Toshiba Portege R600

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Toshiba's Portege R600 is one of the best ultraportables on the market, if you're willing to pay the price.

Though Toshiba may not have been living up to its "Leading Innovation" slogan for a while now, they are lucky in one area — when they do innovate, they tend to be way ahead of the crowd.

Hence, while the R600 is really just the R500 chassis with new bits in it, it's still without question the best ultraportable around.

There are a few criticisms of the R600: the primary being that because of its incredible lightness, it feels a little toy-like. Don't let this fool you though, as this is a notebook ready for business.

When closed, it is 25.5mm at its thickest point (insert Macbook air comparison). The screen is thin, and as expected it flexes with little pressure applied — but unlike some of its competitors, drumming your fingers on the back produces no visible artefacts, and the amount of bending it can take without discolouring the screen is impressive.

Sound is unfortunately miserable, with a single tiny mono speaker barely making a whisper.

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The 12.1-inch screen is bright, matte, and highly readable at 1,280x800. It needs to be closed for access to the battery, due to the slimness of the device. On the underside of the laptop just past the battery is a docking port for those in the commercial world.

The whole laptop is silver — which is a little retro, but works well. The keyboard is well sized, and we appreciate the ability to be able to turn on numlock for the keypad, transforming numbers to letters until it's switched off again.

Hitting the Fn key reveals a graphical overlay that helps decipher what all the function keys mean, a helpful tool for first timers, or those not familiar with Toshiba's iconography.

Other useful options are here too — for example, although Toshiba's managed to squeeze an optical disc drive in, you can turn it off by holding down Fn and pressing Tab three times (or only twice if you want to eject it), with a graphical overlay stepping you through. Also most useful is an ability to turn off the screen backlight — or at least turn it down exceptionally low — so if you're in a high light situation like being outdoors, you can save more on your battery.

As part of the Vista gadgets, Toshiba has again included a Wi-Fi radar called ConfigFree, which if you double click will load a radar like circle which floats on the desktop, and gives an idea of relative strength of available access points, as well as the protocol each one is operating on. Double clicking on an access point gives you the opportunity to connect to it. This can be switched to be a Bluetooth detector as well, and while it's really just another interface on top of Windows' existing software, it's one that's leagues more intuitive than we've seen before. It also auto-refreshes, making it an amateur war driver's best friend — although you'll need to mouse over an access point to see if it's secured or not.

A power consumption meter sits under this (although it's not so useful since the sidebar is often hidden by other applications), as well as Google's analogue clock, weather and search gadgets, being the search partner Toshiba has chosen to bundle with. Google Earth, Google Desktop and Picasa are further evidence of this.

Interestingly Toshiba has chosen to include a trial of Microsoft Windows Live OneCare as the anti-virus application, in favour of the usual Symantec, McAfee or Trend Micro options. An Office 2007 trial rounds out the pre-bundled software, and as usual we wish there was an option to uninstall all of it in one shot (or avoid the installation altogether) rather than having to remove the applications one by one.

Inside the R600, things are reasonably powered — a 1.4GHz Core 2 Duo U9400 is a little less power than we're used to, but at this level of portability a small sacrifice is expected. Toshiba has packed the 32-bit Vista Business machine with 3GB RAM, neatly avoiding the 4GB/64-bit issue, while a 120GB magnetic drive pulls storage duties.

Two USB ports, a combined USB/eSATA port, VGA, headphone and microphone jacks, gigabit Ethernet and an SD card reader make up the port tally, with an optical drive and dial volume control finishing the feature set. We only wish Toshiba had managed to cram in a digital video out (like HDMI) somewhere.

Being an ultra portable, there's only so much you can expect on the performance front, yet the R600 represented marvellously within these confines.

3DMark06 of course was abysmal, turning in a result of 609, but this is unsurprising — this is not a gaming laptop. PCMark05, a better indicator of productivity and office uses, turned in 3,843, more than acceptable for a business machine.

Turning off all power saving features, setting screen brightness and volume to maximum, and playing back a DVD, the battery lasted 2 hours, 31 minutes and 5 seconds, not a stellar result, but still certainly passable under what is a gruelling test.

Toshiba's Portege R600 is one of the best ultraportables on the market, if only due to the amazing groundwork it laid with the Portege R500. It's expensive, at AU$3,300, but if you need the extra grunt and features of an ultraportable over a netbook, the R600 should be at the top of your list.

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