Toshiba Portégé R500 review
Slim, good-looking and affordable - and you can even work outside in sunlight. Just note the niggles.
On the face of it, the Sony TZ12 and the Toshiba Portégé R500 have plenty in common. They weigh practically the same, have similar-sized screens, and share ridiculously tiny dimensions. Both use Intel's ultra-low voltage range of Core 2 Duos and both will happily fit into the very smallest of shoulder bags.
Yet while the Sony costs £2,099 (inc VAT), the Toshiba weighs in at nearly £800 less. If you think that means there's no reason to be tempted by the more expensive Sony, though, think again - the R500's build quality is noticeably less impressive than that of the TZ12. In particular, the Portégé's chassis has a plasticky feel, with a little too much flex in the palmrest for our comfort. As such, the R500 is just that little less reassuring when the time comes to stuffing it in a bag or running for that train.
The different scale of budget shows through when it comes to usability, too: the keyboard in particular feels noticeably spongy. That said, the keys themselves are bigger leading to more accurate typing.
The big on-paper advantage the R500 holds over the TZ12 is the screen, for Toshiba has designed this Portégé to be used outside. It achieves this through transflective technology, and it definitely works: even in bright sunlight, we could see the screen's contents without any sort of strain. The 12.1in diagonal and 1,280 x 800 widescreen resolution is fine for office work, and we're also pleased that Toshiba has resisted a showroom-friendly glossy finish.
The transflective screen does have some weaknesses though. Horizontal viewing angles are poor, with a difference in contrast noticeable even when you view the screen from dead-on. Vertical viewing angles are no better, and the backlighting on our sample was noticeably uneven, with obvious amounts of light leaking from the top and bottom of the screen.
Another drawback of the R500 becomes noticeable when you pop it on your lap for a spot of train-bound work. Even when simply running Microsoft Word, the R500 gets uncomfortably hot. Toshiba wards off lawsuits from workers with burnt knees by including a warning sticker on the bottom, but the amount of heat is very unwelcome. The Sony TZ12 includes exactly the same processor, but has nowhere near the same amount of trouble dissipating the heat. Part of the reason for this heat build up is the R500's largely passive cooling - even when working hard it remains virtually silent.
The processor in question is Intel's Core 2 Duo U7600, running at 1.2GHz. 1GB of RAM is included, and although the R500's final application benchmark result is an underwhelming 0.56, we never had that wading-through-treacle feeling when browsing the internet or working on documents. Start photo editing with a couple of applications open, though, and it's a different story.
On the plus side, battery life improves as a result of the ultra-low power processor and a lack of battery-draining fans. In light use, we saw an excellent 6hrs 19mins. Intensive use saw the system's single fan kick in, and the amount of time it could survive away from the socket fell to 2hrs 23mins. Both times are impressive, albeit some way off the solid-state TZ12's amazing 7hrs 54mins under light use and 4hrs 19mins in intensive use.
One area where the R500 has a big advantage over the TZ12 is storage: 120GB coming courtesy of an old-fashioned mechanical hard disk. The drawback is a little more fragility (setting off the R500's protective hard disk sensor is incredibly easy at default settings) and higher power draw, but the result is a much lower price. Like Sony, Toshiba has managed to fit an optical drive into its tiny machine, with the drive capable of writing to all kinds of disc including DVD-RAM.