Picked a new laptop!
So after writing about the new laptop choices I was considering, I decided yesterday afternoon to drive around and look at which laptop models were available at local computer/electronics stores. Best Buy and Circuit City didn’t have anything of interest to me. They seem to stock only mid-size or large laptops, and they’re largely outdated models with very few choices available in terms of variation within a model.
I did get to look at the Dell M1330 at Best Buy, but I’ve seen those around work, so holding and typing on that is something I’d already gotten to do. Now, I tend to be a slightly impulsive buyer, and if they’d have a well-spec’d model I may have purchased it. Instead I left. I looked at Lenovo’s website to see if any retailers carried their machines. They only one with any local stores that I could find was Office Depot, and from their website it looks like they don’t stock any of the interesting models. Not terribly surprising, but unfortunate.
Then I remembered Fry’s, the west coast technology haven just a few miles south on 405. Their website said they had the Sony TZ, the itty bitty 11″ screen model with a slow ULV processor. What the heck, I figured, I had some spare time and might as well go see what the thing looks like in-person.
Well, I walked around their laptop selection which is largely similar to Best Buy’s, though a bit larger (unfortunately no Dells, though). I didn’t see the TZ in the spot I remembered passing by it a few weeks ago, and I couldn’t find it anywhere else. But on one of the corners I saw something their website hadn’t listed, something which had just arrived very recently.
It was a Sony Z series. Much like the one pictured below, and much like the one I’m typing on now =)
I liked it immediately. I do wish the very back of it were a little thinner. It certainly is no Macbook Air, and in fact the shape is a lot like the XPS M1330 (wedge-shaped and thinner than my old Macbook at the front, but thicker at the back). However, it is very light, about 3.4 lbs – almost as light as the Air. And it’s small. It has a 13.1″ screen at 16:9, giving it a noticeably smaller footprint than the usual 13.3″ 16:10 laptops like the XPS. And it’s pretty nice looking too. Not quite as clean as the Mac offerings, but very nice. And the LED screen is razor thin.
In addition to liking the laptop in person, I also liked what I had read about its battery life, something Sony seems to generally accel at, and something which the Air and other super thin laptops seem to sacrifice quite a bit on. More than that, it offers great battery life and it’s a powerhouse. That’s why it needs to be a bit thicker than some of the other options I considered, but I decided it was worth the small trade-off.
The model I picked up has a 2.4Ghz CPU and 3GB of memory, and a 250GB hard drive. It has two video adapters… the on-chip Intel X4500HD, and an Nvidia 9300 discrete GPU with 128MB of memory. The idea behind enabling both options is that the X4500 chip provides better battery life, while the 9300 offers a better gaming / 3D experience. There’s a switch above the function keys that slides between a “stamina” and a “speed” setting. Among other things, it switches the active video adapter. It wasn’t really something that sold me on the machine, but it is pretty damn sweet.
In my impatience, I sacrificed some of the options I could have tweaked if I’d ordered online. They are:
1) 4GB of memory instead of 3GB
2) A 7200RPM 200GB hard drive instead of the 250GB 5400RPM drive
3) A higher resolution screen (1600×900 instead of 1366×768)
I would have paid a little bit more for those options, and I would have to wait a couple weeks to actually get it. The 7200RPM drive is a tough choice. The 5400RPM drive is slower, but a bit larger and I believe less likely to drain my battery. The RAM isn’t much of an issue. 3GB is plenty for what I do on my laptop, and I can easily upgrade it on my own.
SSD wasn’t really an option given how much Sony charges for it. I would have been very close to if not into the $3000 territory with just a measily 64GB drive. They do offer a 128GB option, which is actually two 64GB ultra-performance SSDs in RAID 0. Those for whom money is not a factor must really enjoy that option.
The real kicker though is the screen. Looking at it in the store it seemed like this screen was a fine choice. And truthfully it is a great screen. But more resolution is always nice, especially in the vertical dimension which is where this screen feels the most cramped.
Before I agreed to buy it I asked about the return policy at Fry’s. The woman selling it to me told me I had 15 days to bring it back. She also said there is usually at 15% restocking fee, but that if I brought it back within the 15 day period they would not charge me that fee. I accepted that this assurance included the risk that she’d either pretend later that she didn’t tell me this, or that she didn’t really have the authority to make such a promise. But at least I had some leverage in the matter now, and I can be pretty stubborn about such things, so I decided to bring it home to try it out.
In the interest of keeping this post from going on forever, I’ll save the rest of my impressions for another day. Perhaps by then I’ll have come to a decision about keeping this guy. So far I am leaning in that direction.