Toshiba Portégé R700 13in notebook
One-time MacBook Air alternative gets chubby in middle age
Review Toshiba first introduced its then ultra-lightweight Portégé R500  in 2008 just before Apple unwrapped the MacBook Air.
Toshiba's Portégé R700: getting more chubby as the series ages
The R500 didn't generate the same media frenzy that the skinny Mac laptop did, but in many ways it was the better machine. It had a smaller, 12.1in screen - the Air's was 13.3in - but came with Ethernet, an optical drive, a PC Card slot, a memory card slot, VGA, Firewire and three USB ports.
The Air could only manage a single USB port and a proprietary mini DVI connector at that time.
But it was tougher. Clad in aluminium, the Air could withstand drops that would have shattered the more delicate R500.
Toshiba may not have got the headlines that the Air did, but that didn't stop it evolving its slimline alternative, following it with last year's R600  - out went Firewire and the PC Card slot, in came ExpressCard 54 - and now the R700, which adds HDMI and eSata to the mix.
From the ultra-mobile to the mainstream
Superficially, it's the same machine just upgraded with a black shell rather than a silver one, more memory, a faster CPU and a bigger hard drive. In fact, the R700 is an altogether chubbier machine, as if, on reaching middle age, the once youthful R500 has put on a few pounds.
Putting on a few pounds
The 12.1in, 1280 x 800 16:10 screen has made way for a 13.3in, 1366 x 768 16:9 job which has necessitated a wider chassis that takes the machine out of the sub-notebook category. It's also thicker. The R500 and R600 were less than 20mm thick - now it's 26mm, more if you include the feet. Six millimetres may not seem much, but the R700 certainly feels a lot larger than its predecessors.
Not a bad keyboard
As I say, the R700 has gained an HDMI port, and one of its three USB connectors doubles-up as an eSata port, but its the introduction of Intel's Core i series of CPUs that has really mandated the bigger case, needed to accommodate the cooling that wasn't necessary for the ultra-low voltage CPUs used in previous R-series machines.
The model I tested, the R700-155, comes with the 2.66GHz Core i7-620M , but the 24-member range comprises mostly Core i3 and i5 models. A third - this one included - have 4GB of 1066MHz DDR 3, the rest have 2GB. Storage runs to 320GB of hard drive space, or a 128GB SSD, which is what you'll find in the R700-155.
All of them use the graphics core integrated into the CPU, and include 2.4/5GHz 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.1. They're pre-installed with Windows 7 Professional, but it's only 32-bit, a bonkers choice in this day and age.
Better built than before?
I mentioned the larger screen, and some of you will be pleased to know it has a matte finish across the range. Both the R500 and R600 suffered from an incredibly bendy lid, a result of Toshiba's desire to get the machines' thickness down. Not so the R700. Its lid is thin, but more rigid than before, though it clicks worryingly when you squeeze the upper bezel.
Not only extra cooling, but the addition of eSata and HDMI have bulked out the R700
That said, one of the chrome-look hinge caps was loose. Now that may be the result of a less-than-careful previous reviewer, but it doesn't bode well for the resilience of that part of the laptop.
Toshiba hasn't ignored dockers
The keyboard is of the calculator variety, but there's little flex and it's fine to type on. The trackpad is of a reasonable size, with two separate buttons and a fingerprint reader between them.
Still packs in ExpressCard bay, memory card slot and an optical drive
The bigger bulk has done nothing for the R700's weight. The model I tested weighed 1.4kg, but the optical-less versions come it 1.3kg. Either would have been impressive in 2008, but not now - doubly so when you consider that the SSD-equipped R500 weighed just under a kilo.
PCMark Vantage Test
Longer bars are better
Longer bars are better
PCMark Vantage Loop Battery Test
Time in Minutes
Longer bars are better
Performance, at least, has gone in the right direction, the R700 managing 1080p video without a hitch and putting in a 3DMark 06 score of 1915 - more than three times the R600's 612. But it's still well below any laptop with discrete graphics.
It's PCMark Vantage numbers put it well above the 13-17in notebook class average, thanks to its speedy SSD and the horsepower of the two-core, four-thread Core i7.
The R700's lid is more rigid than its predecessors'
But the CPU brings its own issues: more aggressive cooling, which has not only helped bulk out the R700 but also involves a very noisy fan. And the R700's thin, lightweight chassis doesn't muffle the sound the way another laptop would.
The R700-155 is pricey - £1691 inc VAT - but it then it does include a 128GB SSD, the Core i7 and a HSDPA 3G modem. The cheapest R700 comes in at £739, for a 2.26GHz Core i3-350M, 320GB HDD and no optical drive. If you want the DVD writer, you're looking at an extra £176 - you can get an occasional use external unit for a lot less than that. Pay £1056 and you'll get one anyway - and a 2.4GHz Core i5-520M - or the i3 plus 3G.
The slimline Portégé R-series sub-notebook of old has grown into a mainstream laptop. It's lost its raison d'être on the way. What was once an impressively small, light yet feature-packed machine is now just another 13.3in machine. ®
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