It looks as though 2012 will be the year of the Ultrabook, with manufacturers falling over themselves to get their own iterations of Intel's new slimline notebook format to market.
Many ultrabooks are aimed at consumers, but Toshiba has added one to its business-focused Portégé range; there are five models currently listed at its web site, ranging from £899 to £1,489 (ex. VAT). We looked at the £969 (ex. VAT) Portégé Z830-10P.
The Portégé Z830 is stunningly thin and light. That, of course, is what we expect from an ultrabook — but the dimensions are impressive nonetheless. With a starting weight of 1.12kg and a footprint of 31.6cm wide by 22.7cm deep by 0.83–1.59cm thick it certainly stands out from the crowd.
Toshiba's 13.3in. Portégé Z830 weighs just 1.12kg and measures only 1.59cm at its thickest point
Toshiba has not stinted on build materials, kitting out the Portégé Z830 with a magnesium alloy chassis and a dark silver finish, complemented by silver hinges. The underside is constructed from a single sheet — ultrabooks don't provide access to the battery. The lid section, though, is very thin and exhibits a worrying amount of flex: you won't want to stand anything on top of this notebook.
Open up the clamshell and the dark silver colour theme continues. The 13.3in. screen has a native resolution of 1,366 by 768 pixels, a matte finish and an LED backlight. The bezel is quite thick at the top and bottom, and much thinner to the sides.
The viewing angles aren't great, and colour vibrancy isn't wonderful either. Both are perfectly adequate for general business tasks, but if you need excellent colour definition, you might want to look elsewhere.
Above the screen is a 1.3-megapixel webcam supported by Toshiba's camera application, which offers a range of settings and can capture stills and video. However, the software doesn't have embellishments like face tracking and — like many webcams — was unable to show our face clearly when we sat with a window to the rear. You can use the camera for face-recognition-based login, and Toshiba provides an application to support this.
The Portégé Z830's LED-backlit keyboard has MacBook-like isolated keys
The keyboard and touchpad follow Toshiba's distinctive Portégé style. The isolation-style keys feel a little spongy under the fingers and don't have a great deal of travel, but they're well spaced and we found them comfortable to use. The keys are also backlit: the light automatically dims after a short idle period, and kicks back in when you tap a key.
There is an on/off button for the touchpad just beneath the space bar. This is a regular Toshiba notebook feature, and one we appreciate. If you have a tendency to sweep the touchpad accidentally you might like it too.
If you want a fingerprint reader, you'll have to opt for a more expensive model such as the £1,099 (ex. VAT) Portégé Z830-104. Where it is present, the fingerprint reader sits between the two touchpad buttons. The latter are bright silver and look a little out of place on what's a premium notebook. More importantly, they are a little lacking in tactile feedback for our taste. They were wide enough on our review sample, but with the fingerprint reader added they may become a little narrow for some people to use comfortably.
The touchpad incorporates the usual two-finger zooming and scroll bars. Both features are responsive and comfortable to use.
Above the keyboard are three buttons. The on/off switch is accompanied by a button that launches Intel's Wireless Display (WiDi) and looks for devices to connect to, making it easy to start wireless presentations; the third button put the Portégé Z830 into power-saving Eco mode.
The processor in our review sample is Intel's 1.4GHz Core i3-2367M supported by 4GB of RAM. This is the same CPU/RAM combination as in the entry-level £899 (ex. VAT) Z830-10N model. If you want a faster processor, you'll need to start with the 1.7GHz Core i5-2557M/4GB Z830-104 model, which costs £1,099 (ex VAT). With Turbo Boost, the clock speed of this CPU can rise to 2.7GHz.
The operating system is Windows 7 Professional 64-bit (although you get Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit on the entry-level model), while graphics are handled by Intel's CPU-integrated HD Graphics 3000. Toshiba provides a recovery installation on the 128GB SSD.
The use of SSD storage rather than traditional hard disks is a defining characteristic of ultrabooks. SSDs deliver fast boot times, fast application launches and are also more resilient to knocks and bangs than mechanical hard drives. However, if you need a lot of internal storage, then this particular SSD could be problematic: out of the box, our review sample had just 71GB free for whatever apps and data you need to accommodate. You can't boost the capacity by choosing a more expensive model, either — all have the same 128GB SSD. Another defining characteristic of ultrabooks is that they lack optical drives.
There is an SD card slot towards the back of the left edge, which is an unusual location for this component — we'd have preferred it nearer the front. It's slightly recessed and tricky to find by touch, so you either have to move the notebook or crane your neck to see it.
The microphone and headphone jacks are even further towards the back of the left edge, which is otherwise clear. The right edge houses a single USB 3.0 port.
The power input is on the back edge of the chassis, which is also where you'll find the remainder of the ports and connectors — the back is available because the battery is not removable. This is a perfectly reasonable location for the Ethernet port and may also be convenient for the VGA and HDMI connectors.
However, the two remaining USB 2.0 ports — one with sleep-and-charge support — aren't quite so convenient on the back of the chassis. We use multiple USB devices during the course of a typical day, and standing to access these rear-mounted ports, or twisting the Portégé Z830 around, becomes rather tedious. All the connectors are full sized, by the way.
The Portégé Z830 offers integrated Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n), along with Bluetooth (3.0) and Gigabit Ethernet. If you require integrated mobile broadband, you're looking at the higher-priced Z830-10Q (£1,259 ex. VAT) or 11J (£1,489 ex. VAT) models.
The Portégé Z830's Windows Experience Index (WEI) is an acceptable 5.2 (out of 7.9). The WEI corresponds to the lowest component score, which in this case was for Processor(calculations per second). The top score of 6.8 went to Primary hard disk (Disk data transfer rate) — no surprise given that thie Portégé Z830 has a very fast SSD.
The other component scores were 5.4 for Graphics (desktop performance for Windows Aero), 5.9 for RAM (Memory operations per second) and 6.1 for Gaming Graphics (3D business and gaming graphics performance). All this adds up to plenty of performance for mainstream business workloads.
Toshiba makes no specific claim for the Z830-10P's 8-cell Li-ion battery in the spec sheet. However elsewhere on its web site, Toshiba suggests battery of up to eight hours for the Z830. We've already noted that the battery is sealed into the chassis, which is not ideal for business travellers who like to carry a spare in case of emergency.
We tested the Portégé Z830's battery life by turning Wi-Fi on and eco mode off before looping a video continuously. Under these demanding conditions, video playback lasted for four hours and five minutes.
We were impressed with the system's sound output. The Portégé Z830 has stereo speakers that can deliver impressively high volume without distortion. Sound quality is not wonderful, but it's better than we're used to from business notebooks. We'd be happy to deliver presentations with audio to a small group using this computer.
The Toshiba Portégé Z830 is an impressive attempt to bring the ultrabook format to business users. Apart from the amount of flex in the lid, we like the slimline design and thoughtful ergonomics. We're pleased to see full-sized ports on the system, although not everyone will appreciate the connectors on the back edge. We'd also have liked access to the battery compartment.