If you’re looking for the extra brawn of business laptop and the portability of a netbook, Toshiba’s R600 Portege is among the best ultra-portables in the market – if you have the money for it.
Look and feel
The first thing you notice about the R600 is the incredible lightness of its sleek and totally nondescript matte silver plastic frame, which is very similar to the older R500. I actually have a couple of binder notebooks that are heavier than this laptop.
With a footprint approximately the size of an A4 sheet of paper, a mere 0.77 inches thick and weighing 2.4 lbs, the R600 is about 500 grams lighter than the MacBook Air which, unlike the Toshiba, doesn’t come with an optical drive or 3g modem.
The overall look of the “titanium silver” body is pretty unremarkable but it works for this machine that appears to emphasize a minimalist attitude. For example, the 12.1 inch screen is pretty small if you’re used to working on full-sized laptops. However with a 1280 x 800 resolution, the screen is crisp, bright and easy to read.
The screen does bend a bit which doesn’t seem too confidence inspiring if you’re planning to pack the R600 for some traveling. The display comes with Toshiba’s trans-reflective feature which enables clear viewing whether indoors or outdoors.
The laptop comes with an English and French spill-resistant full size 86-key keyboard with 13 functions. The keyboard is small and takes some getting used to, but after a few minutes you’ll be very familiar with the keys and controls. Hitting the function key will reveal a graphical overlay that tells you what all the function keys mean.
Don’t let the plastic body’s toy-like feel fool you, the R600 means business.
Fire-up the machine and it boots in mere seconds. Once on though, you could barely hear the hum of the machine. Underneath the thin plastic sheet is an Intel ultra-low voltage Core 2 Duo 1.4 GHz processor with 2GB of RAM and 106GB storage. Other models come with a 3GB of memory, plus a 128GB Flash solid state drive or hard drives ranging from 160GB to 320GB.
For connectivity, there’s 802.11 a/g/draft-N WiFi, Bluetooth, Ethernet and built-in 3G modem which supports wireless broadband up to a 7.2Mbit/s. The unit also has a slot for a SIM to allow 3G network access.
The new Portege has two built-in USB ports, a combined USB/eSATA port, VGA, headphones and microphone jacks and SD card reader, a Webcam, an optical drive and dial volume control. To bad they could cram in a digital video out in the mix.
A connector enables the R600 to dock to a Toshiba Slim Port Replicator II which provides VGA and DVI outputs, four extra USB ports and an Ethernet port connection.
Toshiba loaded this tester with the 32-bit Vista Business OS.
If you want to be a war driver, the Vista gadgets include a WiFi radar called ConfigFree which provides the user information about the strengths of available WiFi access points which you can connect to in the vicinity. The tool also doubles as a Bluetooth detector.
A cool security feature on the R600 is the TrueSuite Access Manager with fingerprint swipe sensor between the left and right touchpad buttons. Enabling the system restricts use and access to the machine to authorized users only.
Pre-installed software on the tester included Office 2007, McAfee SecurityCentre and other utilities like the Toshiba Tempro which monitors the performance and status of the laptop. You can also turn off the screen backlighting to further cut down power consumption.
For the business user on the go, portability and ability to power up and open applications fast are the R600’s key assets.
White this ultra-portable might not be as powerful as full-size models, it was able to perform functions such as word processing, file search, Web surfing and other functions such as PDF file opening while fully engaged peripheral functions such as playing a CD of porting music files from an MP3 device.
When listening to music, skip the single on-board speaker and put on your headphones. The R600’s tiny speakers sound horrible. The built-in Webcam is nothing to shout about either. It takes grainy near black-and-white looking video. But the ability to playback DVD movies or burn CDs and DVDs is a definite plus in a laptop this size.
Toshiba claims the rechargeable 6-cell Lithium Ion battery can power the R600 for up to eight hours. Working while playing music and Web surfing, I was able to eke out four hours from the tester. My recharge time was one hour and 30 minutes.
The R600 with 1.2 GHz Intel SU9300 processor, 2GB memory, 160GB hard drive and Windows Vista Business sells for around $2,399. Models with a SU9400 1.4GHz Intel processor, 2GB memory, similar software and 128 GB SSD, sell for $2,849.
The units come with a three year parts and labour limited international warranty.
Pros: Extremely light, lots of features, energy saving feature, good software and security suite
Cons: No digital video out, mono speaker