The Vaio Z's $1,499 starting price says it all: This is a premium ultraportable laptop. It's made of durable materials, has long battery life and its performance often surpasses that of rivals like the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon and the 13-inch MacBook Pro. Plus, this system is half a pound lighter than the MacBook Air. But the Vaio Z's flat, mushy keyboard makes me question the entire value proposition.
With a smooth, silver, aluminum lid and a black bottom, the Vaio Z looks like a half-hearted attempt to mimic the MacBook's design. Opening the lid reveals a silver deck with black island-style keys and a 13.3-inch, 1080p display surrounded by a black bezel. You can tell Vaio looked to the MacBook Air's deck and keyboard for inspiration.
On the bright side, Vaio used premium materials. The Z's lid and deck are made of aluminum, and the sides and bottom are composed of black carbon fiber.
At 12.76 x 8.48 x 0.66 inches and 2.56 pounds, this laptop is very portable. In comparison, the Vaio Z Flip is heavier, at 2.96 pounds. Apple's MacBook Pro is almost a pound heavier, at 3.5 pounds, but it's roughly the same size as the Z. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon is just as light, at 2.6 pounds, but it has a larger 13.11 x 9.02 x 0.65-inch footprint. The MacBook Air is 3 pounds.
Ports and Webcam
The Vaio Z may be thin and light, but it's short on ports. The left side includes an HDMI-out port, a headphone/mic jack and an SD card slot, and the right side contains two USB 3.0 ports. We would have preferred at least one more USB port for peripherals, if not a USB Type-C port to future-proof the device.
When I took a selfie with the webcam, the resulting picture had quite a bit of visual noise and missed out on some details (as is the case with most webcams we test). In the photo, you can't see individual hairs on my head or in my beard, and the buttons on my shirt are just big, white dots. However, the colors in my shirt and the lab behind me were all accurate.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard on the Vaio Z is inexcusable for a premium product. With just 1.04 millimeters of travel, the keyboard felt flat, mushy and uncomfortable. I typed at 102 words per minute on the 10fastfingers.com typing test, which is at the low end of my 100-to-110-wpm range, but my mistakes skyrocketed. While I usually have an error rate of 1 or 2 percent, it jumped to 5 percent on the Vaio Z.
The 4.1 x 2.5-inch touchpad was a little more slippery than I would have liked, but it was accurate as I moved the mouse around the screen and performed gestures like three-finger swipes to hide and reveal windows and two-finger scrolling on web pages. Clicking down felt responsive but a little stiff.
The 13.3-inch, 1080p display on the Vaio Z is bright and accurate. When I watched the latest trailer for Suicide Squad, Killer Croc's scales appeared sharp, and the pink and blue dye in Harley Quinn's hair was true to life.
Measuring 548 nits on our light meter, the screen gets extremely bright; it's significantly more luminous than its competitors and the ultraportable category average of 306 nits. With that score, the Vaio Z blew the Vaio Z Flip (346 nits), the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display (389 nits) and the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (292 nits) out of the water.
Vaio's clamshell reproduced an excellent 116.8 percent of the sRGB color gamut, which is significantly higher than the category average of 86 percent. Only its sibling, the Vaio Z Flip, covered more of the spectrum, at 119 percent. Both the MacBook Pro (91 percent) and the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (104 percent) did well, but they didn't touch the Vaio.
The display notched a color accuracy score of 0.86 (the closer to 0, the better) and was beat only by the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (0.5). However, both of those scores are far better than the ultraportable average score of 3.9.
I was impressed by the Vaio Z's audio output. The ultraportable filled a conference room with clear highs and mids when I listened to Sia's "Cheap Thrills," and the speakers got very loud. The low end was just adequate (although I wouldn't have minded a bit more bass), but for a laptop this size, the speakers were admirable.
Along with the MacBook Pro, the Vaio Z is one of a handful of lightweight laptops to pack a full-power, 28-watt processor. Its 2.9-GHz Intel Core i5-6267U CPU, combined with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB PCIe SSD, make the Vaio Z a formidable productivity machine. However, this chip generates more heat and uses more electricity than a typical 15-watt one.
I had 11 tabs open, one of which was streaming 1080p video from YouTube, and OpenOffice Writer open before I noticed that my typing was lagging a second behind.
