At the best part of two grand, Sony's thin Vaio Z needs more than size on its side
Thin and light with a gorgeous screen
More powerful than a MacBook Air
Die-hard seven-hour battery
Thin is, most definitely, in. But with MacBook Airs, Intel ultrabooks and second generation tablets to contend with, it's not enough for a laptop to shed a few inches in depth to stand out. Sony's Vaio Z, for example, is exactly the same height as a MacBook Air or Acer's S3 from the top of your desk. But at almost twice the price how can it possibly compete?
The Vaio Z offers a choice of three CPUs, all of which are quicker than anything an Air can offer. The middle option used for this review, for example, has a humble Intel Core i5, but it runs almost a full gigahertz faster than the best of its rivals.
Vaio Z battery
Even more impressive is the fact that battery life isn't sacrificed for this extra performance. The Vaio Z will keep going for the best part of seven hours on a single charge, and stays close to that duration looping video too.
Sony Vaio Z screen
It won't take you seven hours to figure out where the extra money is going, though. In fact, it's obvious as soon as you turn the machine on. The 1600x900 resolution screen is superb for fine detail and rich colours whether your editing videos, photographs or playing a game.
Vaio Z – the dock
Did we say say game? Yes, because that's where the rest of the cash has gone. You can buy a Vaio Z from just £1400 or so – but you don't get its best feature for that price: the desktop dock.
This thin, rectangular slab looks like an external Blu-ray writer, and on one level that's exactly what it is. If you're using the Vaio Z at your desk, it simply plugs into the USB 3.0 port and adds an extra USB hub, VGA out and optical disc drive to your laptop. But more than that, it also includes an external graphics card to bolster the 3D abilities of the on-board video chip.
Sony can't be congratulated enough for this achievement. It turns the ultralight Vaio Z into a bona fide games machine, capable of playing Crysis and Deus Ex: Human Revolution in high detail at the screen's native resolution. The fact that it works over USB 3.0 rather than a specialist, high bandwidth port like Thunderbolt is almost unbelievable.
Despite this, the Vaio Z doesn't get a whole-hearted recommendation. As impressive as the dock is, there are plenty of laptops with Nvidia's Optimus graphics which are less clever, but a third of the price.
What's more, the build quality of the Vaio Z doesn't feel like you're getting two grand's worth of cutting-edge design either. The all-plastic body is flimsy compared even to Acer's S3, never mind a Macbook; there's a more give in the shell than we ever like to see on a laptop.
Don't write the Z series off as just a proof of concept for external graphics, though. If you can stomach the cost it's a potent enough thin-and-light in its own right that the dock is almost a bonus extra. Just don't forget to look at some of the up-and-coming Ultrabooks before you buy it too.
Sony VAIO Z review
The price may look painful, but for the beautiful screen and unique dock it's almost – almost – worth it.