Toshiba Portege R500

Toshiba's much-anticipated Portege R500 may be the best ultraportable laptop available right now, but mobile broadband is conspicuously absent.


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Editor's Note: This review is from our sister site, CNET.com. Some models mentioned in this review may not be available in Australia.

Perhaps the laptop we've been most looking forward to checking out this year, Toshiba's Portege R500 is very close to the final word in ultraportable systems. Incredibly thin and light, it manages to squeeze a 12-inch display into a package even lighter than Sony's 11-inch VAIO TZ150.

While there have been some less expensive ultraportables we've liked recently (such as the Averatec 1579), both the R500 and VAIO TZ are premium products, with configurations ranging from AU$3,300 to AU$4,125, thanks to high-end options, including solid state hard drives. While the VAIO and the R500 have similar prices and features, there are trade-offs. We were disappointed by the lack of mobile broadband in our R500, but we also found it offered better performance than the VAIO (largely Sony's fault for packing their system with enough bloatware to slow it to a crawl).

In the end, the battle between these two high-profile ultraportable laptops is close enough to call it a draw, with Sony getting points for battery life, mobile broadband, and overall size, and the Toshiba Portege R500 winning in performance and weight.

Design
We got our first glimpse at the R500 a few months ago, at a furtive restaurant meeting, where Toshiba's reps insisted on sitting at a backroom table, so no one could spy the R500 prototype they carried. Cast in a matte silver, with an ultrathin LED backlit display, the R500 is impressively small, especially for a system with a built-in optical drive. Its footprint is slightly larger than the VAIO TZ150, the recently released Sony laptop the R500 will inevitably be most closely compared to, but the larger Toshiba is actually lighter by quite a few grams.

The R500 manages to fit in a decent-sized keyboard which made for comfortable typing, and even avoids the annoying ultraportable trap of eliminating important keys, squeezing in separate page-up and page-down keys (always important for laptop Web surfing). A fingerprint reader sits between the two mouse buttons, but unlike the VAIO TZ, there's no Webcam. Aside from brightness mode button and a button for launching Toshiba's proprietary help utility, there are no quick-launch or media controls on the keyboard tray.

The 12.1-inch display has a native resolution of 1,280x800, lower than that of the smaller VAIO TZ screen, but we think its just right for a laptop this size. Anything higher, and text and icons become hard to see without going through the hassle of zooming in or changing the resolution (laptop screens should always be run at their native resolution for best image quality). The R500 had a matte screen, which we generally prefer, but the antiglare coating made for terrible off-angle viewing.

Features
With a laptop this small, there are inevitably concessions to be made in terms of ports and connectivity. In this case, we were disappointed to see only an SD card slot, instead of the multifunction card readers found in most laptops. But our main complaint was the lack of a mobile broadband antenna, or even the option for adding one. You'll have to find a PC Card antenna from your mobile provider in order to add this functionality aftermarket, as EV-DO is rapidly becoming a must-have for mobile professionals. Toshiba is planning updated versions of the R500, which will no doubt include this missing feature.

The Toshiba Portege R500 is available in two different fixed-configuration models. The main differences between our AU$3,300 R500-00V01X and the AU$4,125 R500-SP101X is the solid state drive inside. While we love the idea of solid state hard drives -- less heat, no moving parts, low failure rate -- they are still too expensive to be taken seriously, adding AU$825 for swapping in a 64GB SSD drive. But next to LED backlit displays, the move to solid state hard drives is clearly the next big thing in laptop development.

Performance
Intel's line of ultra low-voltage Core 2 Duo CPUs are designed to work in small laptops where heat and battery life are key concerns. Therefore, they're not the speediest processors available, and laptop users can experience slowdown and stuttering even under the best of circumstances. The Core 2 Duo U7600 is a step above the U7500 in the Sony VAIO TZ150, and soundly bested the VAIO in each of our benchmarks. In particular, start-up time, interminable on the VAIO TZ, was much better on the R500 (note that the VAIO was bogged down with a ton of bloatware and anecdotally ran much smoother when we cleaned it up).

In hands-on testing, we had a largely smooth experience with the R500, but we did run into more occasional slowdown and stuttering (especially when running multiple applications) than you would find in a laptop with the faster, more power-hungry T7000 series of Intel Core 2 Duo CPUs. Our only major performance issue with the R500 was a slightly wonky Wi-Fi card, which seemed to cut in and out randomly. We're going to test a second unit's Wi-Fi capabilities and will update this review with the results.

A tiny ultraportable laptop lives or dies based on battery life. After all, there's no point in carrying one of these systems around all day if you have to bring an A/C adaptor with you everywhere. The Portege R500's battery was especially impressive, lasting three hours and 48 minutes on our DVD battery drain test. That's second only to the Sony VAIO TZ (by about 20 minutes) out of recent ultraportable laptops. Our DVD battery drain test is especially intense, so you can expect closer to five hours from casual use, which should be enough for all but the most demanding users. We'll take long battery life over a slight performance bump any day of the week.

