Accessories to a Crime

On paper, the Sony VAIO Z2 is an amazing ultraportable and promises just about everything a mobile professional could possibly want. It's less than three pounds, but get it hooked up to the wall with the docking station and suddenly it's a full featured notebook complete with DVD burner and dedicated graphics performance. Unfortunately, in many ways the Z2 fails to live up to its real potential.

Gallery: Sony Vaio Z2

The external design of the Z2 is attractive, as Sony employs a black carbon fiber shell over an aluminum frame for the notebook with glossy plastic used only for the VAIO logo on the lid. You can order it in gold or silver, but the matte black is beautiful enough on its own. There's also a silver accent along the hinge, and the inside and bottom of the notebook retain that sleek black carbon fiber design. This is a uniform, solid-looking notebook, and I have a hard time believing anyone will complain too much about it aesthetically.

So what's wrong with the shell design? It's utterly impractical. We'll start with the hinge, a design decision so atrocious I can't believe it actually made it to production. If you don't have the battery slice installed, the back of the hinge actually lifts the notebook off of whatever surface it's on, producing an incline for the keyboard. This is exactly the intended functionality, but the problem is that the only feet that provide any traction are the front two, causing the notebook to potentially slide during use. More than that, tilting the screen changes the entire incline of the notebook, making it that much harder to find a sweet spot for both typing and visual comfort. Using the battery slice alleviates this problem, but it's insane that you'd have to buy a $150 accessory just to improve ergonomics that should've been correct from the get go.

The Z2's problems don't really stop there, either. While keyboards are often a matter of some contention amongst you, the readership, the Z2's keyboard is a poster child for why so many people revile chiclet-style keyboards. Many of you don't have problems adjusting to notebook keyboards since there's so much variation between vendors, but this keyboard may very well put some of you over the edge. I have tiny, spidery fingers, and I couldn't keep from fat-fingering the keyboard. Depth and travel for the keyboard is horrendous, and key action is incredibly mushy.

The touchpad should fare better: it's dedicated as opposed to being a part of the rest of the shell, and has a fingerprint reader tucked away at the bottom. Unfortunately it's also smaller than you might like, and the touchpad and buttons are one piece of plastic instead of having a pair of dedicated mouse buttons. There isn't even a rocker switch, it's all just one piece. Once again, style over practicality.

Where the Z2 should redeem itself is the dock. While connectivity of the notebook on its own is quite good, the dock is undoubtedly where the action is. For what it's worth, Sony's Power Media Dock is a fantastic idea: it plugs into the AC adapter port and USB 3.0/dock port (it's not strictly USB 3.0, so don't try to use it with another notebook—it actually uses Intel's Light Peak technology for connectivity), and there's a pass-through for plugging in the AC adapter. Once it's hooked up, the Z2 detects it and asks you if you want the Radeon to power the interior screen or external monitors. This should be the feature that makes the Z2 alongside the stunning 1080p screen. Except there are major drawbacks.

The AMD Radeon HD 6650M inside the dock is limited to a PCI Express 2.1 x4 link instead of x8 or x16, and the performance hit is a noticeable one. Worse still, the only drivers you're going to find for the Radeon are on Sony's site: they don't use the publicly available drivers on AMD's site. You could argue that there's some secret sauce going on here, but the VAIO is using AMD's XGP standard, and either way you have yet another front where the 6650M is being hamstrung. I had to reboot the Z2 the first time I plugged the dock in just to get it to properly accelerate the internal monitor, and after that I still ran into the occasional problem during game testing; DiRT 3, for example, would only run windowed, and would only run on the Intel IGP.

Is the dock still better than nothing at all? Abso-freakin'-lutely. The 6650M is still a major upgrade on the Sandy Bridge IGP, and the added functionality (including the slimline optical drive) is appreciated. Unfortunately you're at Sony's mercy for driver updates, and we all know how reliable notebook manufacturers are at keeping video drivers current. We could also say that as long as you're going external, something a bit more potent than the 6650M would have been welcome; a 6770M would have boosted the clocks another 20%, and making the dock slightly bulkier shouldn't be too much of a problem.

Finally, there's the battery slice. Unlike the slice included with the VAIO S series we reviewed recently, this one actually requires you to screw the battery in to the bottom of the notebook. You rotate the outside edges with your thumbs and tighten the hold at the top. This seems like a sound idea, except the slice doesn't actually feel any more secure than the old latch-style locking system did. It's just a bit of added hassle. Thankfully the slice improves the ergonomics of the Z2 substantially without adding too much to the weight; the Z2 was already under three pounds, and the slice puts it a touch under four. It's an acceptable compromise for what the slice brings to the table.

