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Monday, January 16, 2012

Sony VAIO: Z with Dock, SE with IPS, and an Ultrabook Concept

When we stopped by the Sony booth, there was plenty to see. Vivek will be covering some of the other areas—tablets and gaming devices—while I’ll focus on the laptop side of things.

Like all the major OEMs, Sony had an ultrabook concept on display. I use the terms concept loosely here, as while Sony didn’t commit to anything the ultrabook push by Intel pretty much guarantees that the 13” VAIO ultrabook will see the light of day this year. The Intel booth, incidentally, was largely devoted to pushing ultrabooks with over half of the public area devoted to singing the praises of the devices. As for the Sony ultrabook, it’s not too hard to guess at the hardware inside (Ivy Bridge ULV), and the design is flat (e.g. no sloped keyboard) and looks stylish. We were unable to physically handle the preproduction/concept device, but we hope to have a unit for review when the time comes.

Next up on the list of VAIO laptops is the updated VAIO Z that started shipping about five months back. This was my first chance to actually get hands on with the VAIO Z, and I can see why so many people like it. The display on the unit at the booth was a beautiful 1080p 13.1” panel that puts just about every other laptop to shame (1600x900 comes standard in the base model). Sony also uses Intel’s Light Peak technology (a.k.a. Thunderbolt with a proprietary connector that plugs into the AC socket and USB 3.0 port) to drive an external dock. The dock houses a Radeon HD 6650M GPU and Sony had it driving two additional displays with one more external display connected to the laptop’s HDMI port along with the integrated 1080p display.

The VAIO Z is an amazingly feature rich package, but I do have a few concerns. First, the GPU in the dock is still only a 6650M; if you’re going with a dock, I’d be more than happy to sacrifice size for a faster GPU (e.g. 6770M as a minimum). Second and perhaps more of a concern, the keyboard definitely shows flex, which is not something we like seeing in premium devices. Finally, there’s the price of nearly two grand, but given everything else you get—premium display quality, an ultra-thin laptop, an mSATA SSD (two in some models), and the attached Media Dock—we’re not surprised at the cost. Overall, the VAIO Z is an impressive tour de force from Sony and we’re eager to see what they cook up with the inevitable Ivy Bridge refresh.

The final laptop we were impressed with at the Sony booth is another laptop that has already started shipping, the VAIO SE. It sports the familiar VAIO styling and looks in many ways like a larger version of the Z—and that’s a good thing. Sony was using the SE to show their Media Gallery 2.0 software, but that wasn’t nearly as impressive to us as the 15.5” 1080p IPS display. (I’m always a sucker for a good display!) The word on the web is that the display isn’t full sRGB on the color gamut, but then there are many laptops that fall into that category and they don’t come with a 1080p IPS panel. With pricing starting at just over $900, we’re definitely interested in doing some additional testing of the VAIO SE!

Gallery: Sony VAIO: Z with Dock, SE with IPS, and an Ultrabook Concept

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