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Toshiba's <a href="http://reviews.zdnet.co.uk/hardware/notebooks/0,1000000333,39290097,00.htm">Portégé R500</a> was a breathtaking ultraportable notebook, and one of the highlights of 2007. The R500 was exceptionally light, but suffered from lacklustre battery life and suspect build quality in places. The <a href="http://uk.computers.toshiba-europe.com/innovation/series/Portege-R600-Series/1058747/">Portégé R600</a>, which updates the earlier machine to the <a href="http://reviews.zdnet.co.uk/hardware/components/0,1000001694,39448041,00.htm">Centrino 2</a> platform, comes in several variants with prices ranging from £1,099 to £1,699 (ex. VAT). Is the R600 still a head-turner, and does it address the issues with the R500?
Toshiba's Portégé R500 was a breathtaking ultraportable notebook, and one of the highlights of 2007. The R500 was exceptionally light, but suffered from lacklustre battery life and suspect build quality in places. The Portégé R600, which updates the earlier machine to the Centrino 2 platform, comes in several variants with prices ranging from £1,099 to £1,699 (ex. VAT). Is the R600 still a head-turner, and does it address the issues with the R500?
Design The Portégé R600 is another good looker from Toshiba, the silver casing and slimline format rendering chic and elegant. The R600's footprint of 28.3cm by 21.6cm and maximum thickness of 2.55cm are much the same as its predecessor. Weight-wise, the R600 range starts at 0.773kg (even lighter than the R500), although only one model is that light: our review sample, like its remaining brethren, comes in at 1.114kg — still a very respectable weight for an ultraportable.
Build quality is improved over the R500, but niggles remain. As with the R500, we feel the wrist-rest area is a little too flexible. However, the lid section is more of a worry: it twists alarmingly in the hand when the notebook is opened and also flexes when the notebook is closed.
Touch the screen — to show something to a colleague, for example — and the outer layers depress, creating a 'shadow' that only slowly disappears after you've removed your finger. To maximize the display's longevity, you'd be advised to carry the Portégé R600 in a protective case or dedicated compartment in a bag. This will be necessary anyway, because there's no clasp to hold the screen and system unit sections together, and the hinging mechanism is not very solid. The two front edges of the notebook do not fit flush to one another, so foreign objects could find their way in.
The screen measures 12.1in. across the diagonal — the same as on the Portégé R500 — and has a native resolution of 1,280 by 800 pixels. The LED-backlit transflective TFT has a matte finish and is not as bright and sharp as we'd like. Viewing angles (both vertical and horizontal) aren't wonderful, either.
The keyboard is fairly comfortable, although it flexes a fair amount, which heavy-handed typists may find awkward. The keys are large, with plenty of travel. The keyboard runs to the full width of the notebook and includes a row of full-height number topped by a row of half-height Fn keys. The Enter key is double height and beneath it sit useful small-sized PgUp and PgDn keys. Usefully, the keyboard is spill resistant.
The touchpad, which incorporates horizontal and vertical scrolling on its bottom and right edges, is responsive. Below it, a pair of mouse buttons are separated by a small fingerprint sensor.
There are two buttons above the screen. One is the Toshiba Assist button, which accesses things like wireless connectivity configuration, security features and various system parameters. The other button turns the screen backlight off. This theoretically allows the transflective screen to make the most of ambient light: in our experience, however, you'll need to be outside on a bright and sunny day for this to be feasible — the gloomy winter weather during our testing period were not suitable for this mode of operation.
Above the screen is a fixed-position VGA webcam, which you can use as part of the security login system as well as for traditional tasks like video conferencing and image capture.
Features Our review sample of the Portégé R600 (R600-101) has an Intel Core 2 Duo SU9400 processor running at 1.4GHz. This CPU is used in all models bar the entry-level R600-10Q, which has a slower 1.2GHz SU9300 processor and lacks integrated mobile broadband. All R600 models incorporate Intel's vPro remote management technology. Our review sample has 3GB of DDR2 RAM, expandable to a maximum of 5GB.
Windows Vista Business is preinstalled on our review sample, with a Windows XP Professional downgrade available on a supplied recovery CD.
The hard drive in our review sample is a 200GB SATA unit. Storage capacity stretches to 320GB in one model; if data transfer speed is more important to you, solid-state disks (SSDs) are available at 128GB. All R600 models bar one of the two SSD variants have an optical drive on the right side of the casing.
Graphics are handled by Intel's GMA 4500MHD, which is integrated in Intel's GS45 Express chipset. Bluetooth (2.1+EDR) and Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g, Draft-N) are supported. Topping off the wireless connectivity (except in the entry-level model) is HSPA mobile broadband capable of downloads at up to 7.2Mbps and uploads at up to 2Mbps. The SIM slot sits beneath the removable battery. On the wired side, you get Gigabit Ethernet.
System status indicators — an array of orange and white LEDs — are sited beneath the wrist rest and are visible when the notebook is closed as well as open.
Ports and connectors are reasonably plentiful for such a slimline notebook. Towards the front of the right edge, just above the optical drive, is a reader for SD-compatible flash memory cards. Behind the optical drive is a mechanical switch for the wireless radios, a single USB 2.0 port and, right at the back, an Ethernet (RJ-45) port. There's also an ExpressCard slot about half-way down the right side, underneath the optical drive and the wireless switch; this is a little fiddly to access as it's slightly recessed.
At the front of the left edge is a volume wheel, with the audio ports, a second USB 2.0 port and, beyond the cooling vents, a combined eSATA/USB port. Further back still is a VGA connector and the power input.
Performance The Portégé R600's Windows Experience Index (WEI) rating of 3.2 (out of 5.9) is a little lower than we would have expected considering its components. The WEI corresponds to the lowest component score, which went to Graphics (desktop performance for Windows Aero); Gaming Graphics (3D business and gaming graphics performance) scored 3.3. Away from the integrated graphics, component scores were pretty good: Processor (calculations per second),4.6; RAM (Memory operations per second), 4.9; and Primary hard disk (Disk data transfer rate), 5.7.
Toshiba says the R600's Li-ion battery will last for just short of 8.5 hours. That's an advance on the 7.5 hours claimed for the R500, but our tests show it falling short of either mark.
We charged the battery fully and chose Toshiba's Balanced power scheme. Then we played a DVD movie for as long as possible. Under these conditions we got 3 hours and 22 minutes of viewing before the notebook switched off. Anecdotally we managed a good half-day of work with Wi-Fi on constantly, but never approached the suggested battery life. We suspect you would need to turn the backlight off and work in transflective mode to get 8 hours, which is not a very practical proposition.
Conclusion The Portégé R600 is a significant improvement over the R500, which makes it a very alluring ultraportable. We're not convinced about the transflective screen mode, and some aspects of its build quality still disappoint. Battery life in our tests didn't match up to Toshiba's 8-hour claim, and we think the company should consider bundling its 6-cell battery, which is currently a £95 (ex. VAT) option.