Toshiba Portege R700—Inside and Out

The R700 is definitely a good looking computer. Most of the external surfaces are rendered in black brushed magnesium, and it’s a subtle but high quality look. The large, chrome Toshiba lettering on the back is sadly not that subtle, but it does accentuate the overall aesthetic, unlike the somewhat chintzy chrome hinges. The side profile is wedge shaped and very thin throughout—the thickest point is just over an inch and slopes down from there. The surfaces are smooth and continuous, while the sides are almost entirely covered in ports. It’s not a very adventurous design, but attractive nonetheless. The overall simplicity of the aesthetic combined with the effect of the textured metal makes the entire notebook look and feel more upscale than the Toshiba name would lead you to believe.

Build quality is a more concerning item, in that it’s not very good. Even with the magnesium internal structure and the aluminum honeycomb, there’s a lot of flex present throughout the chassis. It’s especially egregious on the bottom panel, just under the optical drive, but even the palm rest on that side has a fair amount of flex. The left side of the system (which carries the HDD/SSD) feels much more solid and exhibits less flex, but that doesn’t make up for the ridiculous flex around the optical drive. The lid is fairly thin, and like most other superthin laptops, it’s not the most sturdy feeling lid and shows rippling under pressure along with being fairly flexible.

The chiclet keyboard is another issue—the feel is somewhat vague, and there is a little bit of flex at times. The flex isn’t particularly concerning and isn’t really noticeable unless you’re looking for it, but the mushy feel is pretty off-putting. To be fair, I’ve been dealing with some pretty stellar keyboards lately, with the business-class HP EliteBook 8440w and the ASUS U33Jc (in my opinion, the gold standard for consumer-level keyboards), but the Toshi keyboard is shockingly mediocre for a $1600 notebook. It looks and feels like a slightly larger version of the NB205 keyboard, which I’m not a huge fan of to start with.

The touchpad is nothing special, though the dark chrome buttons are certainly an eyesore. I’m not sure why manufacturers continue to think that putting chrome in the most touched places on a notebook is a good idea—fingerprints, hello? It’s not just Toshiba; HP was terrible (chrome touchpads and buttons?) and ASUS does the chrome mouse buttons from time to time, mostly with their Eee PC netbooks. It’s simply a bad idea. Sorry guys. There’s a fingerprint reader located between the mouse buttons, which sometimes resulted in accidental swipes and such. I prefer having the fingerprint reader off to the side like Lenovo and HP do it, but I’m guessing Toshiba liked the aesthetic of having the scanner integrated into the touchpad assembly.

The R700 has a fairly good complement of ports, with two dedicated USBs and a USB/eSATA combo port, a VGA port, HDMI, Ethernet, an SD card reader, and an ExpressCard slot located under the optical drive. Nothing spectacular or groundbreaking, but a healthy assortment for sure. The speakers are pretty poor, but that’s about par for the course as far as ultraportables go. The webcam and mic work fairly well, enough for Skype conversations. The mic is located on the palmrest, so it can be covered by a hand if you’re not paying attention.

Toshiba Portege R700 - Introduction Toshiba Portege R700 - An Open Letter Regarding Bloatware
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  • FH123 - Wednesday, September 8, 2010 - link

    So, let me get this straight. The specs look great, but then again those facts are easily accessible and the resulting perfomance can almost be guessed. As you say in the last sentence of the introduction, would it hold up to physical inspection, that's what we read the article for. The article does not disappoint and shows beautifully how a product that looks good on paper can be ... a piece of crap. Bad, mushy keyboard, bad screen, flimsy build quality. So the conclusion is: A great notebook ... with a myriad of flaws? I don't think so. How about a terrible notebook with good perfomance at a good price! Why does the specification / performance outweigh the human-interface factors? Don't get me wrong. The article as a whole plainly spells out what's wrong with today's laptop market and that's great. I love it. Keep doing it, please. Cause what's wrong is, everyone is buying their equipment online and specs have become everything. Certain specs that is. That's why honest hands-on reports are so important. High brightness, high resolution displays, but contrast, black-level and everything else be damned, right? The marketing department hasn't copped on yet. Low weight? Sure, easy to market. Mushy, pancake like consistency of the laptop? How do you quantify that? Ah sure, it must not be important then. Keyboards? Don't get me started. Reply
  • VivekGowri - Wednesday, September 8, 2010 - link

    At $799 or $829 (whatever the R705 goes for), those flaws are excusable given the performance, battery life, long list of features, the overall aesthetic, magnesium casing, and superlight travel weight. Every $800 notebook has a crap screen. Bar none. Many of them have mediocre keyboards, and most have some questionable bits of plastic brightwork. At $799, I'd gladly excuse those flaws and get one. It's a budget ultraportable, and it might have a few rough edges. Most of them you can get used to, especially since everything else in the same market sector has a similar set of flaws, sometimes even more critical ones.

