It’s hard to get excited about a thin-and-light notebook PC when you’ve been carrying them around for more than a decade. However, when Toshiba unveiled the R700, it impressed even a cynical old Portégé and IBM ThinkPad user like me, so I borrowed one. It’s a preproduction sample so I agreed not to review it. However, to sum it up in a phrase, it’s the MacBook Air done right. And with a starting price of £629 plus VAT, it’s more affordable.
One of the drawbacks of thin-and-light notebooks is that they are either slow or tend to overheat. The Portégé R700 is extremely quick and stays cool. Toshiba says it uses Airflow Cooling Technology co-developed with Intel, which allows it to use a 2.26GHz Core i3 (or i5 or i7) processor rather than one of the cooler but slower CULV (Consumer Ultra Low Voltage) chips. It also runs a slow fan all the time, as shown by Toshiba’s handy PC Health Monitor. You’ll hear the fan crank up when the R700 boots or wakes up from sleep mode (which only takes a few seconds), or if you push it hard, but my sample was almost silent in normal use.
The Portégé R700 has 13.3 inch non-reflective LED widescreen screen with a resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels, from 2GB to 8GB of memory running 32-bit Microsoft Windows 7 Professional, and a webcam. It does use Intel Integrated Graphics, but supports HD playback and DX10. For storage, there’s a choice of a 320GB hard drive or a 128GB SSD, and you can also have an optional built-in DVD drive. For security, there’s a fingerprint reader between the two mouse buttons.
The spill-resistant “isolated keyboard” feels a bit plasticky and isn’t very responsive. It’s a disappointment compared to what I remember of the keyboard on the silver Toshiba NB305 netbook, though I have not been able to compare them side by side. Perhaps the keyboard on the final version will feel a bit more robust, but I’m notoriously fussy about keyboards. You might like it.
Unlike the MacBook Air, the Portégé R700 has a good selection of easily-accessible ports, plus Wi-Fi and Bluetooth networking. It has a standard Gigabit Ethernet port, two USB 2.0 ports plus an eSATA/USB combo port, microphone and headphone jacks, a multiformat card reader, VGA and HDMI ports, and a docking connector. Some models have an ExpressCard slot, which can be used to provide 3G or WiMax networking.
Toshiba reckons the 6-cell battery will last for up to 9 hours, but it’s removable, so you can do what I do and carry a spare battery. Even if Toshiba’s claim is optimistic, it should get you from London to San Diego. If you need to do London to Sydney, there’s an add-on 9-cell battery that will last for about 12 hours, giving you 20 hours of computing in one package. You can use the R700 to recharge another device from a USB port even while it’s asleep.
In all, the Portégé R700 packs a lot of features into a package that measures only 316mm x 227mm, with the thickness ranging from 16.8mm (front) to 25.7mm (rear). Weight starts at 1.3kg, which is close to netbook territory and, of course, the MacBook Air.
However, bear in mind that having all the best features adds to the price. The top-of-the-range R700-155 with a 2.66GHz Core i7 processor, DVD Super Multi Drive, 128GB SSD and 3G costs £1,299 plus VAT.
If the R700 is more than you need, Toshiba says it will offer a consumer version, the Satellite R630, in September. This will have a glossy screen, and will skip business-oriented features such as the dock connector. I presume it will ship with Windows 7 Home Premium.