Review: Sony Z1A Notebook

And now for the good stuff: the Sony Z1A. Granted that I’ve only had this notebook for just about two days, but I’ve already dubbed this machine as the Best Notebook that I’ve ever owned. As much as I liked the PowerBook, I had had a couple of complaints with it, even after just one day with it. Granted my biggest complaint was caused by a defective part, but even so; I had issues with it within the first twelve hours. After 48 hours with the Z1A, I still find the machine to be flawless.

What’s so good about it? It’s sort of like a PowerBook for the Windows XP world. Honestly, it is, even if it doesn’t have a glowing Apple or under lit keybaord! The pBook got my attention because of the features that Apple had packed into it for the price they offered it at which also what Sony has done. In short, Sony has made a PowerBook killer, for the Windows world. I guess the best way to look at this is to first look at what attracted me to the pBook and then compare the Sony to it.

The pBook was about 8.5″ by 11″ and only 1.25″ tall at 4.6 pounds. It offered a 12.1″ screen and a G4 processor running at 867MHz, putting it on par with a P4 1.8GHz. It came with built-in Bluetooth, which was convenient while transferring pictures from a Nokia 3650, and a great keyboard. The built-in CD-RW/DVD slot loading drive was a great addition from my old notebook because I didn’t need a docking station anymore. The base model I was looking at came with a 40GB hard drive and 256 MB of RAM and was “just” $1799. Once I got it, I felt that it needed more RAM, so I bumped it to 384MB for under $100 and I added the AirPort Extreme card for $100. I had to get an extra VGA dongle and AC adapter, to leave at work, and I went through a couple of old cases I had until I bought a Brenthaven Mobilty 1. The battery would last for about four hours if I turned down the brightness and CPU speed. Add in AppleCare’s three year warrantee and I topped this purchase off at about $2450.

And now the Sony Z1A. The Sony is about 9.25″ by 11.5″ and anywhere from 0.9″ to 1.5″ tall; Sony’s more recent models have been build in a wedge to help balance out their weight and size. It’s 4.7 pounds. It comes with a 14.1″ screen running at 1400×1050 resolution which is great for terminal server sessions with 1280×1024 screens and a Centrino processor running at 1.3GHz, putting it on par with a P4 2.0GHz. It doesn’t come with Bluetooth but with the two USB 2.0 ports, it can be added easily. The built-in CD-RW/DVD tray loading drive isn’t as elegant as the slot loading Apple drive, but it’s more function for non-standard CD sized media. The base model I was looking at came with a 60GB hard drive and 512 MB of RAM and was “just” $2399. I didn’t need more RAM. I didn’t need to add a WiFi card because Centrino machines come with built-in 802.11b; while it’s not as fast as the AirPort Extreme’s 802.11g, I won’t miss it because I don’t have an AirPort Extreme base station and always ran at 802.11b. The VGA port is built into the machine, so I didn’t need a dongle; I did get an extra adapter and a new bag as the Brenthaven wasn’t large enough to fit the Sony very well. Also, because the machine doesn’t run nearly as hot as the PowerBook, I didn’t need the iCurve, IcePad and CoolPads that I had to buy to keep the pBook “cooler.” The battery, thanks to the new Pentium-M CPU, gives me about four hours of use if I turn down the brightness and CPU speed. I skipped the extra warrantee since Sony offers one year to Apple’s 90-days.

And that’s about it. The keyboard works really well bigger than I got used to on my old Sony and the trackpad is fairly responsive. The standby mode that Sony includes with their power management utilities are on par with Apple’s sleep mode, so I don’t even get to miss that feature from the PowerBook. Overall I believe Apple had better get their shit together and fast. Right now they are maintaining their growing market presence by their slick Switch campaigns and building some great software (and the iPod.) However, their latest few rounds of portable notebooks hasn’t been that great the early buyers of the TiBook had a number of problems as did some early Pismo owners and now the Aluminum generation is suffering the same fate. Apple will need to either start putting out some well built notebooks or start to let clone manufactures make competitive software or they can get out of the business all together. They’ve gotten away with these problems so far because they fix that machine as they make more and update the manufacturing process nice to know that “early adopter” can also be called “beta tester” and because of the loyalty of the Apple consumer. This loyalty can’t last forever, though when people are spending thousands of dollars for machines that feel like they didn’t get a full QA cycle, they tend to not stay loyal for very long. Of course, as I write this, there are two TiBook owners within sight of this Sony maybe I’ll check out the Al-15 a few months after it ships it will give them time to find some of the earliest bugs in it!

As for me, I’m still basking in the afterglow of New-Machine-Geek-Euphoria; I’m also shocked that I haven’t found a problem or gripe with this machine yet maybe I will after a week of use, but somehow I doubt it!

