A highly portable laptop that performs well, but it is by no means cheap.
Small and light; SSD; decent processor; integrated mobile broadband module.
Expensive; thin design leaves the screen vulnerable.
Sony's ultraportable Vaio range has long been a popular choice for business users requiring a light yet powerful laptop. The VGN-Z31ZN is the latest in Sony's line-up and does not buck the trend in terms of performance or portability.
With a two-toned grey chassis it is an instant eye-pleaser, while its miniscule dimensions (31.4cm wide x 32cm deep x 3.3cm thick) and weight of just 1.5kg make it the perfect travel companion.
The laptop runs Vista Business and Sony has opted for a Core 2 Duo P9600 processor to do the leg work; this runs at 2.66GHz and is one of Intel's fastest mobile CPUs.
A total of 4GB of memory backs the processor up, while storage is provided by a 128GB solid state drive (SSD). Unlike traditional hard drives, SSDs have no moving parts and are therefore far more durable; they can also provide quicker access times. On the downside, SSDs also more expensive per gigabyte, which goes some way to explaining the high price of this laptop.
Open the lid up and you are greeted by a 13.1in display. Reflections are kept to a minimum thanks to the matte coating, and with a high resolution of 1,600x900 it provides a decent amount of desktop space to work with. It is also LED backlit, making it both brighter and less of a drain on the battery compared to traditional displays.
We do, however, have two concerns regarding the display. The first is that you have to position it very carefully; stray just a few degrees from the sweet spot and brightness is lost. Our second worry is that the screen is extremely thin and therefore easily flexed. We did not experience any problems during testing, but it might not cope too well with a rough ride.
Sony has stuck with its usual Vaio keyboard design, where each key pops out of its own individual slot in the chassis. They feel a little soft during typing, but overall we were impressed with the keys. The trackpad is similarly responsive and also features a fingerprint reader between the two buttons.
As far as features go, the VGN-Z31ZN delivers everything the average business user requires. Bluetooth, 802.11n wireless and Gigabit Lan are all included, while workers frequently on the move will be pleased to hear it is also set up for mobile broadband - simply slot your SIM card into the 7.2Mbit/s HSDPA module behind the battery and you are away.
The line-up of ports is also fairly comprehensive, with two USB, mini-Firewire, 34mm Expresscard, memory card reader and both HDMI and VGA outputs. Sony has even found room for a Blu-ray drive on the right side of the chassis, though quite how many business users will make use of Blu-ray is questionable.
A switch just above the left side of the keyboard lets you choose either Stamina or Speed mode. Stamina mode uses the integrated Intel GMA 4500MHD graphics chip and also performs other battery-saving features such as dimming the screen's brightness. Speed mode, on the other hand, employs the faster GeForce 9300M GS graphics chip.
Switching between the two modes is a quick and smooth process, but we did not experience a huge difference in terms of battery life. With the notebook running at full pelt with Wi-Fi switched on, we achieved 96 minutes when in Speed mode and 108 minutes in Stamina mode. Bear in mind that these are essentially worst-case scenario figures; perform little more than web browsing, email and word processing tasks, and you can expect around four hours' usage from a single charge.
With a stylish, ultra-slim design and decent performance, the Vaio VGN-Z31ZN is perfect for business travellers who want a capable notebook that will not weigh them down. As always seems to be the case with Sony's ultraportable Vaio laptops, though, its relatively high price is likely to be a major stumbling block.