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Toshiba Portégé R600 review

Verdict

A super-light laptop with great battery life, but the screen is both its stand-out feature and - for some - its Achilles heel.

Review Date: 26 Nov 2008

Reviewed By: Tim Danton

Price when reviewed: £1,115 (£1,282 inc VAT)

Overall Rating
5 stars out of 6

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 US9400 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. That's not quite up there with the obvious alternative, the Sony VGN-Z21, which managed 9hrs 32mins under light use, but it's almost enough for a cross-Atlantic trip.

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, 1,280 x 800 screen was easy to see without any backlight on. All but the most basic version of the R600, the R600-10Q, includes a built-in 3G modem as well, and unlike some laptop vendors Toshiba doesn't try to tie you in with one network operator: just slide a SIM into the slot that hides behind the battery, and you can browse the internet at HSDPA speeds wherever you are.

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 R600-101. If you want a solid-state disk, you'll need to opt for the R600-108 or R600-109, which include a 128GB SSD and cost an extra £500 and £600 exc VAT respectively. The difference between the two is that the 109 includes a DVD writer and weighs 1.1kg, the 108 doesn't and weighs 773g.

Not that the R600-101 is heavy. It weighed 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. Although the R600 actually boasts a magnesium alloy chassis, 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.

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