The 2012 Sony Vaio Z or Sony Vaio S 13.3... I wouldn't be so dramatic as to call it a Sophie's Choice, but it sure isn't easy. The decision is even more difficult if you're considering the Sony Vaio S 13.3 Premium model we recently covered in our video review. Both the Z and S Premium are powerful 13" ultraportables with full mobile Ivy Bridge CPUs, carbon fiber casings, Sony's "full flat" design, and better than average displays.
If the 0.90" Vaio S is full flat, the Vaio Z is crazy flat at just 0.66" and 2.5 pounds. The Z makes pretty much every other notebook on the planet seem overweight. Yet it packs your choice of a full mobile 2.5GHz Core i5 dual core or a quad core i7 CPU with 8 gigs of RAM and very fast SSD drives in a RAID 0 configuration. It's faster than most notebooks on the market, no matter how large. It's a stunning piece to look at, and it's a status symbol. It starts at $1,599 and our review unit with the 2.1GHz quad core i7 and a 256 gig SSD sells for $1,999. It relies on Intel HD 4000 graphics, and if you want a mid-range dedicated GPU, you'll have to add on Sony's Portable Media Dock for $400 (yes, the dedicated GPU is external).
The Sony Vaio S 13.3 Premium is pretty upscale too, with an elegant look, superb specs and a $1,119 starting price tag. It packs an almost unreasonable amount of technology into a 3.69 lb. laptop: 2.5GHz and 2.6GHz Intel Core i5 CPUs (there's a dual core i7 option too), switchable Intel HD 4000/ 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT640M LE graphics, a DVD burner (Blu-ray optional) and a full set of ports. It's everything you'd want from a capable 15.6" notebook crammed into 13.3". Both machines prove that Sony's back to making excellent machines again.
The Sony Vaio Z has a 13.1" 1920 x 1080 display with 96% Adobe RGB gamut coverage (few display offer this wide a color gamut). It has an anti-glare coating that's shinier than the Vaio S 13A's 1600 x 900 matte display, but isn't what I'd call annoyingly reflective. Though it's a TN panel and lacks the wide viewing angles of IPS displays, it's a rare gem of color saturation and accuracy. It's extremely sharp too, which helps make text readable at such a high resolution. The superb panel shows us that you do get what you pay for.
The Sony Vaio S 13.3's premium display is no slouch. At 1600 x 900 with a matte surface and very good color saturation, it's better than most notebook panels on the market. That said, it lacks the extreme color gamut of the Vaio Z 1080p display and images look a bit cooler with fewer of those warm and natural highlights that turn photos and video into magic. The TN panel's viewing angles aren't as wide as the Vaio Z's.
In the end the decision comes down to this: do you want the lightest and fastest laptop on the planet? Do you want an elegant design that will turn heads? That's the Sony Vaio Z. Or do you want the Swiss Army knife of ultraportables that has all the creature comforts of a much larger notebook yet weighs just 3.7 lbs? That's the Vaio S 13.3.
Then there's price: the Vaio Z starts at $1,599 and the model you really want is the $1,999 core i7 quad core with a more livable 256 gigs of solid state storage. The Vaio S 13.3 starts at $799 (no carbon fiber casing and no dedicated graphics). That said, if you go with the premium model and heap on some more expensive options like an SSD drive and 12 gigs of RAM and you've entered the Vaio Z's starting price range.
Lastly, the Vaio S is easy to upgrade: take off the bottom cover and you have access to the RAM slot, HDD and wireless card as well as the battery. The Vaio Z uses Sony proprietary RAM and SSD drives and they're not easily accessible. Only the battery is accessible once you unscrew the bottom cover.
Here's our Sony Vaio Z vs. Sony Vaio S 13.3 comparison smackdown video: