First impressions: Sony Vaio SZ4XWN-C

Vaio-SZ4XWN/C
In my search for a new portable computer, it wasn’t too hard to succumb to the allure of a Sony Vaio SZ series notebook.

I’ve bought the SZ4XWN/C model. Ordered it online from PC World Business late last Tuesday night; it was delivered on Thursday afternoon.

For some time, I’ve been considering a replacement for my long-in-the-tooth IBM Thinkpad T30, which has been a terrific computer for the past four years.

But the need to get a more suitable portable computer has been apparent for a while, as I wrote the other day, one that has the horsepower required to let me do the kinds of things I need to do now when on the move.

Some of those things are wholly different to what I set out using the T30 for. Second Life, for instance, which requires much more powerful graphics capability than the T30 has. Recording, editing and playing large audio files and now video. Things like that.

So I was looking for a portable machine that would not only enable me to be as productive on the road as I am in my office with my desktop computer and the usual business apps and connectivity that everyone has, but also do those things quickly and easily. Plus on a machine that was light in weight, had great battery life, was a pleasure to use and, well, looked pretty cool too.

The T30 originally met those standards, but it’s now just slow in almost every area. Not surprising, really, given that the T30 was produced at a time when the most demanding app you’d likely run was a humongous PowerPoint with embedded video or hi-rez images (and I had a colleague who used to do lots of those.)

I’ve finally spent a bit of time this weekend with my new Vaio and have got to know it a little.

My quick overall summary –

Pros:

  • It runs every single pre-Vista application I’ve so far installed on it including Second Life
  • Everything runs at lightning speed, thanks to its Intel 2Ghz Centrino dual-core processor, 2 gigs of RAM and discrete Nvidia graphics (and probably some other reasons as well)
  • Switchable graphics capability – use Nvidia for best performance; switch to integrated Intel graphics for longer battery life
  • The widescreen 13.3″ display is simply gorgeous, the brightest notebook screen I’ve yet seen
  • The keyboard has full-size keys and is the second-best notebook keyboard I’ve used, second only to IBM/Lenovo notebook keyboards
  • It’s very light to carry – weighs just 1.7 kilos, or about 3.7lbs – so no more shoulder ache
  • Battery life is very good indeed. While I’ve not yet used the computer extensively on battery power, I’d broadly agree that Sony’s claims look credible
  • Includes a traditional PC card slot as well as the newer PCI Express card slot
  • Fingerprint recognition is terrific, meaning I can log in to Windows as well as any login-required website I want just by stroking a finger across the recognition sensor
  • Bundled HSDPA card with 30-day free trial from T-Mobile to give you broadband internet connectivity anywhere there’s a T-Mobile connection
  • Built-in webcam and microphone are great for video phone calls such as with Skype
  • Beautifully designed in a mix of slate grey and black, and the build quality is excellent
  • Comes with Windows Vista Business edition

Cons:

  • Pricey – this is not a computer to buy if you are exceptionally price conscious or have a limited budget
  • Only two USB ports – not enough
  • The carbon fiber screen lid is very nice but, let’s say, it’s delicate and you need to handle it with care to avoid damage
  • The on/off switch for the wireless network also enables/disables Bluetooth but not independently – it’s both or neither
  • The in-built camera is only 0.3 megapixels – fine for video phone calls but certainly not much good for making videos (as this example I uploaded to Facebook shows)
  • The installed My Vaio app didn’t work under Vista (I discovered a patch online when I acessed the website)
  • The bundled software Sony provides includes a 60-day free trial of Microsoft Office – but version 2003, not 2007
  • You get recovery disks not the original operating system, meaning if you want to clean reinstall Windows, your’re out of luck – your only option is to end up with exactly the setup installed when the computer left the Sony factory, bundled apps included

Of course, this is a pretty subjective set of characteristics which may not be the same for everyone.

My short list of cons notwithstanding, I am very pleased indeed with my purchase. More commentary later once I’ve used the computer for a while.

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