Sony – Vaio SZ4 XWN/C review

secure ultraportable business laptop with decent connectivity
Photo of Sony – Vaio SZ4 XWN/C

Sony’s Vaio SZ4 XWN/C sits in the middle of a three-product family and is, as we’ve come to expect from Sony, a stylish, well featured, portable laptop with built-in security, all aimed at the business user.

Clad in a stylish combination of black and slate grey, the Vaio SZ4 XWN/C is claimed by Sony to be an ultraportable: it may only weigh 1.69kg, but since it measures 315 x 234 x 32.6mm, that claim is pushing the ‘ultraportable’ envelope more than just a bit.

Part of the reason for the light weight for its size is the slim, 13.3-inch screen, which is remarkably thin but worryingly flexible too, so it needs a bit of added protection when you are carrying it around.

The display itself is a WGXA widescreen unit with Sony’s X-Black coating. The latter is something of a double-edged sword, as while it produces clear, vibrant colours, it’s also very reflective, which may put some potential users off. Built into the top of the screen is a 0.3-megapixel camera which unfortunately doesn’t have a swivel function.

At the heart of the Vaio SZ4 XWN/C is one of Intel’s Core 2 Duo CPUs clocked at 2.0GHz, backed up by 2GB of PC2-533 (266MHz) memory in the form of two 1GB modules. Incidentally this is the most memory the motherboard will support.

The graphics sub-system is interesting as it offers a choice between two flavours of graphics. A slider switch above the keyboard is labelled “Stamina / Speed”: if you flick it to the Speed setting the notebook uses the Nvidia GeForce GO 7400 discrete GPU, while switching it to Stamina turns off the discrete graphics in favour of the integrated graphics of the Intel i945GM chipset.

The Stamina setting drops the performance down (from an average frame rate in F.E.A.R. of 48fps for the GO 7400 down to an average of 19 for the integrated graphics) but on the other hand the integrated solution isn’t as power-hungry as the discrete one, so going down the integrated route is the way to go for better battery life. Under test conditions using the integrated Intel graphics solution we got a battery life of around four hours, while switching it to the Nvidia graphics cut the battery life to just over three.

While the Vaio SZ4 XWN/C comes with both 802.11a/b/g WLAN and Bluetooth 2.0, there is a surprise bundled with the notebook in the form of an HSDPA ExpressCard which enables you to use your 3G SIM card with the laptop. While it’s not as tidy a solution as an integrated adapter, at least it does give you the option of fast data communications while on the move: you just have to remember to take it with you.

Sony hasn’t skimped on the storage capacity of the Vaio SZ4 XWN/C. A 120GB, 5,400rpm hard drive provides plenty of storage space, while a dual layer DVD burner allows you to back up files. Also provided, in the form of a second ExpressCard, is a 5-in-1 memory card reader, while there’s also a Memory Stick reader built into the left-hand side of the chassis. Despite the size of the laptop, disappointingly there are only two USB 2.0 ports.

Like the majority of the latest Sony notebooks the keyboard is a joy to use. The large, light keys have a good degree of travel and feel comfortable to type on. Sony has also thought about security with the Vaio SZ4 XWN/C, as in between the two mouse buttons of the trackpad there is a fingerprint reader.

The Vaio SZ4 XWN/C comes with Windows Vista Business edition pre-installed and you get the usual bumper bundle of Sony software goodies.

Company: Sony

Contact: 020 7365 2947

The SZ4 XWN/C is a stylish but costly, well featured laptop which is easy to carry around, but the thinness of the screen is something that will play on your mind unless you have it well protected.