|Introduction & Specifications|
In terms of sheer numbers, Sony is not considered one of the major notebook players in North America. Though, they do remain a staple of what most people consider quality built notebooks worldwide, despite their competitively lower sale figures. Most VAIO machines through the years have been built surprisingly well and more to the point, have had a trademark flair for being slim, lightweight, sleek and versatile.
The Sony VAIO VGN-SZ150 is what some folks might consider a truly mobile compromise between performance and portability. We'll take a closer look at the SZ150, all four pounds of it, in the pages that follow.
Measuring in at 12.2" x 9.3" x 1.5" and with a weight starting at 3.8 pounds (actual measured weighted), Sony's VGN-SZ150P/C is a retail iteration of the SZ140 line. This model is from Sony's midline SZ notebook series. Considering Sony has a larger and smaller notebook series, this is best described as something in between a full-size and an ultra-portable model.
|Construction: Building, Appearance, Size|
This notebook uses a trio of material in its frame construction. The top display and middle trim is made of carbon fiber. The bottom is made of ABS plastic, while the palm rests is a sheet of polished aluminum. It's definitely more bottom heavy due to the thin display and heavy battery pack, which also causes it to be more back heavy. This means that about two-thirds of the bottom need to rest on a surface, so that the notebook doesn't tip back.
This SZ150P/C differs from the SZ140 located on Sony's website in appearance only. The shade of the grey used is different. The SZ140 uses a more silver-ish grey as opposed to the darker tone seen here.
Opening the notebook is surprisingly easy, as there is no clip or security device. However, there is a slight resistance so that display doesn't just flap open.
Front (left to right):
Left (left to right):
Back (left to right):
Right (left to right):
The only thing that we see a problem with is the rubber cap for the communication jacks. This rubber cap is attached to the frame by two rubber strips, which might fall off in time, depending on how often it is flipped open and closed.
|Construction: Field Tested|
Charger - Sony has used a variety of power bricks over the years. They have less uniformity in style and size in comparison to a company like Dell. The power brick for this specific notebook is somewhat large, albeit it fairly light for its size (.10 lbs). The only problem we have is that it uses an angled plug, because the power port is not on the side.
Display - This notebook model only comes with one display option: 13.3" WXGA XBRITE TFT LCD (native 1280 x 800).
Simply put, this is a surprisingly bright display. With 9 settings, the display has a wide range between dim and bright. Compared to other notebooks we have used, this is one of the brighter glare type (Sony uses the term "XBRITE") displays. The dimmest setting may be a bit too dark for us to use comfortably in a dark room, but it works fine if you are trying to conserve battery life.
We brought this display outside and it performed in a similar manner with other glare type displays. This display is much better suited for an indoor environment, preferably in a SOHO or entertainment setting.
Considering the size of the notebook, a 13.3" display fits surprisingly well and feels natural. While the notebook's size is close to something of IBM's T series, its layout requires a widescreen notebook, particularly due to the large keyboard.
For multimedia use, this is an excellent display as it mimics the theatric attributes expected of a quality glare type display. Though note that this display also has a fairly wide viewing angle, regardless of its brightness level. This means that the person sitting next to you on a flight will likely be able to see what you see. At the same token, this also means that watching a movie with a friend is not only easy but comfortable.
Fan - The fan was on the majority of the time we had the notebook running. In general, the notebook is quiet, other than the almost inaudible hum of the hard drive and the fan, which comes on intermittently and is slightly louder than the hard drive.
The fan has a low pitch hum and can definitely be heard in normal sitting position within a dead quiet room. However, in a typical office or home environment, you probably will just be able to make out the noise.
Generally, the notebook fan only went to max speed once we were getting into CPU intensive loads. If you are just milling through your "run of the day" computer routine: email, word processing, browsing, etc., the fan will come on intermittently when needed and probably drop down to low speed. When it gets to max speed, the volume is definitely something you can make out in an office environment.
Heat - After about three plus hours of use, the notebook was still relatively cool to the touch. There are three places that got fairly warm after a while though: the bottom where the CPU and memory are located, as well as the left palm rest (hard drive location).
|Construction: Field Tested (cont.)|
Keyboard - While Sony uses a QWERTY keyboard on this notebook, the alphanumeric keys are full size. Upon first glance, they actually look larger than normal, but this is due to the tapered edges on the keys.