7 thoughts on “Review: Sony Z1A Notebook”

  1. Great review, I must say. As a current Powerbook and PC notebook owner I think it’s safe to say that he’s hit the nail on the head with the Apple diagnosis: Build better hardware or step aside and let someone else do it. As an Apple loyalist, I’m one of the “beta testers” on Apple’s Titanium Powerbook line (being that I immediately buy every new model) and I resent that the last few units I’ve bought (Powerbooks) have been fraught with severe hardware defects that were either built in or developed after use. It’s nice to see that someone is taking the time to make a stand about this issue. I’m hoping that enough public pressure and sentiment prods Apple Computer into some proactive measures to build better hardware…I miss my Powerbook but don’t miss the problems!

  2. Randy

    True enough about the Apple notebooks- I own both a Thinkpad T30- great machine but S L O W and a Powerbook G4 1 GHz. I find them to perfomr msot tasks about the same. I too find the size (and keyboard) of the Sony appealing- looks way cool and the SXGA 14″ equals the greatness of the IBM- but in no way am I going to buy a desktop replacment powered notebook without 64 megs of dedicated Video RAM. Sony positions itself as this Audio Visual company and they ALWAYS skimp on the video of their desktop and notebook offerings. The other Centrino offerings are 32 Megs of Vid RAM and in 6 months 64 Megs will be offered.

    Hey want to hear some Cool Music- get the CD “Where’d you hide the body” From James McMurtrey- He is Larrys Son (Lonesome Dove) GREAT “Texas music”it’s own genre that firs no pidgeon hole.

    Great rants


  3. I think you’re entitled to buy whatever laptop you want, but I think it’s kind of silly to be comparing the 12” PB to the Z1, let alone call the Z1 a “PB killer”.

    If you were willing to spend $600 more on the laptop why didn’t you just get the 15” TiBook? No heat, no fuss, no muss. I have a 12”, and I got it for the size and cost.

    It’s one thing if you decide you don’t like using the MacOS, but I think if you want to be fair you should compare the 12” PB to an equally matched WinTel thin-and-light subnotebook (which is what it is).

  4. I have to say that everything said in this article is true. Though I have been using Macs since OS X. (I was primarily a Linux user before)

    I was attracted to Macs after not using them for years by the Unix based OS X and that definetly doesn’t disapoint. What does is: The Hardware!

    And believe me it isn’t limited to notebooks, my 17″ widescreen iMac has problems with the lcd screen, everything from dead pixels, to one side getting really hot (the other is normal) and the actual image being moved of to the left side.

    Even worse is my PowerMac Dual 1 ghz which when working can only be described as a leaf blower…LOUD! But even more disapointing is the “fixed” newer PowerMac Dual 1.25, that was bought after the “revision”. Apple promised that all the sound issues are resolved-that is not true, sure its somewhat quieter, but still unacceptable compared to my old dual 533 powermac.

    Apple definetly has let quality control slip in the last year or two. NOT GOOD- especially when it is critical for apple to sell quality computers now, when it is keen on switching people.

  5. And I thought no one would leave comments.

    To all of you, thanks for the feedback!

    To Jack: I compared the Z1A to the 12″ because they are on par with each other, feature to feature. The 15″ in it’s current Ti form didn’t appeal to me because it’s “older” technology and 5.5 pounds; a Al version of the 15″ would be great, but it’s just a “hope” right now. Also, after I got all of the “extras” for the 12″ model, I ended up only spending an extra $150 if you leave out the AppleCare; $50 less if you include it.

    The Z1A is nearly the same form factor and is definately the same weight. It’s got more RAM, more HD room, high resolution settings, and screen size. It’s got a slower 802.11 speed, when you add in the extra AirPort card to the PowerBook. And if you notice in the review, I only compare things that matter, like RAM and HD – the cycle speed of 1.3GHz and 0.867GHz or the benefits of OS-X or XP means nothing between the models.

    Anyway, I liked OS-X; it’s the PowerBook 12″ that I didn’t like. If it was a better machine, I would have stayed with it.

    Thanks again for all the comments!

  6. I just got my z1a and I love it. I had a problem with the Intel wireless chipset working with my Netgear MR314 Wireless Router but I upgraded the firmware and DLed the new Intel driver from Sony’s site and I’m up and running. Man, the guys at Sony are always a little behind when it comes to supporting new products. They never have any of the new stuff in their tech support offices to help troubleshoot. I asked just the other day if they had a Z1a in their facility and the tech told me that it was “too new” and they had not received one yet. This makes it hard to communicate with the Sony techs regarding an issue on a Z1a. I hope Sony will start sending “support units” to their facilities otherwise the less tech-saavy might find and vendor who does.

  7. Z1 and other Sony Laptop has one of the worst Bluetooth driver available. Does not recognize ActiveSync for PPC, and others such as Headset profiles. In fact, it doesn’t even work with Sony Ericsson’s Bluetooth Headset.

    These problem is strictly on the Sony, because the same hardwares work on Dell, IBM, … The Bluetooth ActiveSync will work only if use an external USB Bluetooth Dongle from another manufacturer.

    Sheeeeessssssh, you guys like this machine??? Well, I do but hated the BlueSpace software

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