Vaio VGN-TZ21XN/B in review

As I wrote earlier, I ordered a TZ21 from Sony. I’ve been playing with it for a few days now, and decided to write down my first experiences with it.

The TZ21 is very light, it only weighs 1240 grams, and given it’s small size and weight it’s easy to carry it around, or keep it in your hands while typing or watching the screen. The keyboard is quite comfortable, considering it’s size, and I’ve adapted to it quite well. It’s quite like the new macbook keyboards, and i’ve only occasionally miss-typed around the edges of the keyboard. The normal a-z characters are all very reachable. I feared I would get a UK keyboard, but apparently Sony found out that in the Netherlands we prefer US keyboards, and supplied the TZ21 with a normal US keyboard.

The screen is great, it’s only 11.1 inches small, but provides a nice high-res (1366×768, wxga) which will let you display enough programs without filling up the available real-estate. The brightness of the screen can be set in 7 steps, from dim enough to work comfortably in darkened areas to bright enough for outside use. (Though I haven’t tested it in sunlight yet, it’s fall, and constantly raining here).

powerhistory graph
power estimated time graph
Battery life is (at least under linux, and using most power-saving settings) as good as, or even better then the advertised 7 hours.
I’ve had it on for nearly 6 hours now, and still have half an hour remaining, while having wifi on the entire time. Of course setting the brightness higher, and leaving cd/bluetooth/lan/usb on reduces battery-life, but they can all be turned off individually.

The modem, lan and firewire ports on the left-hand side are nicely covered by a bit of plastic/rubber to keep the dirt out. The 2 🙁 usb-ports and the expresscard34 slot are also on the left-hand side of the notebook. The back of the laptop is free of ports, as it only holds the 3, 6 or 9 cell battery (6 default). The default battery makes for about 1/3rd of the total weight of the laptop. The right-hand side only holds the VGA port and the dvd-writer. It reads and writes all current disc-formats, including dual-layer and dvd-ram. The power to the drive (which appears as a usb-device to the system) can be turned off from linux or windows to save power.

The front of the laptop houses the headphones and microphone plugs, the MS and MMC/SD slot, battery/hd led, rfkill switch and wifi/bluetooth leds. It also has some multimedia buttons, which I haven’t been able to use under either vista or linux.

I haven’t done much with the vista install on the TZ21 yet, only removing most of the crapware that came installed with it, so I could save some space in the quite stuffed harddrive. I’ve removed the 9GB recovery partition, and recycled it for a Ubuntu 7.10 install after backing it up to a USB drive.

Most of the hardware in the TZ21 is supported out of the box in Ubuntu 7.10, at least the devices that are ‘required’. There is still no working driver for the webcam, fingerprint reader and sd-slot. I haven’t been able to test expresscard, modem or the sony memory-stick slot, since I don’t have any of those devices around.

Some dislikes in the TZ21 are:

  • A backlit keyboard, or a led in the screen illuminating the keyboard. Especially with the brightness of the screen set to low it can be quite hard to find keys on the keyboard in darker areas, since everything is black.
  • The touchpad isn’t the friendliest, and the mousebuttons are right on the edge of the laptop, making it hard to reach them when you have the laptop lying on your legs.
  • The fingerprint reader is in between the mouse buttons, making it hard to middle-click, i’d prefer it somewhere to the side.
  • Very long ‘power-on’ battery charge time (4+ hours), probably due to low-powered adapter.
  • No ‘status’ leds on the battery to tell you how full/empty they are without plugging them in.
  • Sony doesn’t let you enable hardware virtualisation in the bios, even though the cpu(‘s) support it.

Some cool things:

  • The power led starts blinking faster when power is low, and switched from green to red when you’re suspended.
  • Powerusage can be reduced from a default 15 watt (most stuff on) to about 7-8 Watts with only the wifi on.
  • Extended battery is available (though quite expensive, $400+)
  • Decent speakers for their size, though headphones are recommended
  • Design is really nice, small, thin, light.
  • The power-adapter is really small, but it only needs to deliver 30 watts to charge and run the TZ21, so that’s easy. There is also a yellow led on the power-plug, so you can instantly see if it is plugged in.
  • I haven’t seen the 3 temperature sensors go past 61 degrees, while the laptop does become warm to the touch, it doesn’t get hot or uncomfortable.

All in all a great piece of technology, if you need ultralight and can afford it. I recommend the TZ21, and let’s home some remaining issues get fixed with a bios-update 🙂

Update: Ubuntu on the Vaio VGN-TZ21XN