Toshiba Port

Toshiba’s new Portégé R700 surprised me with its mature styling, serious muscle, and ridiculously light heft. This is a true ultraportable but still quite powerful – heck, Toshiba somehow even fit an optical drive on it! There were a few unpleasant surprises as well, which made the whopping US$1,599 price tag less appealing.

The R700 does really offer a lot of machine in a small, light package. Fitted into the 13.3- inch laptop are 3 USB plugs (one a USB/eSATA combo), headphone/microphone jacks, an HDMI plug and a VGA plug, an Ethernet port, a memory stick port, an optical drive, a 128GB solid-state drive, a Core i7 620M running at 2.67 GHz, and 4 gigs of RAM — all somehow all tucked into a 12.44×8.94x.66-inch frame weighing 3.2 pounds (the rear of the unit fattens out to just over one inch). That’s power to spare for most road warriors, reflected in an excellent WorldBench 6 score of 128. Match that to a almost 6 hours of battery life, and you’ve got the makings for a pretty awesome ultraportable laptop.

The screen is a decent LED-backlit matte LCD, filling out a 1366×768 resolution easily enough. Colors were good, but the R700 struggles to fill large black areas in video. The Intel HD integrated graphics solution is plenty to play modest video, even playing through the HDMI port without issue. Horizontal viewing angles are excellent, although vertical viewing angles most certainly aren’t. The audio can’t fill a room; the speakers get a bit shrill at high volume, and there’s no bass to speak of. Rely on the headphone jack, instead. There’s no reason to go blasting your jams to the entire plane anyways.

The R700’s layout is solid, with the clean black metal of the lid complimented by a clean black plastic look for the interior. Silver stands are the “Toshiba” emblazoned on the lid itself, and the two hinges. Almost everything feels very sturdy, with remarkably little flex to the keys themselves. The display lid, on the other hand, is a bit too thin and flexible.

I’m a big fan of the gigantic touchpad and two distinct, separate buttons on the R700. It can result in some accidental touchpad responses, but none of them impacted my work flow. And Toshiba’s resident ergonomics guy must have caught the issue anyways, because there’s a handy little button just between the keyboard and the touchpad; tap it to deactivate the touchpad all together (or turn it back on). I’m not quite as sweet on the finger-reader positioned between the two touchpad buttons, but it wasn’t a real issue.

The real issues were threefold: the keyboard, the heat, and the fan noise, with the keyboard firmly in the lead. Keys are chiclet style, but incredibly far apart and mushy to the touch. The whole experience of typing on the R700 is unpleasant; it didn’t cost me accuracy, but it felt awful. Also, the powerful technology packed in the small space seems to get quite a bit of heat going, as evidenced by loud fan noises and extreme heat output along the left edge and bottom of the machine. For me, the issues were all uncomfortable, but not deal breakers.

The R700 is a fantastic machine for a specific niche: the road warriors and road warrior wannabes who need a bunch of power and to keep their bags as light as humanly possible. It fulfills that role with aplomb; I’m actually willing to forgive the heat, the fan noise, and the mediocre keyboard in exchange for a powerful machine. If you want to change the specific components, Toshiba still makes it very easy to customize your machine when you order from them (I’d drop the solid state drive for a bit more storage on a traditional drive, for example). What do you know – sometimes surprises can be nice.

PC World (US)

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