    However, at $1599, well within range of VAIO Z pricing, these flaws are almost inexcusable. Nobody want's a $1600 computer with keyboard flex, a not so great screen, etc. It's just bad. The VAIO Z costs maybe 10% more, has a far better GPU, nearly as powerful CPU, weighs the same, has a screen that's maybe a thousand times better, a better keyboard, better styling and better build quality. It's like the holy grail of thin and lights. So once you get in that pricing ball park, you damn well better have a really impressive computer, and what's impressive at $799 most certainly will not fly at $1599.
    Reply
  • FH123 - Wednesday, September 8, 2010 - link

    OK, point taken. The machine I'm actually angry about is my own, a Thinkpad T410s. A premium machine with a good keyboard and solid build-quality, but an abysmal screen. Black-level 2.9 cd/m2, contrast 95:1 according to notebookcheck.net, and it shows. Also my boss has a Sony Z series and it seems flimsy to me, compared to the heavier Thinkpad. Reply
  • Pjotr - Wednesday, September 8, 2010 - link

    I've had the Acer 3820TG 13.3" since this spring and I love it for the obvious benefits: 1.7 kg weight, 8 hour battery life (spec), Core i5-450, 2.4 GHz, 4 GB RAM, Inte/ATI 5650 1 GB auto-switchable graphics (battery vs external power)

    The screen is horrible compared to the IPSes I'm used to on my home and work desktops. But this is just an increadible package at the price it sells for, just over half of that Toshiba, which doesn't have the 3D graphics to compare.

    Now where's the review? :-)
    Reply
  • TejTrescent - Wednesday, September 8, 2010 - link

    As an owner of a 3810T 13.3", I have to agree.

    Acer's little ultraportables are amazing--I kinda wish I'd waited for the 3820's, but I picked this laptop up for 500$ and it turns heads all the time about how small it is and the frequent real world 8+ hours on my battery (light browsing, IMs, etc.. only get about 5 under Ubuntu, 10+ under Win7 usually).

    I'd like to see a good 3820 review though to see if I should try to justify the upgrade.
    Reply
  • hdjii - Wednesday, September 8, 2010 - link

    I know that screen replacement is not trivial, but can a good quality LCD screen be found which would fit this laptop?

    Is a DIY screen upgrade feasible for any of the otherwise excellent laptops you have reviewed?

    Howard
    Reply
  • Guspaz - Wednesday, September 8, 2010 - link

    I find your battery life results questionable. I have the r700-1320 (same as reviewed except for a 320GB 7200RPM HDD and an i5-520) While I haven't done any idle benchmarks, battery life with even light web surfing (and a fresh Win7 install) is closer to 4 hours (sometimes less) than 5.5. To claim that the laptop will get 5.5 to 6 hours is misleading; I've never seen battery life that long on the r700, and posters on notebookerview seem to back me up.

    One other thing worth mentioning is that the stock bloatware-infested install of Windows locks up frequently; this is actually what forced me to do a clean install. After doing a clean install, the situation is much improved in that regard, although I've noticed some other irregularities.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, September 8, 2010 - link

    We test with battery optimized settings on all laptops, with no Firewall/AV software, and we disable the other utilities. LCD is calibrated for ~100nits (as close as possible), we run the Power Saver profile, HDD is set to go to sleep after 1 minute of idle, system never powers off or sleeps, no display dimming or powering off, WiFi set to maximum power savings, min CPU 0/max CPU 50, hybrid sleep and USB sleep enabled. I think that covers everything.

    In my experience, the "Balanced" power profile can cut off anywhere from 10 to 20% of the battery life, depending on the laptop and manufacturer.

    Note that a clean install of Windows may not always get you the "optimal" results -- there are frequently power saving features or utilities that you need to install. As an example, Toshiba has a DVD power off utility that we used. Also, the Internet tests are highly variable if you're not using the same pages as we are, but given we got four hours of x264 playback I'd say that's a good minimum baseline.
    Reply
  • Guspaz - Thursday, September 9, 2010 - link

    Thanks for your reply. I think I've got similar settings to what you guys test with (including the toshiba DVD power tool), except for the 50% CPU limit and the lack any AV software. I wouldn't be surprised if MSE were knocking off a chunk of battery life, but I'm not willing to sacrifice that protection for some extra battery life :) Reply
  • Belard - Wednesday, September 8, 2010 - link

    Recently, I had some time to kill and checked out Best Buy... man, every single notebook computer came with these horrible chick-let keyboards. Like from the old IBM PC Jr. Days! They sucked then and still mostly suck now.

    Anandtech did a recent review of Thinkpad's X100e with perhaps the best chicklet keyboard on the market.

    Well, for folks looking for a notebook with a NORMAL Keyboard and matte screen, Lenovo's standard ThinkPad line has them. And guess what else they do.... THEY DON'T LOAD UP THINKPADS with BLOAT-WARE! No Norton or Mcafee. Yes, a few of their own tools (nice ones too, love their wireless manager), thats it.

    $900~1800 for the Toshiba? Blah.

    At about $1500, the ThinkPad T410s is almost an Ultra-portable. Its 14", had an internal optical drive as well as optional WAN (at&t or Verizon or Clear), 3.9lbs... and it has a good keyboard and standard features that'll smoke the Toshiba. The screen isn't as bright, but I'll take a good matte screen any day over any glossy notebook. And if people check out eCoupons, they can usually save $150~300 if the timing is right ;) The latest ThinkPad keyboards (not the x100 or Edge) have spill-channels to protect the computer with perhaps the BEST layout and feel over ANY notebook. Only thing that sucks, the @#(*^$@ Control / Fn keys are backwards (Use BIOS option to flip).

    But with my personal experience, I'd prefer a normal T410 over the S model. The S is barely over an inch thick vs. 1.5" on a non S-model. There the NON-S models are more sturdy, more ports, easier to work on and upgrade (2.5" drive vs 1.8")... and I'd rather pocket the $500 difference.

    Tip: the $600 L (or older SL) models are decent, but may or may-not be matte. Keyboards are very good (feel wise) but not the great layouts like in the T/W series. L's are not as tough as Ts.
    Reply

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