At first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking Toshiba hasn’t changed much about its newest flagship ultraportable for business with the release of the Portege R600, which succeeds the R500.
Its looks appear bland from a distance, but up close it is undoubtedly stylish. The latest version is still cased in silver magnesium with the metallic company name on the lid, and the black screen bezel once you open it up.
Even the dimensions of 283x215x25.5mm haven’t changed, and each weighs under a kilo.
However, the insides of this 12.1-inch PC have had an overhaul where it counts.
You’ll now find a speedier processor – Intel’s Centrino 2 dual core 1.4 Ghz ULV SU9400 with 800MHz front side bus (changed from the R500’s U7600 at 1.2 Ghz), and greater memory capacity (1 GB was standard on the R500), while our R600 review unit had 3GB of DDR2 RAM, with an extra 2 GB occupying the second slot.
Graphics are also improved on the R600, with Intel’s 945 GMS replaced by its Media Accelerator GS45.
Users will pay a premium for these enhancements and the feature set that’s high in its class – Toshiba is offering two drive configurations; one with a 200 GB SATA hard drive at $4330, and a 128 GB solid state drive model for $5417.
A big downside for Kiwi users, though, is the lack of 3G mobile broadband, a module offered in Australia but not here.
The software set bundled with the review machine was strong – it included Google applications such as Earth, Picasa and Google Desktop, along with trial versions of Microsoft Office and Windows Live One Care. There’s also Adobe Reader 9, Internet Explorer, Toshiba’s Disk Creator and SQL Server 2005.
Toshiba has made the most of the Vista Business OS, providing an array of gadgets including an encore appearance of its ConfigFree Wifi radar. This tool displays available wi-fi access points around a circle, detailing the strength of each point and the wireless standard being used. You can then double click the access point to try to connect to it. ConfigFree also doubles as a Bluetooth radar.
Other gadgets include weather information, Google search’s bar, an analogue clock and a power usage gauge.
Non-Vista fans can elect to downgrade to Windows XP Professional.
The keyboard spans the full width of the unit, and the keys are comfortable to type on. In addition, it’s spill-resistant. Sitting above the keyboard is a shortcut key for Toshiba Assist, an application for managing connectivity, security, optimisation and diagnostics.
The screen is transflective, so you can choose whether to use the backlight for indoor or dimmer lighting, or reflected outdoor light. There’s still flex in the screen, but the build quality doesn’t feel flimsy.
Users are bound to compare the R600 with another silver-bodied lightweight, the aluminium-constructed MacBook Air. However, Toshiba’s offering has the option of an optical drive built in (a DVD super-multi +/-RW/RAM), for those who don’t mind a bit of extra weight added to their machine.
There’s an external VGA port for connecting your own monitor, along with two USB ports and a combined USB/eSATA port. The combined port is useful for charging devices even when the notebook is switched off.
Headphone and microphone jacks, vents and a volume dial round out the left side of the PC, while SD card and ExpressCard slots, a Gigabit Ethernet port, the DVD drive, wireless switch and Kensington lock sit on the right side. For added security, there’s a fingerprint sensor.
The web camera is 0.3 MP.
The underside houses notches to shield the motherboard, along with a slot for the docking port. A USB port replicator is optional with the R600.
The sound produced by the small speaker to the top left of the keyboard was disappointing.
Toshiba claims up to eight hours’ battery life from the supplied six cell – it was enough to get through a movie with power saving options turned off.
Far from being a budget laptop, the R600 has enough enhancements to attract users of the R500 who are considering a step up, as well as those of other ultraportables. Its weight and feature set definitely meet the needs of the target market of business travellers.