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Sony's New Z Series Laptops Offer Lightweight Power

At about half-an-inch thick, they come with a portable external docking station loaded with added memory and processing capabilities.

Sony VAIO Z Series

No business mobile device does everything, but here's one that tries: the Sony VAIO Z Series.

Finding the right mobile tool for your business can be a balancing act. Smartphones and tablets are portable, but they're limited when it comes to the software they run and the processing power they offer. And while the new wave of lightweight business-class laptop computers can run almost any application, they can't match, say, an iPad for its toss-it-in-the-bag and go factor.

Electronics giant Sony's latest model in its VAIO Z Series of ultra-portable laptops (starting at $1,999) seeks to be the ultimate do-anything portable business device. It combines powerful processors, memory and connection options with a surprisingly small form factor, measuring in at slightly more than half-an-inch thick.

We've been trying out a new Z for several weeks to get a feel for the ins and outs of using one in a small business. While the Z are not low-priced -- a fitted-out model can run close to $2,500 -- these ultra-light laptops offers a ton of business functionality.

What is it: This latest in the Sony VAIO Z Series of laptops is billed as the lightest 13-inch laptop on the market. At just over two-and-a-half pounds, it is slightly less than a half-pound lighter than the 13-inch MacBook Air.

Our test unit was equipped with a powerful 2.30GHz processor, which can be upgraded. But the notable feature about this incarnation of the Z Series is that it comes with a stand-alone external docking station that contains an additional graphics processing unit, 1GB of video memory and an optical drive for burning and playing CDs and DVDs.

Related: Turn Any Laptop Into a Multimedia Masterpiece

Additionally, the device lets you switch between the basic graphics available on the laptop and using the docking station's more powerful graphics card which can run visually intensive programs like video editing software and high-definition presentations.

The Z includes a battery that holds a charge for about eight hours. But for $150 you can purchase an extended battery that attaches to the standard battery, under the laptop, that is said to be able to increase the charge up to 16 hours.

What you might like: In a word: Flexibility. If you're a dedicated road warrior, the Z Series delivers desktop-like power in an ultra-portable package. With its quick processing speed and portable media dock, the Z Series for some functions can out-perform its lightweight competitors like the MacBook Air or the Lenovo ThinkPad. If you have a full-size monitor and keyboard at the office to connect to, this PC could easily be the only computer you need.

Related: Long Live Your Laptop Battery

On the road you'll appreciate the hookup options available when combined with the media dock. The Z Series can connect to multiple external monitors for viewing and support two high-definition video multimedia interface (HDMI) connectors. It supports multiple USB ports, slots for SD and memory-stick storage devices, a headphone and microphone socket and several Ethernet jacks.

Another bonus is its construction and engineering. The Z Series is made from a distinctive carbon-fiber skin laid over a single-piece aluminum case. The resulting enclosure is durable, yet physically flexible. Though not specifically rated to be dropped, we felt the laptop would certainly stand up to the dents and dings of life on the road.

What you might not like: The price. For some, it may be difficult to justify spending more than $2,000 on a laptop. And for all its power, the Z Series has the same small laptop drawbacks, including a relatively cramped and uncomfortable keyboard.

Related: Netbook or Laptop?

The media dock is useful, but our experience with these external units is they can work well for people who are organized enough to remember to carry one. The average user might have a tough time committing to keeping all the parts of a multiple-piece device handy.

Bottom line: If you're in the lucky position to spare no expense, the Z Series will reward you both on the road and at the office. If your business spends a lot of time dealing with rich media such as marketing photos or video, you'll find the Z more than suitable with its exceptional processing and multiple jacks and ports.

For the budget-conscious user who isn't desperate for such computing power or connectivity, this unit can feel cluttered with unnecessary features and overpriced.

Jonathan Blum is a freelance writer and the principal of Blumsday LLC, a Web-based content company specializing in technology news.
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