Toshiba includes a three-year standard warranty with the R500, as we would expect for a premium-priced system like this, and in Australia/New Zealand offers a complimentary pick-up and return service.


Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Toshiba Portege R500
1,748

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Toshiba Portege R500
547

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Toshiba Portege R500
347

DVD battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Toshiba Portege R500
228
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wingsinger
3
Rating
 

wingsinger posted a review   

The Good:light, compact

The Bad:wireless is useless, very unreliable

Toshiba tech support in the Philippines has been of no help. Msny hours of driver downloads later, I still have a Portege R500 that doesn't connect reliably.

 

rayalco posted a comment   

The Good:lightness, battery life, HD size, outdoor use

The Bad:battery charge time, sound

Excellent ultraportable with a nice big HD and great battery life. The previous reviewrs are having wireless cutout is because of the power aave options not because of a wireless fault. Once you have customised your power save options, this problem ceases to exist.

I have got 6 hours plus out of the laptop on the train but you have to sacrifice screen brightness and CPU speed for this. The tools allow you to do this easliy. NOt really too much bloatware as I find most bundled apps useful. Wireless configuartor is great since I use 5 different internet connection options and you can easily set the connection order prefe eg lan over wireless over 3g broadband.
Toshiba power saver is good as you can have a multitude of different schemes depending what you are doing, and these can change depending on how much battery you have left.. you can also power down the DVD to save battery. The screen is great anjd you can use it outdoors since it is transreflective.. there is a handy button for switching off the lcd backlight in sunlight to save power. I have had sony, dell, ibm thinkpad and hp and this is by far my fav so far.. I use it on the move and with a dock station in the office.

takes a while to charge the battery, even though it is supposed to charge to 95% in 15 mins I have never found this to be true.

Sound volume from the built in speaker is poor. Sometime gets confused on undock and doesnt shut own properly.

Rich
1
Rating
 

Rich posted a review   

The Good:Lightness

The Bad:Worst screen I have ever seen cannot watch videos. Wireless does not work. Too muck keyboard flex. Optical drive is flaky. Very poor build quality. Sound - what sound a mouse squeak is louder. Very slow - 5 mins to boot up - will not shut down. Excessive bloatware pre-installed. I disabled the finger scan reader (buggy). Gets very hot with a slight burning smell. Battery life pathetic. Who puts a Kensington lock on a wafer thin screen? It is joke - avoid this product. Unattractive because it looks cheap but is expensive.

I agree this is a total lemon. Mine had 160 GB HD and 2GB memory. Complete and utter rubbish in all respects and totally impractical.

Willow75
10
Rating
 

Willow75 posted a review   

The Good:-very light

The Bad:-Toshiba support (arrogant and patronising)
-wireless cuts out
-outlook is very slow (unusable)
-offline file synchronisation is in the minutes

This is a turkey/lemon. Don't buy. I purchased this to use in a business environment and had to go back to a 2004 Tecra. Support said to stop using Outlook and/or complain to Microsoft (yeah, they will rewrite Outlook).

Steve1
3
Rating
 

Steve1 posted a review   

The Good:Very light

The Bad:Too flimsy, too slow, average battery life, poor fingerprint software

I replaced my R300 with an R500 and in many ways it has been a backward step. The machine is light but too flimsy (my screen cracked and had to be replaced at my cost after only a few weeks, the DVD drive has stopped working and the casing has now cracked - all with what I would say is 'normal use').
In use it is fairly slow, and the claimed battery life (up to 12 hours) is simply misleading (I get around 4 hours max).
I think Toshiba have sacrificed durability for lightness - if you are a real 'road warrior' I would be looking for something a bit more sturdy.

tommo
7
Rating
 

tommo posted a review   

The Good:light light light
clear bright display
battery life

The Bad:slow start up
wi-fi seems unreliable

once I got rid of the unreliable fingerprint recognition and ditched some of the unnecessary software (gadgets), I found it to be a pretty good machine

jeroen101
3
Rating
 

jeroen101 posted a review   

The Good:light

The Bad:ugly, cheap-feeling, wireless doesnt work relyably. to much bundled software (who needs all that crap ??!!)

im on my second one already. it seems this model has an endemic problem. the wireless cards simply dont work ! they will cut out frequently, and randomly. my new one has exactly the same fault as the previous one, and the idiots at toshiba simply dont seem to be interested in this flaw. anyone else out there having this problem too?




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User Reviews / Comments  Toshiba Portege R500

  • wingsinger

    wingsinger

    Rating3

    "Toshiba tech support in the Philippines has been of no help. Msny hours of driver downloads later, I still have a Portege R500 that doesn't connect reliably."

  • rayalco

    rayalco

    "Excellent ultraportable with a nice big HD and great battery life. The previous reviewrs are having wireless cutout is because of the power aave options not because of a wireless fault. Once you ..."

  • Rich

    Rich

    Rating1

    "I agree this is a total lemon. Mine had 160 GB HD and 2GB memory. Complete and utter rubbish in all respects and totally impractical."

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