Don't let the toy-like appearance of the Toshiba Portege A600 fool you, this fully featured portable laptop is packed full of features.
One might be at first forgiven for confusing Toshiba's Portege A600 with a children's toy. It's tiny, sliver, and all plastic. It's also extremely light; at 1.46kg it's very close to netbook weight, and only a bit bigger.
Unfortunately, we think the design of the A600 is tacky. The all-silver colouring and plastic keys don't give the impression of quality. The plastic, shiny sliver trackpad keys add to this impression, they look like the kind of toy you'd pull out of a chocolate egg. Despite its tacky appearance, the keyboard is comfortable to type on. Between the two track keys is a tiny fingerprint reader.
The A600 all-plastic design makes us wonder about its durability, especially since light notebooks like this tend to get thrown around quite a lot. The screen flexes noticeably when pushed.
One thing which is not tacky is the 12.1-inch matte display. Crisp (60Hz), bright (200-nit) and at a native resolution of 1,280x800 (WXGA), it's a high resolution for its size. On top of the display is the obligatory webcam.
Port options on the A600 are great for a laptop of this size. Toshiba managed to squeeze in two USB ports — and a combined eSATA/USB port — which we love on notebooks. The USB ports are also nice and spaced out, not crammed together, which can make it hard to use devices in both ports.
Along with these Toshiba has managed to cram in an SD card reader, a PCMCIA card slot and an optical drive. The only video output option is VGA, but that's all we'd expect on a notebook of this size.
The A600 comes with a Centrino 2 certified, meaning that you can expect a/b/g/n wireless as standard, better integrated graphics, and power management.
Our system came equipped with an Intel Core 2 Duo SU9400 at 1.4GHz and 2GB of RAM (DDR2 800MHz). The SU9400 is an ultra-low power processor, sitting between the Intel Atom and regular Core 2 Duo CPUs in terms of performance per Watt.
With these specifications, our machine gave a PCMark05 score of 3,048, which means you can expect roughly two thirds of the performance of your average full-sized business notebook — but significantly more performance than a netbook. Our system came with Windows Vista Business (32-bit), but you can get XP SP3 as a pre-installed downgrade.
Storage on our system was provided by a 250GB 5400rpm SATA II drive; not massive, but not bad for a system of this size. The presence of eSATA means you can easily plug in an external disk with no speed issues. The A600 also comes with an accelerometer that parks the HDD head when in motion, but you will want to turn off the warning dialog.
Graphics on our system was provided by the integrated GMA 4500X chipset, part of the Intel GM45 chipset, which is a component of the Centrino 2 platform. Systems with integrated graphics aren't designed for graphics intensive applications, but you should do fine for office work and most rich web applications. Our system gave a 3Dmark06 score of 666.
In order to test battery life, we set screen brightness and volume to full, turned off the power saving features and played back an XviD file. From this taxing battery test, we received a score of three hours, 31 minutes, 21 seconds. A solid score, endearing this portable notebook to us. The battery on the A600 is 5,800mAh.
We've got to be honest with you, we hate pre-installed software. The A600 comes loaded with it. Let's count it down; a trial of MS Office 2007, Adobe AIR, Acrobat, Flash Player, Google Desktop, Google Earth, Google Toolbar, Picasa 2 and Silverlight, along with a legion of Toshiba tools. Some of this might be useful, but if it was really that great, you'd install it yourself, right?
You pay an absolute premium for small and light notebooks, so if performance isn't your first priority, buy a netbook. That being said, if you want something with the portability of a netbook but a great deal more versatile, the Portege A600 is a nice choice. Don't let its tacky appearance fool you, this little machine has a big feature set.
The Portege A600 is almost identical to its slightly smaller sibling, the R600, with one crucial difference. The R600 is a great deal lighter, but this brings its price to a painful AU$3,300 (AU$4,125 with SSD), while the A600 comes in at only AU$2,530. Of the two, we would recommend the A600 because we don't think the increase in price justifies the weight difference.
Other options in this category include the excellent Lenovo X300, which is more expensive (AU$4,000) but includes an SSD. If you want something with a sexier design, the MacBook Air is also an option, but this sleek machine comes without an optical drive.