Editors' note: The Toshiba Portege R835-P56X received an Editors' Choice Award when it was first reviewed in March 2011. The review below has been updated to include comparisons to more recent competitors and to highlight the different available models of the Portege. The laptop remains a CNET Editors' Choice.
When we first reviewed the Toshiba Portege R835 in March, it earned an enthusiastic Editors' Choice Award. But that was five months ago--an eternity in PC time. Now that second-generation Intel Sandy Bridge chips are in nearly every competing laptop, how does the Portege stack up?
The answer is this: as of August 2011, the Portege R835 is still one of the best overall values in the 13-inch laptop category. In fact, as the available configurations have evolved, you may find the current iteration of the Portege to be an even better deal than the laptop was when it was first introduced. Core i5 models have been seen online and in stores for $649 to $729 during various back-to-school sales. While some of the differences between the configurations are important and some aren't (more on that below), each version still delivers a solid magnesium alloy chassis and a thin and lightweight design. And the Portege beats out the more expensive MacBook Pro on battery life (topping 7 hours), while offering some step-up features (USB 3.0, eSATA ports, integrated DVD drive) not found in many competing models in this weight and size class.
Like nearly all PCs, the Toshiba Portege is available in multiple configurations. Our review sample, the R835-P56X, was outfitted as follows:
|Price as reviewed / starting price||$799 / $749|
|Processor||2.3GHz Intel Core i5-2410M|
|Memory||4GB, 1,333MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||640GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Intel HD 3000|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||12.4x8.9 inches|
|Height||0.7 inch - 1.1 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||13.3 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||3.2 pounds/3.9 pounds|
Some configurations include or exclude Bluetooth, Intel's Wireless Display technology, or built-in 4G wireless. Others drop to a slower Core i3 processor, or step up to a faster Core i7. Here's a quick cheat sheet on the different configurations as the currently exist:
Toshiba Portege R835-P50X: Core i3 (second-generation) CPU; built-in WiMax 4G [older Best Buy version; no longer widely available]
Toshiba Portege R835-ST3N01: same as P50X, but with Bluetooth instead of WiMax
Toshiba Portege R835-P56X: Core i5 (second-generation); no Bluetooth or WiMax [reviewed configuration]
Toshiba Portege R835-P55X: same as P56X, but without proprietary Toshiba utility software [sold at the Microsoft Store]
Toshiba Portege R835-P70: same as P56X, but with built-in WiMax 4G [sold at Best Buy]
Toshiba Portege R835-P75: same as P56X, but with 6GB of RAM [sold at OfficeMax and elsewhere]
This review refers to the P56X version, but all of the other Core i5 configurations listed above should exhibit identical performance. Depending on whether you want the WiMax option or not, you should be able to get the Portege R835 for $729 to $749. If Bluetooth is a must-have, we'd suggest purchasing a low-profile Bluetooth USB dongle (widely available for less than $20).
Toshiba also offers several Portege R830 models, which offer a docking connector and other CPU and hard-drive configurations (Core i7, SSD).
Much like 2010's R700 series, the R835 has a subtle dark blue tint to its brushed-metal magnesium alloy chassis. The body feels sturdy despite its light weight, but it's not nearly as thin as the Samsung Series 9 or the MacBook Air--both of which are much more expensive. Sadly, this new version keeps the one visual element we disliked last time: the overly chromed screen hinges, which just look cheap.
The keyboard, like most current consumer laptop keyboards, uses flat, widely spaced island-style keys, except these keys are slightly more rectangular than most, which may throw off touch typists. This does, however, leave more room for the oversize touch pad, which is close to what you'd see on a MacBook, except with a pair of large standalone left and right mouse buttons.
Toshiba's keyboards typically have a vertical row of dedicated Page Up, Page Down, Home, and End keys along the right side. This makes them easy to find, but at the same time pushes the Enter and Right Shift keys in from where you'd instinctively expect them to be. Media control buttons, volume, mute, and so on can also be hard to find, relegated to alternate F-key assignments and indicated in dark gray on black keys. Like the R705, the R835 lacks a backlit keyboard. Despite these flaws, the R835 still offers an excellent overall typing and touch-pad experience.
Returning for the second year is a handful of custom Toshiba software utilities. ReelTime displays recent documents and Web pages in thumbnail form along the bottom of the screen, and Bulletin Board combines photos and notes in a single work space. Both are slick, usable programs, but they're proprietary and require a time investment in learning them, which you may not want to bother with unless you're dedicated to using only Toshiba computers.
The 13.3-inch LED display has a native resolution of 1,366x768 pixels--roughly comparable with the MacBook's 1,280x800 pixels, but less than the 1,440x900-pixel 13-inch display found in the 13-inch MacBook Air. Though bright, the off-axis viewing angles on the R835 weren't great. Likewise, we've never been impressed with the onboard audio in the Portege laptops; the R835 speakers get the job done, but they're pretty lackluster.
With optical drives disappearing from more and more ultraportable laptops, we're happy to see that Toshiba kept a DVD burner in the Portege without bulking it up--but it would be nice to see a Blu-ray drive in this model at some point, at least as an option.