Sony VAIO VGN-TZ18GN (Centrino Duo)

Star Light, Star Bright

Star Light, Star Bright

The impression we get from Sony's latest ultra portable sensation is that it's all sinews and lean muscle. It's like a notebook that has had all its 'fats' boiled away, leaving only the bones and cartilages holding the frame together. Thanks to its carbon fiber enhanced chassis, the notebook feels thin but sturdy. If we have to use an analogy, it's like bamboo, deceptively strong despite its appearance. Considering the cylindrical core of its battery, together with the woody look and feel on the exterior lid, this seems most appropriate. Most of all, it's light at slightly over 1kg, even with the battery, hence fulfilling its ultra portable pedigree.

Bright, sharp and according to Sony, with a color purity at an NTSC ratio of 72%, this 11.1-inch widescreen display is truly a delight to feast your eyes on. Compared to the older VAIO TX series, the display is 20% brighter while retaining similar power consumption levels.

We haven't been too pleased with the LCD displays on our recently reviewed notebooks. These complaints should be familiar - the notebook displays were mostly glossy and reflective, often with insufficient backlight and relatively poor viewing angles. Compared to these lackluster screens, the 11.1-inch widescreen display on the Sony VGN-TZ18GN is a glorious sight to behold. Colors are bright and vibrant and closer to a quality desktop LCD screen with its native resolution at 1366 x 768. The viewing angles are also improved, probably due to the higher brightness; in short this is a screen that reproduces excellent image quality.

The next thing you'll notice is how quiet this notebook can be. Minus the moving parts of the hard drive thanks to its flash memory drive, the only sounds produced are by the ventilation fans and optical drive (only when it's running) and the end result is a silent notebook, especially since it's already using a relatively low powered processor and integrated graphics that require less cooling. What may be a shortcoming is the heat we felt in our laps, emitting from the bottom of the VAIO. This is usually quite common among notebooks but the thicker chassis on other notebooks alleviate this to some extent. There is no such allowance for this ultra thin notebook and a rough measurement with our temperature sensor placed it in the range of around 40 degrees Celsius. It's not burning hot but one can definitely feel the warmth after prolonged usage. We then did a similar test with the TZ-17GN and it came out slightly worse, with temperatures hovering around 50 degrees. This is because the TZ-18GN's SSD is likely to produce less heat than the SATA hard drive on the TZ-17GN.

The TZ18GN is the slimmest at this angle, with the front sloping down from the fatter, cylindrical battery at the rear.

The tiny silver buttons here are for the instant AV mode which can work at the touch of a button without first booting into Windows. They are again rather small and may be difficult to press. There's also the usual switch to toggle the wireless LAN connection.

Here we have the 4-in-1 card reader and as with all Sony products, proprietary formats like Memory Stick are found though it does support SD memory cards at least.

If you go by the interviews with the design team for this VAIO on Sony's website, getting the color of the LED on the power button to be that particular shade of emerald green was not an easy task. We'll let you interpret what that says about the design process but it is no doubt a striking color that's not your usual blue/yellow/green LEDs. The battery is integrated elegantly into the spine of the notebook and on removing it, the screen is attached to the rest of the notebook with only two hinges at the sides.

In part due to its small form factor, the number of I/O ports is limited. The essentials are there of course but there are only two USB 2.0 ports.

Some of the less oft used ports are concealed, like the mini FireWire and phone modem jack. The connector to recharge the battery is also integrated into the cylindrical spine of the notebook like the power button.

Access to the single SODIMM slot is quite convenient though having only 1 slot does limit the upgrade options.

Next, we have the keyboard, which is nicely spaced out to compensate for the relatively small size of the individual keys. It is obviously not full sized with only 82 keys but there's still quite a healthy amount of tactile feedback while typing. The bezel is in glossy black and could get smudged with fingerprints and stains but looks great at the moment. The indicator lights for Caps Lock, Num Lock, etc are discreetly positioned below the space bar, while the fingerprint sensor and touchpad are located further below.

A glossy black background contrasts with the matte black keys and it looks a definite fingerprint magnet. But what the heck, it looks fabulous. Naturally, the key pitch is rather small at 17mm but Sony has spaced the keys to reduce the stress of typing on such a small keyboard. We won't say it's 100% effective and those with larger hands and fingers will find it rather cramped but we could manage decently with our thankfully Asian sized fingers.

There are the usual function keys to control the brightness and volume but most importantly, dedicated keys for the AV Mode feature, which is a media center interface to play media like DVDs and images. This feature has been present on previous VAIO notebooks and you can enter this interface without even booting into Windows first. According to Sony, the apparent improvement on the TZ series besides tweaks to the interface includes the ability to play MP3s for the first time.

Yup, we could play our MP3s, DVDs/CDs and images through this media-centric interface. The keyboard and AV Mode buttons are used to make your selections. However, we found the buttons a bit too small and you may have to press a few times to get it to respond as intended. The interface too is relatively simple. It's not perfect, though nothing serious was encountered.

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