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By Mike Joubert 7 December 2009

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Sony’s VAIO notebook range has always had an air of sophistication about it. Ditto for the extra bucks on the price tag. One of their latest ultra-portable notebooks, the VAIO VGN-Z56GG, is no exception.

Looks

As always Sony can’t be faulted for their design. The VAIO comes with an Apple-like isolated keyboard, with the keys separated by brushed aluminium. It looks gorgeous and is a pleasure to type on. Sony opted to include two dedicated programmable buttons (more on that later), a Stamina-Speed switch (also) and a DVD eject button which we found quite handy since you don’t need to hunt for the eject button on the side. The trackpad was large enough, although it didn\'t include gesture controls as seen on some of the new Samsungs and Acers.

Although the 13.1" screen looks stunning and was marvelous for watching movies with its 16:9 aspect ratio and LED backlight technology (plus really good onboard audio), it does seem very flimsy. The thickness of the screen is a rather thin at +-5mm and can literally be twisted. Whether it\'s able to withstand the hard-knock life of the modern roadwarrior is questionable, although the rest of the body is made of Carbon. The VAIO is not as thin-and-light as Lenovo’s X301 but still a very decent 1.48 kg with a so-so thickness of 33 mm.

What’s inside

As far as specs are concerned Sony really packed in some power. Onboard you\'ll find the powerful Intel Core 2 Duo processor P9700 running at 2.8 GHz , an almost overkill of 6 GB worth of DDR3 RAM and a very decent 320 GB of hard disk space. The Z56GG also carries two graphic processing units- the more powerful but battery intensive NVIDIA GeForce 9300M GS, and the less draining and less powerful Mobile Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 4500MHD. The Sony can switch between the different GPUs using the dedicated Stamina- Speed control, and we experience good battery life on the Stamina setting. You’ll also find two programmable buttons which can be use to launch applications or to change settings via VAIO onboard software. As with most laptops this onboard software is pretty much a hit and miss affair, with the VAIO Gate application a good example. It opens an Apple-like taskbar at the top of the screen, which seems like a good idea, but ends up being a major distraction displaying RSS feeds plus a green light tracking your cursor, with it also getting in the way of closing windows. We removed it as fast we could.

Connectivity

As far as connectivity is concerned Sony included a Wireless LAN up to the powerful 802.11n standard, a FireWire (i.LINK) port, memory card readers, a VGA port and a HDMI port. We would have liked an extra USB port to add to the two Sony included, plus there’s a PC card slot. We liked the little plastic covers on some of the slots, although the keyboard will get dusty since the cover leaves a gap next to it. The machine runs on Windows 7 Professional.

As always Sony puts a premium on its VAIO range, so the R19 999 asked for the VGN-Z56GG doesn\'t come unexpected. Having said that, the Z56GG had very good performance and connectivity options and looks really smart, plus the ability to switch over to a less powerful GPU gave battery life a significant boost.

PROS
Looks cool, lots of RAM, two GPUs for either stamina or performance.
CONS
Screen feels flimsy, not as slim as the rest, would have liked to have see keyboard covered better.
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