The Vaio Z notched a score of 7,252 on Geekbench 3, an overall CPU performance benchmark. That's significantly higher than the ultraportable category average of 4,971. The Vaio Z Flip had a similar mark of 7,235, the MacBook Pro was close behind at 7,113, and the ThinkPad X1 Carbon reached 6,828.
On our spreadsheet macro test, the Vaio Z paired 20,000 addresses and names in 3 minutes and 55 seconds -- just a tad slower than the Vaio Z Flip (3:47). The MacBook Pro was faster, at 3:28, while the ThinkPad X1 Carbon brought up the rear (4:14). All were faster than the category average of 7:22.
The PCIe SSD in the Vaio Z is swift. It copied 4.97GB of mixed media files -- including music, text documents and videos -- in just 12 seconds, for a rate of 419 MBps. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon was equally fast, while the Vaio Z Flip (391.5 MBps) and the MacBook Pro (386 MBps) were slower. All blew away the ultraportable notebook average of 140.89 MBps.
Thanks to its integrated Intel Iris 550 graphics, the Vaio Z scored a strong 98,256 on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited graphics benchmark, which is more than double the category average of 45,791. The Vaio Z Flip with the same GPU achieved a grade of 89,876, while the Intel HD Graphics 520-equipped ThinkPad X1 Carbon notched 67,488.
The Vaio Z mustered 28.7 frames per second when we played Metro: Last Light at its lowest settings (and its fans sounded like a jet engine while the game ran). That's not quite playable for an insanely intensive game, but this laptop will have no problem running less-taxing games, such as World of Warcraft.
The Vaio Z will last all day on a charge. The computer endured for 11 hours and 42 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which consists of surfing the web over Wi-Fi at 100 nits of brightness. The Vaio Z Flip didn't last as long, at 9:04, and the ThinkPad X1 Carbon ran for 9:06. The clear winner was the MacBook Pro, which lasted 12:04 on a charge. The ultraportable category average is 8:11.
When we streamed 15 minutes of HD video from Hulu, the Vaio Z got toastier than we would have liked. The underside of the notebook alongside the air vent reached 107 degrees Fahrenheit, which is 12 degrees over our comfort threshold. The center of the keyboard between the G and H keys hit 96.5 degrees, but the touchpad stayed cool, at 88 degrees.
Software and Warranty
The Vaio Z doesn't come with much software on it. The Start menu has shortcuts leading to the Microsoft Store for Flipboard, iHeartRadio, Farmville 2: Country Escape and Adobe Photoshop Express, but they aren't preinstalled. A one-month free trial of Microsoft Office is included.
Vaio includes only a few first-party utilities, such as the Vaio Z Control Center, which lets you adjust the computer's settings, and Vaio Clipping Tool, a set of options for the built-in screenshot tool. The Snipping tool and Settings are already built into Windows 10, and Vaio's options don't add anything to improve upon them.
The Vaio Z comes with a one-year limited hardware warranty covering parts and labor. For an extra $199, buyers can opt for an additional two years.
The base-level Vaio Z that we reviewed costs $1,499 and comes with a 2.9-GHz Intel Core i7-6267U processor, 8GB of RAM, integrated Intel Iris 550 graphics, a 256GB PCIe SSD and a 1080p display. A $1,799 configuration bumps the processor to a Core i7-6567U and increases the display resolution to 2560 x 1440 but is otherwise identical.
We also have reviewed the Vaio Z Flip, a version of the computer with a release lever on the display that flips it toward the back of the device, making it a 2-in-1. It starts at $1,799 with a Core i5-6267U processor, Intel Iris 550 Graphics, 8GB of RAM, a 2560 x 1440 touch screen, a 256GB PCIe SSD and a gunmetal-gray aluminum chassis.
The Vaio Z is a luxury laptop with an impressive screen, a body made of premium materials and a processor that delivers strong, snappy performance. I expect all of these things from a laptop over $1,000 (heck, I demand them), and this ultraportable delivers.
But the notebook falters in actual usability. For one, the keyboard is flat and uncomfortable, which increases typing errors. On top of that, the ergonomics simply aren't up to snuff with the performance or the price.
If you can live with a heavier design, consider the cheaper $1,299 MacBook Pro, which offers a high-resolution display and comfier typing for less dough. If you're not doing intensive work and can give up some of the performance, the $1,470 Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon is also an excellent choice because of its strong performance and comfortable keyboard. Overall, the Vaio Z is definitely worth a look, but it's not as splurge-worthy as we hoped.