world on fire but shows the VAIO can cope with older games.
Battery life is far from terrible, but nothing special. With intensive use topping out at 2hrs 27mins and light use lasting 3hrs 58mins in tests, you might not spend your life wondering where the next power point is, but you'll have to plug in a few times if you want to keep working for a full day.
The weight is another slight knock to the CR11's portable credentials. At 2.5kg, it's light enough that you could cart it from home to office on a daily basis, but frequent travellers will notice it on the shoulder. Likewise, its 335 x 249 x 43mm (WDH) dimensions make it a viable, but not entirely perfect, travel companion.
The 14.1in 1,280 x 800 display is one of Sony's glossy X-black LCD panels. The most immediate downside is the increase in reflectivity. The plus side is an increase in apparent contrast, and colours appearing more saturated.
The keyboard is pleasant to type on, with decent separation between keys, which minimises mistypes. You get three USB ports split, with two on the left and one on the right, so peripheral cables don't need to stretch all the way around the back. You also get dedicated slots for both SD and Memory Stick, plus an ExpressCard/34 slot below for further expansion.
Wireless communication is well catered for, with both 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, plus a modem and 10/100 Ethernet for wired connections. There's a DVD writer for backup tasks, which will handle most formats.
If you fancy a bit of entertainment and don't want to wait for your laptop to boot, a quick stab of the AV Mode button quickly fires up a media player without having to go through Windows. There are also dedicated buttons for controlling playback and volume, so you don't need to use tricky keyboard combos.
Based on its components, the CR11 isn't outstanding - you could get similar figures from cheaper notebooks. It's when you view this VAIO as a whole package that it shines. It's a good-looking, well-designed laptop that's more than a match for everyday tasks, with the reassuringly good build quality you'd expect from Sony. With an asking price of just under £1,000, that makes it a great all-rounder.