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For business travellers who want a slim and light laptop with desktop-grade power and features, Sony's Vaio Z could be the dream machine.
With a chassis manufactured from carbon fibre rather than plastic or metal, this sleek 13.3" notebook weighs in at only 1.16 kg. It's only 16.7mm thin -- less than the height of two iPhone 4s stacked on top of each other -- yet it runs on a full-speed Intel Core i7 processor.
Here are the six reasons we think this notebook will be a 'category killer' when it's released in Australia in late July.
1. Thunderbolt media dock
The Vaio Z includes the new Thunderbolt (also known as "Light Peak") port which provides a high-speed link between the laptop and external devices. The difference between Thunderbolt and the common USB 2.0 ports is like comparing an autobahn to a suburban street.
Sony is including an external Vaio Z "Power Media Dock 2" which uses Thunderbolt to turn the laptop into a powerful desktop-grade PC.
The dock includes a high-speed AMD Radeon HD graphics card which takes over from the notebook's integrated Intel graphics for heavy-duty work such as CAD and multimedia applications (as well as some serious gaming during your downtime). There's also your choice of a DVD burner or a Blu-Ray drive plus extra HDMI and USB ports.
2. Optional second battery for 14 hours battery life
On top of the Vaio's claimed seven hour battery life, you can buy an optional slim 'sheet' battery which Sony says will double the Vaio's battery life to 14 hours on a single charge – long enough to work non-stop on a flight from Australia to the US.
Given how much notebook companies typically inflate battery-life claims we'd suggest the inbuilt and second battery are more likely to deliver around five hours each (especially if you're using wi-fi) so this will be the first thing Australian Business Traveller tests when we get our hands on a Vaio Z.
Another boon for travellers is that the sheet battery sits under the laptop rather than being a bolt-on lump at the back. It can also be charged separately from the notebook, and fitted without having to remove the internal battery or turn the machine off.
3. Intel Core i7 processor
Forget about low-voltage processors which trade high performance for longer battery life. Sony's rationale was that with battery life already at seven hours there was no reason not to go for a full-speed Intel Core i7 processor.
This means performance of the machine will be extremely snappy -- as good as a full-size 15" notebook.
It's a testament to Sony's engineering prowess, too, because these chips usually produce too much heat for a slim notebook to vent effectively. Sony says it is using two fans to keep the system cool.
The Core i7 powerplant that comes in the new Vaio Z is a 2.7GHz model, capable of bursting up to 3.4GHz on a single core if both processing cores aren't being used at once.
4. SSD storage
Sony has ditched slow mechanical hard drives, which are a serious performance bottleneck, for lightning-fast solid state disks (SSDs).
These use a supercharged type of flash memory -- a cousin of what's in digital camera memory cards and on USB memory sticks.
In fact, the Vaio Z packs two SSD modules which are used simultaneously to ensure even faster speed than a single drive can provide. The Vaio Z comes with 256GB of SSD storage.
5. Built-in 3G
Despite the praise heaped on Apple's MacBook Air, it lacks one feature that's exceedingly useful to business travellers: inbuilt 3G mobile broadband.
This is also something which Sony has added to the Vaio Z options menu, and the 3G modem won't be locked to any single carrier.
Just slip in a SIM card from the mobile network of your choosing -- which will also be a boon when travelling overseas, as you can grab the best prepaid data SIM and avoid overpriced hotel Internet fees (and extortionately-priced data roaming fees).
Unfortunately it's not yet clear whether the 3G option will be available to Australian buyers. Sony Australia's official announcement of the new Z doesn't mention anything about 3G.
6. Full HD screen, in matte
In Australia, the Vaio Z will ship with full HD 1920x1080 resolution packed into the 13.3" display panel.
Sony has also listened to feedback from customers and is eschewing the glitzy but annoying glossy screens, which are good in a showroom but tend to reflect ambient and overhead lighting in everyday use, for a non-reflective matte finish.
So when are we going to get it?
Sony Australia will be releasing the new Z in late July. The Australian models come with the Power Media Dock in the box as part of the price.
Two models will be available, with the same specifications and case colour being the only difference:
- Vaio Z VPCZ217GGX (Black) - $3,999
- Vaio Z VPCZ217GGN (Gold) - $3,999 - exclusive to Sony Centre & Sony Store.