Toshiba Portege M300 review

£1300
Price when reviewed

Making a good ultra-portable notebook is a balancing act. On the one hand, it needs to be as small and light as possible; but on the other, if it’s too small, it’s difficult to use and therefore counterproductive. IBM has the balance just right in the ThinkPad X40, and Toshiba has done it before with the Portege R100. Can the company do it again with the Portege M300?

Toshiba Portege M300 review

From the pre-production unit we saw, the answer is yes. The M300 weighs a mere 1.66kg and measures 287 x 233 x 36mm. That’s small enough to make it an effortless travelling companion, yet the 12.1in screen is still comfortable to work with. The standard resolution of 1,024 x 768 pixels is the natural choice for this size of display and it’s perfect for presentations – you can see exactly how slides will appear on an XGA projector.

There’s enough brightness to cope with most conditions, although the narrow vertical viewing angle means you have to view it square-on to avoid variations in contrast from top to bottom. The backlight appears brighter at the bottom of the screen than elsewhere, but as this corresponds to the taskbar it’s no great hindrance. More importantly, we’re glad to see that Toshiba has put a lot of effort into screen protection – vital for travelling, as a full bag pressing on a weak lid can expose internal pressure points, damaging the TFT display.

The unit’s lid is slightly smaller than the bodywork, which, according to Toshiba, helps it survive an impact. The hinge mechanism also has a floating design, mounted on energy-absorbing material rather than direct to the magnesium-alloy chassis. There’s more reassurance from the 60GB 5,400rpm hard disk, which is shock-mounted. The M300 also contains an accelerometer system (similar to IBM’s Active Protection System), which detects sudden movements and quickly parks the drive heads to reduce damage. There’s even a waterproof membrane under the keyboard to protect the innards from minor spills. It’s designed to give you enough time to shut down safely before cleaning up the liquid.

Keen to put these claims to the test, we dropped the M300 from desk height on two occasions, and it survived with no problems whatsoever – not exactly scientific tests, but reassuring. As with most small notebooks, the keyboard itself feels slightly cramped. The distance across the M300’s alphabetic keys is standard, but their height has been noticeably compressed. This gives a slightly restrictive feel as you type, and leads to errors until your fingers become accustomed to the new spacing.

Layout-wise, the Control key is where it should be – outside the Function key – but the Windows key is exiled above the numbers. The key action doesn’t match IBM’s ThinkPad X40 either; ours sounded clattery and the board was springy in places, but it’s still acceptable. The only real letdown is the tiny, recessed mouse buttons, which become difficult to use when dragging and dropping.

But there’s little disappointment elsewhere. Battery life, for example, was an incredible two hours, 57 minutes under a heavy workload at full brightness, and six hours with minimal load and medium brightness.

Processing power is no problem either – just about any modern CPU will get you through office applications, presentations and email. Retail units of the M300 will ship with a 1.2GHz ULV Pentium M 753, but our sample 1.1GHz model still had grunt to spare, scoring 1.24 in our application benchmarks. Just bear in mind that the faster processor will also slightly affect battery life if you’re working it hard.

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