Our only complaint is the right side alignment of the insert/delete/page up/page down/end keys. This is mostly going to prove uncomfortable or awkward for those that switch from IBM, Dell, or any desktop.
The tactile feedback isn't great, but it is reasonable. It has a 3mm strike, which is fairly large but lacks the feedback seen on other high quality keyboards.
LEDs - There are two LED strips: one above the keyboard and another near the display hinge. The LED strip above the keyboard includes LEDs for (left to right): num lock (green when active), caps lock (green when active), scroll (green when active).
The LED strip on the hinge includes LEDs for (left to right): power (green when plugged in), battery status (blinking orange when charging), hard drive activity (blinking orange when active), WiFi status (green when active), Bluetooth status (not included in our sample). This LED strip is visible when the notebook is closed.
While technically LEDs, but not part of the LED strip, the two LEDs next to the buttons denote the status of Sony's power management settings: Stamina and Speed.
TouchPad & Buttons - Due to the overall layout and form factor, widescreens typically have less vertical space in their palm rests. This happens to be the case with the SZ150P/C. So even though the touchpad is centered, there is less space to rest your wrists.
The touchpad itself has a fine grain texture that tracks well, but the somewhat small buttons lack a reasonable degree of tactile feedback. The main problem is that the design is best described as hinged in nature, which means that it mainly depresses on one side. The problem wouldn't be so noticeable if the buttons were larger, though we should mention that the problem is significantly less severe than some of the Asus notebooks that incorporate a similar design.
Speakers & Microphone - The integrated microphone is denoted by a small slit next to the built in camera. This is a fairly decent microphone that is a step up above most consumer notebooks. It records voice annotations better than some of the notebooks that we have used in the past.
The speakers on the SZ150P/C are what we expect from a multimedia focused notebook of its size. They are simply made for the multimedia experience. Quality wise, they are better than average and probably just short of what we would call excellent. At 90% we get very little distortion in instrumentals or voice inflections from highly encoded music tracks. The placement of the speakers further in front of normal usage position makes the experience that much better.
We should still note that this isn't on par with a full fledged audio system, but it is a decent attempt at miniaturizing equipment to get a similar experience on the go.
|Construction: Upgrading and Maintenance|
Removing the bottom access panel gives way to reveal the DDR2 SODIMM memory banks.
The upper access panel can be removed to access the CPU and chipset/CPU heatsink.
|Features: Software & Hardware|
Notebooks from Sony come with a plethora pre-installed software. While much of it is re-branded, there are a few programs that are genuine Sony.
First up is Sony's power management program, which is completely integrated into Window XP's structure. Few notebook companies offer as many configuration options for power management as Sony does, which will help save up on those precious battery minutes.
Unique to this notebook is a fingerprint scanner, made popular on notebooks thanks to IBM. Located below the touchpad, the scanner is easy to access for left and right handed people.
The configuration program is similar to some of the others we have used. Overall, it has a pretty intuitive interface with a step by step process easy enough for a first time notebook owner to use.
|Business and Content Creation Winstones|
Business Winstone 2004 from Veritest uses scripts to tests the performance level of a computer in business related applications:
Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2004 from Veritest uses scripts to tests the performance level of a computer in multimedia rich environment:
Higher scores here indicate better performance. You can read more about Business Winstone 2004 on Veritest's FAQ page. And you can read more about Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2004 on Veritest's FAQ page.
This is the first Core Duo we have reviewed as part of our complete mobile review process. The scores are in line with what we expected. It should be noted that the Winstone 2004 test don't show the full benefit of a dual core processor. We only use this benchmark as we phase into the new mobile benchmark suite, so you can see the performance comparison to older systems.
Though even in this older benchmark, you can see that the 1.83GHz Duo pulls ahead of the Dothan 2.13GHz.
|Battery Info and Performance|
We used the standard benchmark settings from Bapco here, along with a few other minor system tweaks. The screensaver was disabled and volume was set at approximately 20%.
MobileMark 2002 utilizes the following applications:
The white papers for MobileMark are available on Bapco's website should you want to read up on how this benchmark works. In the graph above, higher scores equal better performance. We use MobileMark2k2 for the same reason as the Winstones.
Charge time for the batteries from 0% to 100% is as follows (real world numbers, not estimates):
The battery life of the SZ150P we tested is definitely on the shorter end of the scale, with its smallish 6 cell standard configuration. Sony does sell a 9 cell version upgrade which would offer approximately 1.5X the battery life of this 6 cell score, putting within IBM T-series range but of course adding just a bit more weight to its over all svelte characteristics.
