capsule review

Sony VAIO VGN-TZ295N Ultraportable Laptop

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At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Sony VAIO TZ295N/XC Notebook

The Sony VAIO design team must be ticked. Sony keeps producing geek-chic products like the VAIO VGN-TZ295N ultraportable laptop computer we tested, yet Apple gets all the attention with the MacBook Air. Sony deserves some recognition too; sure, Mac fans may be able to slip an Air into a manila envelope, but at least the VGN-TZ295N will let you watch DVDs without an external drive.

Roughly the size of a hardcover book and weighing about 2.6 pounds (3.2 pounds with an AC adapter), Sony's tight little package comes with some solid business features. Among the work-specific highlights: a fingerprint scanner, Bluetooth connectivity, and integrated wireless WAN through Sprint Mobile Broadband. These features are increasingly commonplace, but supporting EvDO Revision A wireless data transfers makes this an instant win for Sprint customers--but a tease for Verizon and AT&T loyalists. Sony doesn't allow you to configure the VGN-TZ295N to your preferences, so if you buy it, you're paying for the Sprint-specific hardware whether you like it or not.

Mostly, though, this laptop is an entertainer--and the impressively crisp 11.1-inch, 1366-by-768-pixel display can attest to that. In fact, its LED backlighting technology gives it one of the sharpest, brightest screens of all the ultraportables we've seen--we think it matches that of the mighty Macbook Air, though the Air's display is a couple of inches larger diagonally. The VAIO's display remains as clear as day even when you are eyeballing it from absurd angles. (Most notebooks' screens become faint and hard to read at even moderate angles).

The TZ295N bristles with buttons, and it has two USB ports, one FireWire port, and flash memory card slots. Quick-access media buttons--for the DVD player, an audio player, and a photo viewer--line the front, and are all very handy for conserving battery power, because you don't have to launch Windows to use them.

With Windows Vista Business and a 1.33-GHz Core 2 Duo U7700 processor installed, the VGN-TZ295N chugs along well enough. Our test unit came with 2GB of RAM--and even if you could configure this model, 2GB is the maximum amount the notebook can handle. In our WorldBench 6 tests, it came in close behind Lenovo's X300 in performance, scoring a 58 to the X300's 64.

Unfortunately, this notebook should come with a big fat warning label that says "Bloatware Inside!" When you launch your Web browser, it instantly opens three window tabs--one for AOL, one for Ebay, and one for the SonyStyle shopping site. Many of the built-in applications have pitches about purchasing this or that product. To all that, I say, enough already.

At least navigating isn't nearly as much of a pain as it could be on a notebook this tiny. The touchpad is on the smallish side, but the wide placement of the buttons along the bottom edge makes them easily clickable, whether you've got tiny digits or big paws. However, you may want to tweak the touchpad's sensitivity, although even after I adjusted the settings, it registered commands when my hand was nowhere near the pad.

Ultraportables by nature often have cramped keyboards. But Sony's cut-out chiclet-sized keys are tiny even by ultraportable standards. Although the keys have ample space between them, the main QWERTY keys measure a little less than half an inch wide each. Stylish, yes; conducive to typing, not so much. With my monstrous mitts, I had to resort to cautious hunting-and-pecking.

When the right keys get hit, they respond with a good, firm tactile response. I've seen plenty of notebooks, and none comes to mind that has attempted this approach. Oh, wait, there is one: the MacBook Air. In fact, looking at them side-by-side, they have the same exact layout. The main difference is that Apple's keys are much bigger--a full two-tenths of an inch larger per key.

This VAIO looks great, and its screen is phenomenal. But for its lofty price, we'd accept no less than perfection, and it falls just short.

--Darren Gladstone

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At a Glance
  • The TZ295N's screen is awesome, but the notebook as a whole is evidence that beauty does, in fact, have a (steep) price.


    • Excellent LED-backlit screen
    • Integrated wireless WAN (Sprint)


    • Tiny keys meant for tiny hands
    • Much more expensive than competitors
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