Sony’s ultraportables have a tendency to win our hearts, and the Z17G/N – while bigger and pricier than most – has a more sizeable 13.1in panel, and the highest resolution panel (1600 x 900) we’ve seen on an ultraportable.
That extra screen size means the whole chassis is that bit bigger, measuring 314 x 210 x 33mm, but despite the extra bulk it’s surprisingly light. Indeed, pop the Z17GN/B on the scales and it reaches a svelte 1.47kg.
What’s impressive is that, despite the Sony’s inconsequential weight, it still manages to feel sturdier than its smaller cousin. The base is more resistant to flex and it feels far more capable of surviving the rigours of regular travel and transatlantic flights. And while Sony’s trademark Scrabble-tile keyboard looks odd it’s surprisingly comfortable to type on, with plenty of travel and a good, positive key action.
The ultra-thin LED-backlit display also proves less flexible than that of most ultraportables, but in all honesty, that isn’t a huge compliment. Granted, it looks stunningly slim but that thinness doesn’t seem to give the screen much protection.
Quality, however, is not an area where this display is lacking. The LED backlighting provides incredibly vivid brightness and its contrast is beyond reproach. There’s a slight red push that we often see on Sony displays but it more than makes up for this with eye-poppingly vibrant colours.
The laptop’s twin graphics chips are also worthy of note. For light gaming the Sony has a discrete Nvidia 9300M GS chipset. But, when battery life is more crucial than graphical grunt, flick the switch above the keyboard’s left edge from “Speed” to “Stamina”, and it falls back on an Intel GMA X4500MHD chipset. It’s enough to swell the Sony’s battery life, under light usage, from five hours to 5hrs 47mins.
Even with that Nvidia chipset enabled, though, gaming performance is merely adequate. Our least demanding Crysis test saw the Sony manage a barely playable 24fps, and cranking that to Medium proved far too much – it’s no match for a dedicated games laptop.
The rest of the VGN-Z17GN/B’s specification is powerful, however, and the Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 processor and 4GB of DDR3 memory turned in a speedy 1.21 in our benchmarks. The processor has been updated since we tested, and is now an even swifter P9500.
Elsewhere, the VGN-Z17GN’s business credentials are boosted by a fingerprint reader and TPM 1.2 chip. Networking options are comprehensive, and Gigabit ethernet is complemented by Bluetooth, 802.11abg + draft-n as well as an HSDPA modem capable of speeds up to 7.2Mb/s.
But not all is entirely satisfactory. At $3690, the VGN-Z17GN/B is expensive, and while the 4GB of DDR3 memory and Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 processor are a welcome sight, there’s little else to excite. There’s no Blu-ray option and a bog-standard 5400rpm 250GB hard drive is downright stingy, even though the spec will be upgraded to a 320GB disk by the time you read this. For this money we’d expect an SSD at least.
It’s testament to its fine design that despite these faults, the Z-Series is an alluring prospect for the frequent and deep-pocketed traveller. But the VGN-Z17GN/B’s battery life lags behind that of the Lenovo ThinkPad X300, and the lack of Blu-ray and SSD options will disappoint those looking for the ultimate do-it-all luxury ultraportable.
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