Toshiba Portégé R500 slimline laptop
Not as sleek as the Air, but packs more features
Review Take this boy out of the box and the first thing you’re going to say — we guarantee it — is “strewth, that’s light”. We did. After years of carrying around small notebooks that were still big in weight, picking up this featherlight laptop was a real surprise.
OK, something as small as, say, the Asus Eee you expect not to weigh much, but a full-size machine? No way. Yet the R500 is a 12.1 in laptop with all the features you’d expect from any standard laptop, including a optical drive, built in and ready to use. Stitch that, MacBook Air…
Toshiba’s R500: light
The R500 is certainly a well-connected machine. There’s a Gigabit Ethernet port on the right side of the machine next to one of the laptop’s three USB ports — the other two are on the left side, where you’ll also find a four-pin Firewire connector, mic and headphone sockets, and a VGA port. Turn back to the right of machine if you want to use its SD card slot, DVD writer and, tucked underneath, the PC Card slot.
You’ll also find a switch on the right side for the R500’s wireless links: it has 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi — it’s a Centrino-branded laptop, so the wireless chippery is Intel’s — and Bluetooth on board.
The back of the R500 is pretty much all battery and it’s the R500’s thickest part. From there it slants gently to the front, where it finally curves quickly to a point. The contour’s symmetry is spoiled only by a bulge at the front, over on the left-hand side, that’s necessitated by some component that otherwise wouldn’t have fitted. The hard drive, probably.
The wrist-rest area is also home to the R500’s built-in microphone — it’s over to the far left, right where your wrist is likely to be if you’re typing and talking at the same time — and the touchpad with its chrome-effect selection buttons and, between them, fingerprint reader. Shining through the chrome: an array of coloured icons for power, wireless status and so on.
@ Nick Fisher
"I agree with Paul - if it doesn't run OS X it's of no use to me. Windows is an irrelevance as far as I'm concerned."
Then why the hell are you reading and posting comments on a review of a Windows laptop?
Instead of wasting your precious time here shouldn't you be building a website for your cat? (Or something equally Apple-like?)
...is exactly what I've been doing with my r500 (SSD model, no optical drive) since I received it last September. The casing may be cheap plastic, and it may feel fragile, but this is a fairly tough (not rugged!) laptop. The light weight and the flex of the casing provide more than adequate protection against the daily dropping/throwing/banging around that laptops endure.
I've been very pleased with the r500. The performance is good (running Debian with a custom 2.6.24 kernel). The bleed from the LCD backlight is annoying at first, but I no longer notice -- and if it is the price of the transreflective display, which has allowed me to use the laptop comfortably on planes with direct sunlight onto the screen, then I'm more than willing to overlook it. Then of course there is the weight: this is a bring-anywhere, always-on-you laptop.
Comparison with the Air: I had been looking forward to the Air, and was extremely disappointed by it (far more than my usual disappointment that the latest Apple laptop stubbornly lacks a second mouse button). The Air is twice as heavy, has a cripplingly small number of ports (a couple of my USB drives require two ports to supply adequate power), and (the real deal-breaker) has no ethernet. The world in which the Apple fanbase lives may have wireless available everywhere, but the world in which I do business does not. The IT staff of many of my clients cannot even grasp the need for DHCP, let alone wifi.
We have one here that was a replacement for a stolen unit, sure it's light but it's not well made at all - the review makes reference to the hinge, on our unit you cannot open the screen without the laptop tipping up on it's feet, this is fixed by the docking station mind.
However, for me the biggest issue is the performance of it, i know it has a ULV processor in it, but seriously it should be an ultra low performance, if you open Outlook, IE and a couple of a Excel spreadsheets you can comfortably make a coffee for the entire office in the time it takes to switch between apps.... it's great for an ultra mobile unit if you only work on one or two smallish things at once, once you try and multi task, forget it.
If i were after a small unit the Sony Vaio ones are an improvement, but likewise i'm very impressed with the spec of the Air, it's processor is a genuine performance processor, capable of running many tasks - combine that with a relatively bloatware free OS and i can see why the Air would be the machine of choice.... the only irritant i have with the Air's spec is the ethernet port, but hey it's aimed at wireless users and you'll get a quicker speed from an 802.11n network than the USB attached NIC, so for the money buy the wireless router and be done.... as for the optical drive in the last 6 months the only time i've used mine was to copy CD's to iTunes - hardly a reason to have a drive permanently attached!
If i were buying an ultraportable, i wouldn't get another R500.... personally i'd get an Air, but most of the staff in my office can't use OS X so i'd need to look elsewhere, and that i would, probably at the Sony mentioned above.
VAIO TZ-11 anyone?
I took delivery of a R500 not so long ago, and was mortified by the poor build quality. The plastic is extremely thin and the machine gets VERY hot under load, especially under the left palm rest. The keyboard felt especially weak and the mouse buttons were ridiculously unresponsive. It also has by far the worst screen on a notebook in a long time. The backlighting was very uneven with highly noticeable bleed-through along the left and bottom edges, which made full-screen video viewing pretty nasty. Needless to say I sent it right back. How this machine achieved 85% in a review is anyone's guess, especially considering the price tag.
I got a Sony VAIO TZ-11 straight after that and never looked back. It may be a 100g or so "heavier" but at the same price (for the MN model) it's substantially better made and is much much nicer to use - not to mention sturdier!
the best ultraportable
I think the best option, if you can, is to have a Mac and a Windows machine. Two weeks ago I replaced my HP tx1270 with exactly this model, the R500-11Z, and I think this is definitely the best Windows ultraportable available at the moment. Less than 1 kg and no defects. Well, actually the headphone jack doesn't work, but I plan to get it fixed. Cheers,