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With its Portégé range, Toshiba was making high-quality small, lightweight notebooks long before they were fashionable — and long before the Intel-inspired ultrabook was around. Toshiba continues to shine at this end of the market with the new Portégé Z930.
Design According to Toshiba, the 1.12kg Portégé Z930 is the world's lightest 13.3in. laptop, and we're certainly unaware of anything lighter. It's a delight to handle, unobtrusive in a laptop bag, and generally an excellent travelling companion.
The Z930's internal 'honeycomb' design helps to achieve its low weight, although the magnesium alloy chassis clearly also has a part to play. There are also a couple of slight weight-saving design elements in the general build. The lid section wraps around the hinges, while the base is recessed along its left and right edges where the keyboard sits. Both are nice design features that also shave a few grams off the overall weight.
As far as robustness is concerned, the base section should handle normal working circumstances perfectly well. The lid gives us more cause for concern, though. As with many ultra-lightweight designs, the lid is extremely thin and flexible. With the notebook open, it flexes alarmingly if pressed — and although you might not deliberately do this, it's still a worry. When it's closed, the lid depresses easily, raising the spectre of screen damage if enough pressure is applied. You'll definitely need a protective case for the Portégé Z930 in your travel bag — which, of course, will increase the weight you have to carry.
Needless to say, a notebook weighing 1.12kg is small: the maximum thickness is 15.9mm at the back, which is where most of the ports and connectors are located. The chassis tapers to just 8.3mm at the front, while the footprint of 31.6cm by 22.7cm is pretty much minimal for a 13.3in. notebook.
The LED-backlit screen has a 1,366-by-768-pixel resolution and a non-reflective finish, which should help viewability in bright lighting. Viewing angles aren't great though: the horizontal plane is fine, but the optimal range is small in the vertical plane. Colours are somewhat washed out, and although this shouldn't affect basic productivity, it does impact the media-viewing experience — we were even a little disappointed with everyday web browsing.
As you'd hope with a premium-priced notebook, the keyboard has a backlight that kicks in when you tap it. There's no light bleed around the keys when you're using the Portégé Z930 at a desk, although there is when you're slouching in a chair — but not enough to be distracting.
The keyboard exhibits a small amount of flex, but only heavy-handed typists are likely to notice this. The keys are slightly squished, but no more than you'd expect from such a small notebook. The action is nicely springy and we're more than happy with the general feel of the keyboard.
The touchpad has a button above it that disables it, but unfortunately there's no light to remind you of its status. More than once we placed a fingertip to the touchpad and were surprised to get no response, only to realise we'd disabled it several minutes earlier. This could easily become a recurring irritation.
The touchpad's pinch-to-zoom responsiveness is good but not great, but the scroll zones are very smooth. The physical touchpad buttons sit flat rather than standing proud and are a little tricky to use with the thumb.
Features Toshiba offers four versions of the Portégé Z930 on its UK website, ranging in price from £999 (ex. VAT) up to £1,479 (ex. VAT). Our review sample is the second most expensive configuration costing £1,229 (ex. VAT).
The good news is that Toshiba uses third-generation (Ivy Bridge) Core processors throughout — opting, naturally, for the ultrabook-specific ultra-low-voltage variants.
Our Z930-10Q review unit is based on the Core i5-3427U with vPro. This runs at 1.8GHz in standard mode with the ability to Turbo Boost a single core to 2.8GHz. This CPU is used in two of the four models, with the entry-level model using the 1.7GHz/2.6GHz Core i5-3317U and the top-end model sporting the 2.0GHz/3.2GHz Core i7-3667U.
The Z930-10Q has 6GB of DDR3 RAM (2GB on the motherboard and 4GB in a DIMM slot); the two cheaper models have 4GB (2GB+2GB), while the top-end configuration has 8GB (4GB+4GB). All four Z930 variants run Windows 7 Professional 64-bit.
Intel's CPU-integrated HD Graphics 4000 is used throughout the range, as is a 128GB SSD, 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0. All models also include a fingerprint sensor sitting between the two touchpad buttons and a 1.3-megapixel camera complete with no-nonsense software.
There are more connections than you get on an average ultrabook: in particular, there's an RJ-45 port for the Gigabit Ethernet connection and full-size VGA and HDMI ports ranged along the back, along with a pair of USB 2.0 ports and the power jack. To access these connections, you either have to stand up and lean over the notebook or lift it up, and neither approach is particularly ergonomic.
There's a third USB port towards the back of the right edge, which is both easier to access and USB 3.0. On the left edge, again towards the back, is an SD card reader and separate microphone and headset jacks. Toshiba has also found room for a SIM card slot on the back of the right-hand side, with the internal HSPA module supporting download/upload speeds of 21Mbps/5.67Mbps respectively (network permitting).
There's no optical drive, although Toshiba could have just about squeezed one in. Presumably, keeping the weight down outweighed any residual advantage conferred by the ability to access physical media.
Performance & battery life The Z930-10Q's Windows Experience Index (WEI) is an impressive 6.4 (out of 7.9), the WEI corresponding to the lowest component score, which in this case was shared by Gaming graphics (3D business and gaming graphics performance) and Graphics (desktop performance for Windows Aero). The remaining scores were all 7.0 or over: Processor (Calculations per second) 7.0, RAM (Memory operations per second) 7.4 and Primary hard disk (Disk data transfer rate) 7.9.
Unless you're wanting to run graphically demanding applications, or do some fairly serious gaming outside work hours, the Portégé Z930 will perform extremely well. The highlight, with an unimprovable score of 7.9, is the 128GB solid-state drive.
As is usual with ultrabooks, you can't remove the battery, which is an 8-cell Li-ion unit that Toshiba claims is good for up to eight hours' life (under the MobileMark 2007 benchmark). In our more demanding battery test we chose the balanced power plan, left Wi-Fi on and set the system to play video from a USB stick continuously until the fully charged battery expired. Under these conditions we got 4 hours 39 minutes.
You'd probably struggle to get a full day's work from the Portégé Z930 away from mains power when running reasonably demanding workloads. However, it should handle the daily commute, or a short airplane journey, with ease.
The Z930's stereo speakers deliver plenty of volume, but the sound quality isn't great — the sound is tinny even at midddling volume.
Conclusion Toshiba's 13.3in. Portégé Z930 is small, neat and light. Business-grade ultrabooks are thin on the ground, and mobile broadband support puts the Z930 in a class of its own. However, the screen could be better, and the rear-mounted connectors are awkward to access.