From the flagship AR series to the multi-coloured CR range, Sony's Vaio laptops are as beautiful as their acronym – Video Audio Integrated Operation – is horrendously ugly.

The new TZ31 continues the high design ethos and is the smallest laptop in the series, with a screen that measures just 11.1in. It's certainly alluring, but with the spiraling hardware demands of Vista and the threat of Apple's new MacBooks, the threat to its ultraportable livelihood has never been greater.  

Ultraportable icon

The TZ31 is certainly the match of the Air for style. The keyboard is the first thing you'll show to people – it uses the oh-so-pretty MacBook idea of spacing out its keys, which creates the impression that your fingers are dancing away on a much larger keyboard than is actually the case.

You don't even have to turn on the TZ31 to be impressed. A row of silvery buttons along the front illustrates another of its big features – 'Instant Mode'. This lets you play CDs and music files on memory cards and from the hard drive without powering up Windows Vista at all, making this the largest MP3 player commercially available and saving battery power if you just want to listen to music.

Flimsy screen

Not quite so impressive is the TZ31's lid and screen. The body and display may well be as "razor thin" as Sony claim, but they're also a little flimsy. It's made with carbon fibre, but the screen's build quality feels worryingly weak. Sit on this by accident on the 8.17am to London Waterloo and you'll be left with a hefty repair bill.

Also bordering on the unimpressive is the zoom option. Pressing 'Function+F10' supposedly enhances your view of what's on the screen, but all it really does is lower the resolution so you get larger text. The result looks rather blurry and won't really help your eyes much.

Besides, when the LED-backlit screen's running at its native 1366x768 resolution it's a stunner – turning it down seems like such a waste of the Vaio's technology.

Anatomically correct

Still, the rest of the spec more than compensates. It has a built-in 640x480 webcam plus every sort of connector you could possibly need (apart from DVI): two USBs, Ethernet, Express Card, VGA outputs, Memory Stick/SD Card readers and a modem connector are all on board.

Sony's still hanging in there with i.LINK (or FireWire) support too, plus there's a DVD burner which comes with the clever option to turn off internal power, saving a few drops of precious juice.

Astounding battery life

And it's not just in power-saving mode that battery life is good. Even running Vista and writing these very words while being heavily distracted by the joys of the internet, the TZ31 managed well over six hours with Wi-Fi on – an hour more than the MacBook Air. And that's with the screen on medium-to-high brightness.

In fact, we had to keep picking it up to check it wasn't plugged in. The battery just will not die, which is all the more impressive given the TZ31's power and ability to run Vista Business at full speed without a hitch.  

So, yes, you're paying a bit of a Vaio premium for owning such a cool and small computer. But if you're after a stylish Vista road warrior with a battery life that lasts longer than Bruce Forsythe, this is it.


Stuff says... 

Sony VAIO VGN-TZ31MN review

A beautiful screen, great keyboard and amazing battery life make this well worth paying the Vaio premium

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