Review: Sony Vaio TZ keyboard

Vaio_tz_kb One of the most striking design elements of the carbon-bodied Sony Vaio TZ image 2592750 10396361 - for some reason we don't have an alt tag here ultraportable notebook is its keyboard. Although often described as being MacBook-like, the shallow and generously spaced keys can actually be traced back to the Vaio X505 series from 2003.

With a 17mm pitch (distance between keys) and 1.7mm stroke (distance a key moves when pressed), the TZ’s 82-key keyboard is 90% the size of a standard keyboard.

Does that missing 10% make a difference in typing speed, usability, or comfort? Read on to find out.

Design

Tz_keyboard_side

Anyone unfamiliar with the Vaio X505 or the Apple MacBook will likely be intrigued by the look of the TZ’s keyboard, most notably the individual keys that peek out like step-stones in a darkened pool of water.

Tz_keyboard_height

The matte black keys against the glossy black is arresting, but only if kept impeccably clean and dust-free. You know all that dust and debris and who-knows-what-else that hides between the cracks of standard keyboards and falls like snowflakes when you flip the keyboard over? It’s all still there . . . and incredibly visible. There’s a reason people with dandruff don’t wear black shirts.

I clean the TZ keyboard almost daily with a can of compressed air and a soft cloth. If you’ve ever wondered just how much natural oil your fingertips produce, spend a day typing and then tip the unit toward the light. It’s appalling.

Hunt-and-peck typists may have a problem with the somewhat low keyboard contrast, as the lettering is more cream colored than bright white. This makes the keys difficult to see in low-light conditions. Higher contrast (or backlit keys!) would have addressed the issue, but it may have been to the slight detriment of the design.

Size

Here’s a picture of the TZ keyboard next to a portable Bluetooth keyboard, a full-size desktop wireless keyboard, and the HTC Advantage‘s magnetic thumboard.

Tz_size_comp

The left sides of the main keyboards are aligned so the actual typing area can be compared without taking into the account the size of the housing.

Typing Speed

Out of the box, and as mentioned in my first impressions post, the shallow keys and generally narrower keyboard had me typing at 91% of my normal typing speed.

Vaio_tz_keypress

The key stroke (or travel) is only 1.7mm, which is about 57% the stroke of a full-size keyboard. This difference makes the initial typing experience feel a bit incomplete, as your fingers naturally expect the keys to press down a bit more than they do.

Vaio_tz_typingtest

The tactile feedback is so great, though, that it wasn’t long before I could actually type faster than my average speed of about 86 words per minute. The results shown above (from TypingTest.com) are not an accurate reflection of my normal typing rate, as I was concentrating solely on speed for the test, but it’s safe to say that the TZ’s smaller keyboard and shallow keys do not negatively affect my typing.

Usability

Tz_keyboard_layout

The TZ keyboard’s layout is fairly standard with six rows (two dedicated to number and function keys); the most noticeable departure is the lowered position of the arrow keys.

Vaio_tz_kb_view1

Although a bit odd-looking, the placement of these keys takes very little getting used to and is actually quite comfortable for scrolling down websites and long documents. The right side and bottom of the trackpad can also be used for scrolling, but the gestures are unnatural and awkward for me.

Vaio_tz_kb_view2

Vaio_tz_kb_view3

Everything else in terms of layout is nothing out of the ordinary, so there’s no retraining of the brain necessary to make full use of it.

Comfort

Since the TZ keyboard is not full-size, some may consider it to be a bit cramped. I can see people with exceptionally large hands having this experience, but most others should be in the clear.

I spend 8 to 10 hours per day using the TZ on my lap and have never once had fatigued fingers, hands, wrists, or forearms. And my hands aren’t tiny.

Conclusion

At the beginning of this review, I asked whether the TZ keyboard’s size made a difference in typing speed, usability, or comfort. Although some may have trouble getting used to the shallow keys and low contrast, for me, the answer is a resounding no. The keyboard’s design is appealing (except for the dust issue) and typing on it is exceptionally quiet, natural, and comfortable.

Add that to a lightweight carbon-fiber casing, stunning 11.1-inch display, long battery life, and snappy performance, and it’s easy to see why the Vaio TZ series was the right choice for me. I’m confident that it could be for you, too.

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Jenn K. Lee

Jenn K. Lee is the founder of Pocketables. She loves gadgets the way most women love shoes and purses. The pieces in her tech wardrobe that go with everything are currently the Samsung Galaxy Note II, Sony Tablet P, and Nexus 7, but there are still a couple of vintage UMPCs/MIDs in the back of her closet.

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