The Satellite Z830 is Toshiba’s first Ultrabook, available in New Zealand since October last year. Rather than shamelessly following the design of Apple’s MacBook Air, Toshiba has taken a traditional 13.3-inch laptop design and seemingly shaved off every millimetre of dead weight that today’s technology would allow.
Just 16mm thick and weighing in at an impressively minimal 1.1kg, the Z830 has the ‘portability’ part of the Ultrabook equation covered amply. The body is clad in thin magnesium-alloy – attractive, but less solid than the chiselled aluminium unibodies of the Asus Zenbook or Apple MacBook Air. The body of the Z830 flexes easily in your hands, screen in particular. I was able to generate wobbly patches of colour on the screen, even when applying only minimal pressure. It’s far from ideal for a laptop designed to be carried anywhere and everywhere.
The keyboard seems cramped rather than slimmed down, with awkwardly shallow key travel and flat rectangular keys that seem just a little too widely spaced. It took longer than usual to get to full typing speed, and even then I continued to make lots of mistakes. The touchpad is reliable and accurate, though the click buttons at the bottom are separated from the pad by a wide border and suffer from the same shallow travel as the keyboard keys.
Given the sacrifices to structure and usability for the sake of thinness, it’s nice to see the inclusion of three USB ports (one of them USB 3.0), full-sized HDMI and VGA outputs, both headphone and microphone sockets, and – unusual from our experience with Ultrabooks – an Ethernet port.
Powering the Z830 is an Intel Core i5-2467M CPU, with 4GB of RAM. Graphics are provided by the processor’s on-board Intel HD Graphics 3000 engine, which means no DirectX 11 support for gamers or the graphically-inclined. Storage is a 128GB SSD.
Graphical performance closely matches that of the Asus Zenbook, which runs the same engine within a marginally higher-spec CPU. Good enough for basic photo and video work, but not equipped for 3D manipulation or gaming.
Overall computing performance almost exactly matches the Acer Aspire S3 Ultrabook we tested in February, as the two share the same CPU. However, in storage-dependent tasks the Toshiba Satellite Z830 comes closer to the likes of the Asus Zenbook or HP Folio 13, which both also use SSD storage (our Aspire S3 featured a mechanical hard drive).
In summary, performance is average for the form factor. You can do your office work, resize photographs and watch 1080p video. You can’t replace a high-powered desktop, or hope to engage in anything but casual 2D gaming. That’s not necessarily a downside; just a reminder of Ultrabook capabilities.
Battery life is advertised as “up to 8 hours”. Our relatively heavy-use ‘productivity’ test yielded 3 hours, 51 minutes – just a little below the average set by the three Ultrabooks we’ve had through our labs in previous months. Under more casual use, with lower brightness settings and Toshiba’s power-saving utilities enabled, 7-8 hours is an achievable figure.
Is all this worth the $1,999 price tag? If weight and connectivity are your two greatest concerns, yes. If you want something that can take a few hard knocks, or is comfortable to type long documents on, look elsewhere. You’ll end up spending less if you do so.
Toshiba is distributed in New Zealand by Ingram Micro.
This article originally appeared in the April 2012 issue of PC World.