Introducing the Sony Vaio Z2 Application and Futuremark Performance
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  • silverblue - Monday, February 13, 2012 - link

    I was playing on my 11 year old Dreamcast the other day. :) At my last job, we had three Vaio laptops and two of the screens started to develop dead lines of pixels (or whatever the technical classification is)... cheap panels, I guess.

    In response to rarson, Sony were notorious for developing many versions of their PS and PS2 hardware due to some fault or another. I don't remember Sega doing the same with the Saturn or Dreamcast; theirs were limited to cosmetic/cost saving changes.
  • Death666Angel - Monday, February 13, 2012 - link

    To be fair, the PSone and PS2 had about 3 times the product live of the Sega consoles. The Saturn was a still-born, because of management changes at the time (it was dropped quickly for the Dreamcast). And the Dreamcast couldn't compete well enough with the PS2 to live out to its old age. PS2 consoles on the other hand are still being produced as we speak.
  • amdwilliam1985 - Monday, February 13, 2012 - link

    "The price of an HP laptop has nothing to do with the fact that Apple's products are overpriced. It just means that Apple ain't the only one."

    You paid what you get for.
    I can easily buy an $500 HP/Dell laptop over MacBook Air, but we do I get in return for that $500?
    1) A cheap plastic feel
    2) A messed up oem os with tons of junk.
    3) Awful battery life(most of the time).
    4) A slow hard drive to boot up to.
    5) A bad keyboard to type on.
    6) A bad screen(quality) and resolution(720p most likely).
    7) A touchpad that doesn't work well(compare to MBA).

    I used to buy the cheapest(best bang for the buck, got 5 PC in the house). Now I look for quality over price.
  • jonyah - Monday, February 13, 2012 - link

    Sony gives you the option (when configuring on their site) to have no bloatware on the machine. I think that's an invalid argument against it.

    That said, I have the previous Z and don't see any reason to upgrade. I actually prefer my Z1 over the Z2. If it had no optical drive and supported dual external monitor, it would be nearly perfect.
  • JarredWalton - Monday, February 13, 2012 - link

    If you order direct from Sony, you sometimes pay a markup relative to what you'll pay if you buy through other channels. Right now at least that doesn't appear to be the case on the VPCZ22UGX/N ($2550 at Sony or other online resellers), but I certainly wouldn't expect Sony's built-to-order option to be the most economical. Anyway, it's good that you can get a laptop from Sony with a clean OS/software setup, but all the retail units are the standardized build.
  • extide - Monday, February 13, 2012 - link

    But it appears you can only purchase it WITH the dock. Kind of lame IMHO, as I wouldn't ever use it. The rest of the laptop seems great and 1080p @ 13.3" is awesome!
  • OCedHrt - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link

    You can buy without the dock.
  • rm19 - Monday, February 13, 2012 - link

    I much prefer the old VAIO Z's compact all-in-one, "how did they hell did they do that?" format. It weighed less than a MacBook Air, had a Core i7, discrete graphics card, Blu Ray burner and 13.1" 1080p resolution. If they stuck with that formula and just updated to Sandy Bridge and a beefier GPU, I would have been all over it.
  • Penti - Monday, February 13, 2012 - link

    Not business, not Gamer where is it aim at? Looks kinda nice, but it's expensive has a high-res screen, unneeded two drive RAID 0 SSDs, needs the dock to gain faster graphics. No DisplayPort to drive a high-res external screen (above 1920x1200).

    It feels left out and kinda dated. If it had like QM67 chipset and vPro for business, just one SSD, DisplayPort and maybe even an internal discrete graphics solution it would have been much better. Now it's just an expensive notebook with a high-res screen. Without a real Thunderbolt port. You can get more memory (RAM), you can get wireless 3G/4G broadband card as option, but you can't configure it with just one SSD. I would have preferred the relatively weak discrete graphics as an internal card/onboard instead of the second SSD. Sure it's two SSD SATA drives in sandwich but I would prefer something like a single 256GB Samsung 830 mSATA drive. Raid is a bad way to increase capacity here. Why have a couple of sandwiched SSDs, as well as Mini-PCIe WiFi/option for 3G card instead of SO-DIMM memory too? Looks like it has enough room inside to have made other choices like internal discrete graphics. Even MXM 3.0 Type A like a 6770M GPU is just 82 x 70 mm. On board it can even take up less space. Two half-height mini pci-e is 2 x (30x26.8 mm) to begin with. Some other choices could have been made I'm sure.
  • alex1945 - Monday, February 13, 2012 - link

    I have a Vaio Z2.
    Absolutely, I repeat, absolutely no fan noise.
    The keyboard is good and the touchpad is nornal.
    Mr Dustin you can buy the Vaio Z2 with "fresh start" ,without bloatware.
    Not fair at all, Mr Dustin, sorry.

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