With mini-notebooks like the Acer Aspire One and Eee PC 901 grabbing the headlines of late it's easy to forget that ultraportable notebooks you can carry around with you are nothing new. Sony, for instance, has made it a speciality of its range.
The Sony VAIO VGN-TZ31MN/W isn't a budget priced notebook but instead is a fully-fledged machine designed for the professional who needs a powerful but compact machine with a great battery life.
Weighing in at 1.2kg, this is a super-light design that packs all the features you'd expect from a top-class notebook. The build quality is high and the attention to detail makes it highly usable.
The keyboard has a novel design as each key sits in its own recess, which makes for a smoother and more stable design. We found this an incredibly comfortable keyboard to use and while it's not full-size, you don't feel as though you're compromising on size. The touchpad and mouse buttons are equally large and usable.
To keep weight to a minimum you'll find the screen is an 11.1-inch panel that has a native resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels. At this size images look sharp and crisp and as it uses LED technology, colours are truer to the original. The other benefit of LED screens is that they are considerably thinner and more power efficient than standard notebook screens, so ideal for ultraportable devices.
When it comes to performance, you'll find an Intel 1.2GHz Core 2 Duo U7600 chip that is supported by 2048MB of memory. This CPU is a low-voltage chip so isn't designed for high performance but you'll find it more than capable of handling most tasks. Being dual-core, you won't notice any real slow-down when running multiple applications.
The 100GB hard drive is on the mean side, as we were expected more in the way of storage at this price point. A dual-format DVD rewriter has also been squeezed into the compact chassis for viewing and writing data to CDs and DVDs.
When it comes to battery life, this machine lasted in our tests for just over 6 hours, which is simply stunning from such a compact machine. This is even more impressive when you discover the VAIO runs Vista Business Edition, which isn't exactly designed for mobile use. The usability of the TZ series has never been in doubt and with Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11a/g wireless LAN built-in you'll be able to take advantage of network access wherever you happen to travel.
Sony has bundled a comprehensive and varied number of applications for both professional and personal use, which helps add to the value of the notebook.
The changes Sony has made to the Sony VAIO VGN-TZ31MN/W have been merely cosmetic to keep it in line with other ultraportable notebooks in this price category. However, we remain impressed with what's on offer. While this machine will never compete with the new mini-notebook machines on price, there are no compromises made on performance, usability and design. If you need a state-of-the-art notebook, the Sony VAIO VGN-TZ31MN/W has to be it.