Sony VAIO VGN-TZ11XN/B review

Price when reviewed

If prizes were awarded on the basis of looks alone, there’s no doubt as to which of this month’s ultraportables would saunter off with an award. While the Lenovo V200 is made of chunky grey plastic with loud orange buttons, the Sony TZ11XN/B is the very embodiment of chic. The finish is a glorious glossy black and it’s incredibly slim – a mere 30mm thick, with the TFT accounting for just 4mm of that.

Sony VAIO VGN-TZ11XN/B review

But the TZ11, the successor to the much-lauded TX series, isn’t just a stellar bit of design. The lid may feel a little flimsy, as you’d expect from such a slight piece of design, but the rest of the laptop is solid. We particularly like the keyboard. Sony appears to have been inspired by Apple here, ditching the standard “floating” keyboard design in favour of each key poking through the base independently. Another nice, Apple-esque touch is the glowing green power button that sits immediately below the screen. It’s a gimmick, but adds to the notebook’s classy feel.

Just in case you’re not impressed by good looks and solid build quality, the TZ11’s battery power is the real icing on the cake. Under light use, the battery lasted for 7hrs 17mins. Our intensive-use test produced an equally amazing result of 3hrs 7mins. In practice, you’ll get a time somewhere in the middle, which is easily enough for a transatlantic flight. At 1.2kg (rising to 1.57kg with the PSU), you won’t even feel it in the average briefcase.

A glance at the price reveals the business-class aspirations of the TZ11, and the specifications are fittingly luxurious. The 100GB hard disk is the current maximum for a 1.8in drive – an inevitable limitation in a notebook this small – and the 2GB of RAM is plenty for Windows Vista Business. Everything is powered by an Intel Core 2 Duo U7500, which, while running at a lowly 1.06GHz, gives a reasonable level of performance. Our application benchmark result of 0.57 underlines the limitations of the TZ11 as a machine for heavy-duty photo- or video-editing work, but in practice it feels nippy enough.

There’s plenty elsewhere to get excited about too. We’re well used to ultraportables omitting optical drives in the battle to shave millimetres from a chassis, but Sony manages to include a DVD burner that will write to all major formats of disc. There’s also a fingerprint reader nestled in between the mouse buttons, which you can use for logging into Windows and for accessing password-protected websites. A TPM 1.2 chip further aids security.

Sony builds a 0.3-megapixel webcam into the top of the bezel, and the TZ11 increases its potential as a machine for both work and play with a selection of media-control buttons on the front of the chassis. There are twin memory card readers on the opposite side, which are compatible with Memory Sticks and SD cards.

We have slight reservations about the glossy screen. It might make the TZ11 stand out in a showroom, but under normal use in an office it proved prone to reflections – working with a white background such as Word was fine, but the closer it gets to black the more you’ll notice your office lighting. The plus side is a decent boost in apparent contrast, with the colours in our test photos appearing especially vibrant. And, as long as you’re happy with the compact 11.1in diagonal, the native 1,366 x 768 resolution is ideal for watching films during a spot of downtime. It’s also fine for most office applications, save for particularly fiendish spreadsheets.

We can’t deny it: the TZ11 is a desirable bit of kit. During testing, we lost count of the number of people who commented on such a svelte-looking laptop. Plus, Sony has done a great job of making sure the battery life and specifications match up to the TZ11’s good looks. Even so, you can’t ignore the price, which is simply astronomical: almost twice that of the similarly specified Lenovo V200. But when it comes to style and weight, the TZ11 is in a different league to the Lenovo. Its only real competition is another Sony offering – the G11, which weighs and costs around the same, but has an inch larger screen and a battery life of nearly nine hours.

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