by Kevin O’Brien
Demanding business travelers know that unneeded extra baggage weighs more, and slows you down as you are running around an airport or around a city. This type of user is very demanding about their laptop, which has to be not only very small and sleek, but have enough power to run most if not all of the programs they use in the office. Sony came up to the plate with the TZ for this market, cramming everything a business user could want into an extremely small package that could almost fit into a large coat pocket.
The pre-production Sony TZ (VGN-TZ190N) we are going over today has the following configuration:
- Windows Vista Business (32-bit)
- Intel Core 2 Duo Processor U7600 (1.20GHz, 2MB L2, 533MHz FSB)
- Mobile Intel 945GMS Express Chipset
- Intel Wireless WiFi Link 4965AGN (802.11a/g/n)
- Sprint Mobile Broadband (EV-DO Rev. A)
- 2GB PC2-5300 DDR2 SDRAM (1 slot, maximum capacity 2GB)
- 32GB Samsung SSD Ultra-ATA HD
- 8x DVD (+/-R double layer) drive
- 11.1″ diagonal widescreen XBrite TFT LCD display at 1366×768 (WXGA, Glossy, LED Backlit)
- Intel GMA950 w/ up to 224MB
- MOTION EYE camera and microphone
- Bluetooth version 2.0 plus Enhanced Data Rate (EDR)
- ExpressCard slot (ExpressCard/34)
- 5-in-1 media card reader
- Memory Stick PRO (with MagicGate functionality) Secure Reader
- VGA, Modem, 1Gb LAN, IEEE 1394, Dock, and Mic/Headphone connectors
- IEEE-1394s (FireWire)
- Two USB 2.0 ports
- Dimensions (WxDxH Front/H Rear): 10×7.8×0.9/1.2
- Weight: 2lbs 10.5oz actual, 3lbs 4oz travel weight
- 60W (16V x 4A) 100-240V AC adapter (10oz)
- Standard Lithium Ion battery (11.1oz)
- 1-Year Standard Limited Warranty
Build and Design
The overall build of the TZ is very sleek and lightweight, but does show some weakness with its thin panels. Sony included a carbon fiber based material for the top cover, allowing the panel to stay very thin, but still protect the LCD underneath. At times the screen flexed more than I had ever seen a screen flex (and not break) in the past. Even when opening the display under normal use the entire panel flexes, but doesn’t show any hint of breaking. This just be a downside of creating such a thin panel and it pushing the boundaries of rigidity.
The main body of the laptop feels very solid considering many of the pieces are paper thin. The palm rest has some mild flex where it has a hollow space underneath, but it holds up to the pressure from your wrists during typing just fine. Chassis flex is minimal for a device so thin, but still a bit more than what you would find in a full-size laptop. With the display closed, one problem the notebook had was the keys pressing against the LCD, leaving oil residue marks on the screen. These could be wiped off, but was still a pain considering the mildest spec of dirt shows up on the glossy displays.
One minor issue with the design of the display hinge is that the left side of the hinge rotates more than the right side. This means that the display will actually twist if you open the screen as far as it will open.
The Sony TZ happened to be the first LED backlit notebook I have played around with, and I am pleased to say that I quickly fell in love with it. Colors were magnificent making tasks ranging from typing a report or watching a movie pleasant on the eyes. The white color displayed on the screen from the LED backlighting had only a hint of blue, and was the closest to true white I have ever seen on a LCD before. The backlighting was very even across the entire screen and stayed consistent even as brightness was lowered for power conservation. For comfortable viewing, I found the 60-70% brightness mark to be just right. Anything above that and I felt an urge to grab a pair of sunglasses. Backlight bleed was mild, but noticeable on most dark backgrounds.
As other people in my office could comment, the speakers on the slim 11″ notebook came through loud and clear during movies. For such a small notebook (and even smaller speakers) they produced a nice clean sound letting you easily follow the dialog in a flick. The only downside I found with the system was lack of lower volume adjustment. Playing Half-Life 1, gunshots and splatter came through almost too well at the lowest setting.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Just like the notebook itself, the keyboard is very tiny. Key size is much smaller compared to other notebooks, and it took a bit to get the placement remembered to type without looking at the keys. Once you get the hang of it, it doesn’t seem more difficult to type on than other keyboards. Key tension was very soft, giving your fingertips little stress as you pecked away at the small keys.
The touchpad had a nice even texture, similar to other business notebooks like the ThinkPad series. Tracking was spot on, and the computer showed no lag under fast movement. The only complaint I had was no upper boundary existed above the touchpad, allowing your finger to slide off the top without warning.
Performance and Benchmarks
The Sony TZis no gaming machine, and never will be. With the special low voltage processor, it is geared towards extended battery life and not necessarily high-end performance. Though you not be able to run BioShock, you can run older games to kill free time between (or during) meetings. I found Half-Life 1 to work out great on this laptop so its not just limited to solitaire.
Headphone, Micrphone, dual memory card readers, and media controls(view large image)
Optical drive, VGA and the power button. (view large image)
Nothing here except the battery. (view large image)
(Under Cover) Lan, Modem, Firewire, ExpressCard 34 slot, two USB ports and a security lock slot. (view large image)
The Sony TZ came with its fair share of preinstalled bloatware. To make the machine run smoothly, and get the best battery life, anything that didn’t control a certain feature on the laptop was uninstalled. Luckily this was a very simple process, requiring only a handful of visits to the program listing section in the control panel to remove the software, and an equal number of system restarts.
Why this is a first look and not a full review?
At the start we had planned for a full review of the TZ, but late in the review our pre-production review unit suffered a few hardware failures. First the battery was charging at a greatly reduced rate (10 percent an hour), and then the SSD drive failed. Normally the SSD drives are claimed to be much more reliable compared to standard hard disk drives. While playing Half-Life on the TZ the game froze, and when the machine turned back on again the BIOS could not locate the drive. Since this is obviously far from normal behavior we had to cut our main review short until a new review unit arrives.
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