The Portege R830, which Toshiba released this week, has some big shoes to fill. Its predecessor, the Portege R700 Series received numerous accolades including CNET's Editors' Choice. Several sites have already reviewed the new version and it looks like the Portege remains a top pick among premium 13-inch ultraportables. Toshiba also released two new Tecra business laptops, both modeled on the thinner and lighter design that has made the Portege so popular. All three, which Toshiba refer to collectively as the R800 Series, now offer Intel's latest Sandy Bridge processors (all the way up to the Core i7-2620M), a USB 3.0 port and optional solid-state drives (SSDs).
The Portege compete against other high-end ultraportables with 13.3-inch (1366x768) or smaller displays such as the Apple MacBook Pro and MacBook Air, Lenovo ThinkPad X220 and Samsung Series 9. What sets the Portege apart from these other thin-and-light systems is its integrated optical drive. The Portege R830 is one of the thinnest and lightest systems with a DVD drive, measuring 0.7 to 1.1 inches thick and starting at 3.2 pounds.
Toshiba wisely stuck with the R700 Series' design, which is based on a rugged magnesium alloy case with an attractive brushed-metal finish. The Portege R830 comes with Intel's second-generation Core i3, i5 or i7 processors, either a hard drive or 128GB SSD, a USB 3.0 port and two USB 2.0 ports (one of which can charge devices when the system if off), and HDMI. Some models also have Intel's Wireless Display technology.
The R830 for business users with Windows 7 Professional ranges from $1,049 (Core i3-2310M, 4GB and a 500GB hard drive) to $1,649 (Core i7-2620M, 4GB and a 128GB SSD). The consumer version, the R835 series with Windows 7 Home Premium, ranges from $888.99 (Core i3-2310M, 4GB and 640GB hard drive) to $929.99 with a faster processor, the Core i5-2410M. Those are list or direct prices, but Best Buy is selling the Portege R835-P50x for $749.99. The OS (and a blue metallic lid) aren't the only differences in the consumer versions. They also do not have an ExpressCard slot (which most users won't miss), do not work with Toshiba's docking stations and come with a one-year warranty rather than the standard three years of coverage on the R830--sacrifices most consumers will be living to live with to shave a few hundred bucks off the price.
So far, all of the reviews I've seen are based on one of these consumer configurations, the Portege R835-P56X. Both CNET and Computer Shopper gave it an Editors' Choice, while LaptopMag concluded the "R835 is one of the best full-performance ultraportables you can buy for less than $1,000."
The strong performance isn't surprising since that is something we've seen in other Sandy Bridge-based laptops such as the ThinkPad X220. But what is especially impressive is the Portege R835's battery life, which ranged from six to seven hours depending on the test.
The Tecra R840 is a 14-inch (1366x768) business laptop. The new design, with a fiberglass-reinforced case, is about an inch thick and has a starting weight of 4.2 pounds--25 percent thinner and 20 percent lighter than the model it replaced, the Tecra M11. The R840 starts at $899 with a Core i3-2310M, 3GB, a 320GB hard drive and Intel's intertied graphics. The top-of-the-line configuration, which costs $1,429, has AMD's Radeon HD 6450M discrete graphics with 1GB of video memory, along with a faster processor, the Core i7-2620M and 4GB of memory. Toshiba claims the Tecra R840 Series has a rated battery life of as long as 11 hours when configured with an SSD, but in the real-world with a hard drive the battery life will of course be shorter.
The Tecra R850 uses the same fiberglass-reinforced case, but it has a 15.6-inch display. It is thinner and lighter than both the model it replaced, the Tecra A11, and many competing mainstream laptops at about an inch thick with a starting weight of 5.3 pounds. The R850 starts at $879 with the Core i3-2310M, 3GB and a 320GB hard drive. The higher-priced configurations have faster processors, more memory and the Radeon HD 6450M discrete graphics.
The Portege R830 and Tecra R840 and R850 are all now available in stores and at toshibadirect.com.