Sony VAIO VGN-FZ31Z review
A Blu-ray writer and Penryn processor simply can't mask the disappointing battery life and high price.
With the memory of HD DVD rapidly fading into obscurity, consumers can now buy into Blu-ray with new confidence. And fresh from the format's recent victory, Sony has also gone about refreshing its entire range of laptops with Intel's latest Penryn 45nm processors.
Sony's FZ-range of laptops have impressed us in the past; in particular the VGN-FZ21S earned a well-deserved Recommended award for its combination of Blu-ray playback and good performance at a very reasonable price. This time, however, Sony has sent us the most expensive model in the range, the VGN-FZ31Z.
Place the two models, old and new, on a desk and you're unlikely to be bowled over by the aesthetic differences - there simply aren't any. Not that the FZ-range needed much smartening up in the first place - the silver lid and chrome-effect VAIO logo still look classy, and even the two-tone interior manages to look the part, with the silver metallic strip along the keyboard's top edge contrasting attractively with the black keys and wrist-rest below it.
Build quality is still beyond reproach, too. That silvery lid feels strong and sturdy, and although heavy-handed twisting and prodding revealed some show-through on the display itself, it feels well up to the job of protecting the delicate panel. But while the lid is resilient, the base's construction is positively bombproof - there's nary a hint of flex and it just feels fantastically durable in use.
The quality of construction pays dividends when it comes to ergonomics. The wedge design leans the keyboard towards the typing position, and the sturdy base means that the keyboard's scrabble tile keys have a solid backing. And while the keys may look unusual, operationally they're spot on, with plenty of travel and a nice action. Our only complaint relates to the VGN-FZ31Z's physical design: the chassis' square edges might look wonderfully crisp and neat, but we found them digging into our wrists rather uncomfortably after long periods of typing.
But this isn't a business laptop with an eye on productivity; far from it - the VGN-FZ31Z is an entertainment laptop through and through. For a start, the core specification is highly generous. One of the latest Intel Core 2 Duo T8300 processors sits alongside 4GB of memory and a huge 300GB hard disk. Due to the 32-bit version of Vista Home Premium a whole gigabyte of the 4GB total is swallowed up as memory-addressing space, but it has little impact on performance - with its two cores running at 2.4Ghz the Sony fired through our benchmarks with an impressive score of 1.27.
Its gaming potential isn't quite as awe-inspiring, however. The mid-range Nvidia GeForce 8600M GS is not one of the newest chipsets, managing just 10fps in our least-demanding Crysis benchmark. Its inclusion is far more likely to be as a driver for those otherwise CPU-intensive Blu-ray movies.
The sheer detail and quality of high-definition Blu-ray movies means they require a fine display to look their best, and on paper the Sony's looks a touch suspect. It's a 15.4in panel, but its 1,280 x 800 native resolution falls well short of the 1,920 x 1,080 high definition resolution of Blu-ray.
It may therefore be incapable of revealing 1080p video in its full glory, but image quality is still impressive. Dual lamps make for incredible brightness and colours are reproduced with tremendous intensity. It's far from neutral, however, and our test photos revealed a noticeable red push which often left skin tones and subtle shades looking a shade unnatural.