Sony VAIO TZ Series Review

April 13th, 2008

If you go to your local electronics store, you’ll find most laptops are of the 15.4″ or 17″ variety. These sizes are fantastic if you plan on using your computer mostly at home. However for those who already have a desktop, 15.4″ or 17″ can get tiresome to carry around because they tend to weigh a lot.

For those looking for something smaller there are also 14″, 13″ and even 12″ laptops. While there are some exceptions, 12-14″ laptops typically start at 4lbs. If that’s still too heavy there is the Sony’s TZ series.

The TZ has a 11.1″ LED backlit display, built-in EVDO, built-in DVD burner and tips the scales at an airy 2.8lbs. There are smaller laptops out there but the TZ in my opinion is about as small as you can get without seriously compromising usability.

I’m going to be reviewing the TZ170. It’s actually a slightly older model but the only real differences between it and the newer ones are extra RAM and slightly faster processors.

First Impressions:

Here are some of the TZ170s specs. This list is just whats off the top of my head since you can just go to Sony’s website to read them:

  • 1.06Ghz Core 2 Duo
  • 11.1″ 1366×768 LED backlit display
  • 1GB RAM (I upgraded this to 2GB)
  • 2.8lbs (according to my scale)
  • 100GB 4200RPM HD
  • Built-in Webcam
  • 100mbps Network
  • 802.11abg
  • Bluetooth
  • Stereo speakers
  • VGA out
  • External DVD player buttons
  • SD card slot
  • Memory stick slot
  • Headphone/microphone out
  • IEEE 1394 (firewire) slot
  • Modem
  • EVDO modem
  • 2 USB slots
  • Windows Vista Business

The TZ150 actually comes with 1GB of RAM. After booting it up for the first time and seeing how much crapware was preloaded I ran out and replaced it with 2GB.

Let’s take a tour:

On the left we have 2 USB ports, laptop lock slot and network, modem and firewire connectors behind a cover.

The front has the microphone/headphone jack, SD card reader, MS reader along with some DVD player buttons (more on that later).

The right has the DVD burner, VGA port and power button. The power button glows green when the TZ is on.

The back is all battery. The TZ comes with a battery which sticks out which isn’t a bad thing since it gives you something to hold onto.

The screen lid stays shut with magnets.

One of the TZ’s main selling points is it’s very thin screen – indeed it is really thin. To make it so thin, Sony made the bezel around the screen completely flat which looks cool but means the screen is some what flexible. My only complaint is that the screen and lid are so light that they ‘bounce’ when you open the screen so it feels flimsy. It doesn’t affect the usage of the TZ but it doesn’t instill confidence.

When closed, the TZ feels fairly solid. It’s also solid when you open it with the exception of the screen.

The keyboard is smaller than standard. I don’t have any problems using it but those with thicker fingers may disagree. The fingerprint reader is inconveniently placed between the 2 left and right touchpad buttons. This wouldn’t be a problem but every time you brush your finger on it, a fingerprint dialog window pops up.

There are some DVD player buttons on the front of the TZ. My wife hates them because she keeps accidentally ejecting the optical drive. The DVD player buttons allow you to watch DVD’s listen to music and view pictures that are stored on the hard drive without having to boot into Windows. I tried doing this with media stored on a memory card but the TZ doesn’t see them.

The SD and Memory stick slots. They don’t cause the CPU utilization to go nuts when you use them.

Sony includes a pretty large battery that’s located at the back. Battery life is excellent. I found you can get around 4.5 to 5hrs with the included battery.

The power adapter is similar in size to other manufacturer’s 65watt models. It comes with a piece of attached velcro to help you organize the cables. There’s a LED that lights up when the power adapter is plugged into the wall. It doesn’t matter if it’s plugged into the laptop. If you unplug the adapter from the wall, the LED will stay lit for a while. I was hoping it would be like the Apple adapter which tells you if the laptop is actually being charged.

Underneath there are no important ventilation holes so you can leave the TZ on a bed all day and it won’t overheat – mind you the left side of the TZ gets pretty hot when you’re using it.

The screen measures 11.1″, has a resolution of 1366×768 and is backlit with LED’s. It’s reflective like most consumer laptops. The screen is really bright and works well when it’s sunny outside.

One thing which surprised me is how the TZ has decent speakers given it’s relatively small size – good stuff.

Like I was saying before, the TZ is a pretty small laptop. Here it is next to a Macbook. In case you don’t know the Macbook has a 13.3″ display.

The biggest difference between the two (from a size perspective) is that the Macbook has a regular sized keyboard and the TZ doesn’t.

Software:

Software-wise my first impressions were shock at how much stuff is preloaded on the TZ. The Uninstall Program has a zillion entries that start with “VAIO”.

Most useful software:

  • WinDVD
  • HDD protection

Mildly useful software:

  • Click to DVD (software to create DVD’s)
  • Instant Mode
  • LAN setting utility
  • Protector Suite
  • Roxio Easy CD Creator
  • Setting utility series
  • SmartWi
  • Vaio Status Monitor
  • Vaio
  • Instant Mode
  • AV mode launcher
  • Camera Capture Utility
  • Vaio Video and Photo Suite
  • If you use any of these:
    • MS Works
    • MS Office 2007 60 day trial
    • Norton Internet Security 60 day trial

Less useful software:

  • Location Free Player (useful if you own a Location Free TV, I’m guessing you don’t)
  • Sonic Stage

After playing with it a bit, some of the stuff they included is mildly useful but there are just so many different little programs. For example; why are the “VAIO Power Management View” and “Battery Care Function” separate? The VAIO central program ties a lot of the utility type programs together.

