Toshiba HQ probably looked on a little bemused when the MacBook Air was announced. A slim silver lightweight laptop, you say? But one that weighs more than 1.4kg, doesn’t include an optical drive and has a battery life of five hours? With the Portégé R500, Toshiba could whip Apple on every one of those points, and the R600 – updated with a new processor, higher spec and tweaked chassis – continues where it left off.
In fact, it’s understating things to say new processor. A Centrino vPro 2 sticker sits proudly atop this machine, a sign of Intel’s latest campaign to bring vPro to laptops. Larger businesses may well have already invested in the technology, but there are good reasons for SMBs to investigate it, too – one key benefit being its ability to establish a secure connection to the laptop even when it’s on the wrong side of the firewall.
On a day-to-day basis, though, users will be more interested in speed. Toshiba does its best to help, pairing the 1.4GHz Core 2 Duo SU9400 processor with 3GB of RAM, and its score of 0.72 shows it can handle office applications with ease.
Users should be pleased with the battery life. Under our light-use test, the R600 kept going for 6hrs 30mins, and when we pushed it at full-pelt it managed a similarly impressive 3hrs 8mins, which is almost enough for a trip across the continent.
The R600’s big advantage is you can easily use it outside, courtesy of transflective screen technology. Even on a bright, sunny day, the Portégé’s 12.1in, 1280 x 800 screen was easy to see without any backlight on.
WLAN is as good as it can get: 802.11abg plus draft-n. There’s Bluetooth as well, but you’re more likely to use one of the three USB ports sprinkled on the left- and right-side of the chassis. In fact, one of those USB ports isn’t all it seems: it doubles up as an eSATA connector.
There could be plenty of data to transfer, with a 200GB disk in place with our review unit, the PPR61A-00300R. If you want a solid-state disk, you’ll need to opt for the PPR61A-00400R, which includes a 128GB SSD and costs an extra $1000. It still includes a DVD writer and weighs 1.1kg.
Not that the PPR61A-00300R is heavy. It weighs 1.16kg despite including a DVD writer of its own, and it’s also incredibly slim: 25.5mm at the rear, 19.5mm at the front. In fact, this is the only specification where the MacBook Air does beat it, as the Apple offering is 19mm thick at its porkiest.
The MacBook also feels sturdier than the R600. There’s no machined aluminium here, just silver plastic. This means the chassis bends when you prod it, and the screen flexes tremendously. That said, a flexible lid doesn’t mean the screen isn’t protected: since it’s able to bend so well, there’s arguably just as good a chance the screen won’t break as it would behind a metallic lid, and Toshiba shows its confidence by giving a three-year international warranty.
Another nice inclusion for the accident prone is a spill-proof keyboard. We’re fans of that keyboard, too. This may be an ultraportable laptop, but Toshiba uses the chassis’ entire width to ensure the keys are large and there’s minimal awkward function doubling. The trackpad is also well-sized, and notably houses a fingerprint reader below it.
There are a couple of ergonomic disappointments. The screen – due in part to the transflective technology – has poor viewing angles, so needs to be positioned at a precise point for perfect viewing. There’s also no lid catch, so if you sling the R600 into a bag be careful what you put in with it.
So this isn’t the perfect laptop, and as a sheer object of desire it falls short of the MacBook Air. But it’s eminently practical, and its price, integrated 3G modem and low weight all work in its favour. This is a great choice for mobile professionals – especially if they’ll take advantage of that transflective screen.