Review: Sony Vaio Z

When the Vaio Z was first released in 2011, it became clear that Sony was capable of besting Apple in the premium notebook realm, at least when it came to pure performance and exotic builds. The sub-three-pound notebook — a mix of carbon fiber, aluminum, and magnesium alloy — was one of the lightest and fastest machines available upon its arrival. It was also one of the most expensive, around $2,500 once you optioned it up.

This year’s refreshed Vaio Z still has the same striking design, and it’s still very impressive on specs. It’s also several hundred dollars cheaper, making it a much more sensible purchase. But the 2012 Vaio Z suffers from some weird design quirks, and even with a lowered price tag, it doesn’t do enough to truly outshine its competitors in today’s ultrabook-saturated laptop market.

Sony has upped the Vaio Z’s power and speed to keep it in step with the advances that have occurred since the original’s arrival. This means it now has the latest, third-generation Intel Core chips. The Z sits at the pointy end of Sony’s Vaio line, and even the most basic model has a dual-core 2.5 GHz Core i5 chip. You can upgrade to a quad-core 2.1 GHz Core i7 chip (like the one in the “Enhanced” model we tested). The 13.1-inch LED display has a higher, full HD resolution, at 1920 x 1080 pixels — noticeably better than the MacBook Air’s 1440 x 900 pixel screen.

All of this is housed in a sleek, 2.58-pound, 0.66-inch thin package made of the same unique blend of aluminum and magnesium alloy with a carbon-fiber-accented exterior. It’s definitely an incredibly light and portable notebook, even if it doesn’t technically qualify for Intel’s “ultrabook” label. The choice of materials offers slightly more flex than pure aluminum, and the carbon fiber feels similar to plastic. This gives the notebook a cheaper appearance overall, even though the material is sturdy.

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