SmartWi let’s you switch between the built-in EVDO modem and WiFi. If you don’t want to use this program you can just create a dial up connection to the internet and start it whenever you want to use EVDO.

Speaking of the EVDO the built in modem is a Novatel USB model. It’s probably very similar to my U720 Novatel USB EVDO modem. Speed and signal are also comparable to my U720.

This TZ is from Sony Canada so you can only activate it on Bell. I don’t think you can activate it on Telus. If you got it from the US you can only activate it on Sprint.

There is Bluetooth support. Sony includes Toshiba’s Bluetooth stack.

Performance:

While the TZ is fast enough that I found it useful for everyday tasks, it’s 1.06Ghz processor and glacial 4200rpm hard drive aren’t going to make for pretty benchmarks. Just remember, the TZ’s a small laptop so don’t expect big scores.

You can actually set the speed of the RAM. You can either run it at 400 or 533Mhz. There is an increase in performance at the expense of battery life. The increase is very mild, I didn’t notice it in day to day usage.

Benchmarks are run with 2GB of RAM installed. Given the TZ’s relatively high price and the low price of RAM, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that this will be a popular configuration. I’m testing against a Lenovo Thinkpad T60 (Windows XP, Intel T2500 Core Duo 2Ghz, 2GB PC5300 RAM, 100GB 5400RPM hard drive), Lenovo Thinkpad x300 (Windows Vista Business 32bit, Intel T7600 Core 2 Duo 1.2Ghz, 4GB PC5300 RAM, 64GB SSD), and my desktop (Vista Ultimate 64bit, Intel QX6700 Core 2 Quad 2.66Ghz, 8GB PC6400 RAM, 3x150GB 10000RPM hard drives RAID 5 with Areca 1210 RAID controller).

Here’s the Vista score. Click to see the original image.

The first test is how long it takes to turn the system on and see the Windows login screen. This includes the time it takes to POST (POST time is in the brackets).

  1. Sony TZ170 31secs (12 seconds)
  2. Thinkpad X300 40secs (15 seconds)
  3. Thinkpad T60 62secs (12 seconds)
  4. Desktop 75 seconds (45 seconds)

Despite its slow hard drive, the TZ boots in a very fast 31 seconds. Just keep in mind it takes a while to load all the stuff that’s loaded on the TZ AFTER you login.

Time to create rar files for a Linux ISO. In this case, CentOS 4.6 32bit which is about 2.3GB in size. This tests the CPU mostly and can take advantage of multicore processors although it doesn’t scale well after 2 cores. It doesn’t use much RAM or tax the disk too much. I issued the command:

rar a -v20000 CentOS-4.6-i386-binDVD.iso.rar CentOS-4.6-i386-binDVD.iso

  1. Sony TZ170 44mins 30secs
  2. Thinkpad X300 35mins 40secs
  3. Thinkpad T60 34mins 45secs
  4. Desktop 19mins 36secs

No surprises here.

Next I unpack the rar files I just created. This is disk intensive, somewhat CPU intensive and doesn’t use much RAM.

unrar e CentOS-4.6-i386-binDVD.iso.part001.rar

  1. Sony TZ170 334 seconds
  2. Thinkpad X300 154 seconds
  3. Thinkpad T60 310 seconds
  4. Desktop 96 seconds

Despite it’s slow 4200RPM hard drive, the TZ is just slightly slower than the Thinkpad with it’s faster CPU and hard drive.

I didn’t bother testing the video card. If you want to game, get a laptop with dedicated graphics card. It seems to run Aero Glass fine. The 1.06Ghz Core 2 duo isn’t fast enough to view a 15Mbps AVCHD files from my high definition camcorder.

The hard drive is slow. Most of the time I was okay with the speed. The only time I really noticed how slow it was was when I was removing all the crapware from the TZ.

Conclusion:

If you forget about it’s high price, the TZ’s a lot nicer than I thought it would be. The bouncy screen makes a horrible first impression but it’s more a symptom of a thin screen and a very strong hinge. Actually, the TZ is a pretty solid laptop.

It’s really light and extremely portable. The screen is really bright and works ok outdoors when it’s bright.

The external DVD player is mildly useful. If you don’t mind having wireless access on one computer only then the built-in EVDO is also useful.

Like I said before, the only real catch is the high price. Then again, compared to other 11.1″ laptops, the TZ is in the same ballpark as them so it’s the price you pay for extreme portability.

Howard Chui
04.13.2008

Entry Filed under: Computers

6 Comments Add your own

    David  |  May 17th, 2008 at 11:43 am

    great review. any thoughts on what to do about the lack of back lighted keyboard?

    David  |  May 17th, 2008 at 11:46 am

    great review. any thoughts on what to do about the lack of back lighted keyboard? i am sitting at the TieCon conference and love this machine (next to my colleague with his Air) and he can see the keyboard better than mine. :(

    and i really hate the fact that the touch pad on my sony is so sensitive that it continues to move my cursor around

    bmoheb  |  June 2nd, 2008 at 12:32 am

    is there a way to hack the computer and get it’s aircard to work with Verizon Wireless?

    Dylan Lopez  |  October 5th, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    we always use power adapters at home because of our different voltage applications.“

    Glass Shelving   |  October 20th, 2010 at 5:44 am

    power adapters are really needed if the electricity is unstable and you keep on changing locations.;~

    chan chi ho  |  January 26th, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    works well with windows 7 ulitmate

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