The best ultra-portable laptop of recent times, but it'll cost you
Intel Core i7 power
Sharp and vibrant screen
Long battery life
Slim and light
Docking station adds more value
Why you can trust TechRadar
The old cliché states that good things come in small packages, which means that chicken nuggets, dead hedgehogs and Peter Andre's head are all apparently 'good things'. However, we have to agree with this logic when it's applied to Sony's latest VAIO Z Series ultra-portable laptop, the Sony VAIO VPC-Z21V9E.
Despite being cursed by a name that's less catchy than an N-Dubz tune, this is an excellent little 13.1-inch PC laptop that we'd happily use as our everyday computer.
That is, if we happened to have a spare couple of grand knocking around, priced as it is at £2,699.
We've seen a lot of ultra-portables lately, from the sleek and sexy Samsung 900XSA to the business-oriented Lenovo ThinkPad X1. It's impressive how much power you can now cram into a tiny frame, ably demonstrated by the new Apple MacBook Air 2011, which squeezes Intel's Sandy Bridge technology into something as thin as your finger.
The 13.1-inch Sony VAIO VPC-Z21V9E also manages this feat. It's a little chunkier than the Apple MacBook Air 2011 and Samsung 9 Series, but at 20mm it's still a slender machine. Best of all, it weighs just 1.18kg – less than most netbooks we've used.
Sony has stuck with its traditional all-black design, which is a shame. We definitely prefer the brushed chrome body of the Samsung 900XSA, and the glossy white design of the Apple MacBook Air. The carbon fibre build is solid at least, although the lid does feel rather fragile, a problem we've noticed with a few VAIOs lately. We wouldn't recommend placing anything on top of the VAIO VPC-Z21V9E, just in case.
We initially had mixed feelings over the keyboard, which has the shallowest travel we've ever experienced. When the keys are hit they barely move, akin to typing on a virtual keyboard on a tablet. However, we were used to it after just a few minutes. The board is tilted slightly when the lid is lifted, as the rear is pushed upwards. This makes typing comfortable, even over prolonged periods.
Each key protrudes through its own hole cut in the chassis, isolation-style. The distance between keys makes it easier to touch type, but there are no open gaps for crumbs to infiltrate the VAIO Z Series laptop's precious innards. A subtle backlighting effect makes the keys glow in the dark, so you can bash out that novel at 3am when inspiration strikes without having to turn on the lights.
Despite the compact body, the keys are generally well sized. Even the arrow keys (often the first casualties) haven't suffered, although the Shift keys are rather thin. This didn't bother us too much, because we have tiny girl fingers anyway.
However, the VAIO VPC-Z21V9E's touchpad is cramped, meaning you'll be lifting your finger often when sweeping the cursor across the screen. We like the textured surface, and the mouse buttons are firm.
Above the keyboard, you'll find a wireless networking on/off switch, as well as the usual Assist, VAIO and Web shortcut buttons. These allow you to surf the web, diagnose issues and fiddle with power settings in an instant.