The times listed below reflect the time it took for the system to power up until the cursor appeared with no busy indicator on the desktop background.
While the SZ150P/C performs better in the benchmarks than the other notebooks here, Sony's native software bundle leads to longer startup sessions.
Gaming on the Sony SZ150P, although in a thin and light form factor, isn't as spartan as you might think. First we ran the machine through its paces in 3DMark06, in order to get a graphics baseline and confirm the GPUs true DX9 capabilities.
Compared against the backdrop of the Alienware 5500m, the Sony SZ150 looks a bit emaciated but when you consider the SZ150 is is a full 2lbs lighter at a mere 4lbs, it's encouraging to see any sort of capability within this taxing graphics benchmark. The SZ150 completed all DirectX 9 gaming tests in 3DMark06 successfully.
The SZ150 is no match again for the Alienware 5500m with its 8 pixel-pipe driven GPU versus the SZ150's Go 7400 4 pipe machine. However, there are frags to be had at 800X600 res in Quake 4, which actually looks just fine on the SZ150's smaller 13" screen. Incidentally, overclocking the GPU affords little or no advantage. We took our core GPU speed up to 475MHz from its stock 450MHz specification and yielded marginal gains at best.
|Our Summary & Conclusion|
The VGN-SZ150P/C is targeted squarely at highly mobile multimedia users. It isn't small enough to be an ultra-portable notebook but it isn't quite big enough to be a full-sized notebook either. This notebook is meant for someone that spends some time at the desk but still spends a decent amount of time on the run. The VGN-SZ150P/C is a reasonable compromise between performance and size.
Sony notebooks tends to be very multimedia centric. It is a multimedia company, after all, and the company has a wealth of home theater experience that trickles down into just about everything else they do. For the multimedia buff, Sony is definitely one of the companies to consider. While not completely unique to this notebook, the use of a hybrid graphics system allows for some reasonable gaming with its NVIDIA GeForce Go 7400 supplement. For students, this may be something to consider if you plan on taking your notebook to class a lot. For professionals, the VGN-SZ150P/C is a notebook suited well for a half-half mixture between office and the road.
Priced at $2,449, our system (with 2GB of RAM, minus MS Office) was relatively expensive compared to competitive offerings from a more price conscious company like Dell or HP. Outside of software and memory, this notebook doesn't come with many configuration options; other than an optional extended warranty. It does have a few features that stand out, however, like biometric security, G-Sensor Shock Protection (similar to IBM's Active Protection System), and a hybrid graphics system.
The VGN-SZ150P/C isn't priced absurdly high, but it clearly isn't what we could call a budget or value notebook. It cost more than some competing models we have seen; just about all which don't compare to Sony's multimedia experience. With an excellent display and a matching audio experience, you can at least understand the SZ150P/C's price premium even if it isn't on your personal wish list. Sheer quality aside, Sony is not just a PC manufacturer; it is a brand name. And this brand name comes at a premium if you want all the goodies.
As for battery life, you will get a decent ~ 3 hours, give or take about 20 minutes, depending on what you are doing [and miscellaneous power settings]. Sony offers an extended battery pack that we didn't test, but it looks like it might have double the battery life at 12 cells. The only complaint we had was the charging time that we couldn't exactly pinpoint. At roughly 8:30AM we plugged in the notebook after a full drain [0%] and checked back every 15 minutes. Before and after lunchtime, the battery remained at 96%. It seemingly took forever to get the last 4%. After about 4 hours of charging we stopped checking and left it at that. We haven't experienced this with other notebooks, but this could just be an effect of Sony's power management.
Other than our odd battery experience, this was a first class multimedia notebook, price tag not withstanding. It is clearly suited best for the multimedia end of the computing spectrum, especially if you want your money's worth. This notebook will still be comfortable to use in business applications: e-mailing, word processing, work related projects, etc. Its fingerprint security feature helps in corporate applications, but it really starts to shine in the audio/video department.
Remember rule number #1 when it comes to shopping: "you get what you pay for." This notebook is more expensive than one of the competing models you might see at Dell, HP, and even IBM (now that they have gone widescreen). However, Sony remains one of the few to deliver a good multimedia experience. For the audio and Home Theater buff, notebooks of this nature are rare breeds. At the end of the day, we are giving the this notebook a high 9 on the Heat Meter.