You might call it executive jewelry. And you'd be right, but the VAIO VGN-TZ150N (which replaces the TX series as Sony's flagship ultraportable) does much more than make a style statement (view photo gallery). This 2.7-pound Vista Business notebook packs in mobile broadband, a webcam, and a DVD burner. And the display's brilliance and enhanced contrast make it perfect for watching movies on the go. You can even order a VAIO TZ with a 32GB solid-state drive for the ultimate in performance and power savings. With all of the features stuffed inside this micro machine, one wonders how Sony found the room to cram in so much trial software, or "crapware."
To be fair, Sony isn't alone in peddling entirely too much trial software. But the VAIO VGN-TZ150N behaved as if it were broken before we deleted some programs and prevented others, such as Corel Photo, Napster, and several apps from Adobe, from launching upon startup. We also found SpySweeper to be intrusive, so we disabled that--spyware be damned. Sony even managed to crap up Internet Explorer. By default, three tabs open when you launch the browser: a co-branded AOL-Sony homepage, the Symantec Sony Online Store, and the Adobe Store page. Think we're exaggerating? Once we cleared out the crap, the boot time decreased from more than a minute and a half to less than a minute. And the spinning circle in Vista that replaced Windows XP's hourglass was much less persistent.
After we did some housecleaning and installed Firefox, we were able to begin enjoying the TZ150N, starting with Sony's elegant redesign. Gone is the staid silver aesthetic of the VAIO TX Series, replaced by a black body complete with a glossy piano-black bezel layer around the keyboard. To personalize your purchase, you customize the lid in one of four colors: Champagne Gold, Bordeaux, classic Black, and Premium Black Carbon (available only on the $3,199 TX190); the version we tested was the standard black. To save space, Sony ingeniously designed the LCD hinge to be built around the battery; the power button is on the right side of the hinge, and the power jack is on the left side.
Some may prefer the larger 12-inch display found on Toshiba Portégé R500 and the Lenovo X61, but Sony nearly makes up for this panel's smaller size (11 inches). This LED-backlit panel boasts 72 percent color saturation, which enables deep blacks and bright whites, as well as realistic color reproduction. The panel provided wide viewing angles while watching Aeon Flux, and the two small speakers right above the keyboard pumped out a surprising amount of volume for an ultraportable. Above the display is the VGA webcam, which we used to make Skype video calls. The other caller said we looked "pretty clear," and that was while we were using this notebook's EV-DO Rev. A connection.
Ergonomically, the VAIO VGN-TZ150N is pretty solid. The MacBook-esque raised keyboard layout feels a bit squished (it’s 90 percent size) but provided good tactile feedback, and the touchpad is plenty wide given the limited real estate. The touchpad buttons are too narrow for our tastes, but they're certainly wide enough to use without having to look. Between these two buttons resides the fingerprint reader. Unlike the Toshiba Portégé R500, the carbon-fiber casing gives the TZ150N a sturdier all-around feel, despite the thinness of the lid.
The multimedia controls have moved from above the keyboard on the TX series to the front of the TZ. This arrangement of silver buttons includes an A/V Mode, which enables users to play DVDs and CDs, as well as view pictures, without booting Windows. Beneath that row is the Wireless On/Off switch. The left side of the TZ150N's front houses the SD and Memory Stick slots, as well as the headphone and microphone jacks.
There isn't much room for other ports on this notebook. Two USB 2.0 ports, the ExpressCard slot, and the FireWire port--along with the Ethernet and modem jacks--populate the left side of the system. And the right side is where you'll find the DVD burner and VGA port.
We didn't expect barn-burning performance from the 1.1-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 1GB of RAM, but the VAIO was fast enough in our tests for modest multitasking-once we cleared out the crapware. For example, opening Firefox while playing a DVD took about six seconds. The TZ150N turned in a PCMark05 score of 1,759, which is better than the latest Panasonic Toughbook W5 (1,540) and Fujitsu Lifebook P7230 (1,232) but well behind the Lenovo X61s (3,549), which boasts a faster 1.6-GHz Core 2 Duo CPU. The 3DMark03 score of 643 was expectedly anemic, given that this system uses the old Intel GMA 950 chip. If you want the best performance out of the TZ150N, we highly recommend an upgrade to 2GB of RAM.
For an even bigger speed boost, you can splurge for the VAIO TZ190 or TZ191, which feature a 32GB solid-state disk drive option (starting at $3,199) instead of the 100GB standard hard drive inside our configuration. Because it uses flash memory, you'll experience faster bootup times (34 seconds versus 54 seconds on our tests), as well as speedier application load times and overall snappier performance. The TZ190 we tested with the SSD delivered a PCMark05 score of 2,334, nearly 600 points higher. Solid-state drives are also less prone to damage, but the hard drive in the standard model is shock mounted.
Battery life was quite good for a Vista-powered ultraportable. The TZ150N with the regular hard drive lasted 3 hours and 21 minutes on our DVD rundown test, which means you should expect about 5 hours of runtime when performing productivity chores. (The similarly configured Fujitsu P7230 lasted 3 hours and 30 minutes.) With the mobile-broadband radio on, we lost about 25 percent battery capacity after an hour of surfing and working in Word.
The Sprint EV-DO Rev. A connection inside the TZ150N makes it an excellent option for road warriors who want to connect at high speeds without having to rely on Wi-Fi hotspots. On our tests, this notebook downloaded Firefox in a little more than a minute, which works out to a very impressive 946.6 Kbps. Upload speeds were a tolerable 166.4 Kbps; it took 45 seconds to upload a 991 KB file.
By this point you probably know how we feel about the included software, but there are some programs we like. This Vista Business machine ships with 60-day trials of Norton Internet Security and Microsoft Works 8.5. We especially like the streamlined SmartWi Connection Utility for quickly turning on or off the three wireless radios (mobile broadband, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth).
There's a lot to like about the Sony VAIO VGN-TZ150N, but there's also plenty of competition in this class. The new Toshiba Portégé R500, for example, offers a bigger display and a roomier keyboard in a lighter 2.4-pound frame. But the VAIO VGN-TZ150N sports a sexier design, a better-looking screen, and welcome features like the built-in webcam and mobile broadband. As long as you don't mind cleaning out some crapware, you'll be pleased with this ultraportable.
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