Editors' note: After this review was published, Best Buy decided to offer the specific retail-exclusive configuration reviewed here for $799, which is $100 less than the original price.
Another Ultrabook contender enters the fray with the arrival of the Toshiba Portege Z835. Following in the footsteps of the Acer S3, Lenovo U300s, and Asus Zenbook, this system aims to provide Windows users with a clear alternative to Apple's popular MacBook Air.
Unlike some of the other Ultrabooks we've seen, the Z835 wisely comes in under $1,000. Our configuration runs $899, and includes a full 128GB SSD (the similarly priced Acer S3 had a 20GB SSD coupled with a traditional platter drive), but cuts a pretty serious corner by dropping the CPU to an Intel Core i3. Most of the other Ultrabook-style laptops we've seen have Core i5 or even Core i7 CPUs. For everyday use it won't make too much of a difference, but our benchmark tests show a definite advantage to having a Core i5.
While it's not as artfully rendered as the MacBook Air, the Z835 is incredibly light, and offers extras, such as USB 3.0 and HDMI, missing from Apple's laptop. Even the battery life was excellent, beating Lenovo's U300s for the best Windows-based Ultrabook battery score to date. However, the keyboard is surprisingly small and hard to use, with an especially finicky space bar--it might not be a deal breaker, but you'll want to get a little hands-on time to test it out before you commit.
While we've been rightfully skeptical about the entire Ultrabook concept from day one, the actual hardware we've seen and reviewed has all been pretty good. Thus far, the R835 takes the cake, at least on paper, for the right mix of price and features, but the cheap-feeling keyboard stops it from being a clear winner in the category.
|Price as reviewed||$899|
|Processor||1.4GHz Intel Core i3-2367M|
|Memory||4GB, 1333MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||128GB SSD|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||12.4 x 8.9 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||17.3 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||2.4/3.1 pounds|
Toshiba's laptops tend to be a bit on the thick side. Our recent favorite, the Portege R835 (a sister system to this one) fared better, being reasonably svelte for a 13-inch laptop with an optical drive, but still not exactly thin. The new Z835, however, is an entirely different animal, and is very thin and very light--it's even lighter than the other recent Ultrabooks (not that a few ounces makes a huge difference at this level).
The look is very similar to that of the popular R835, with a brushed metal lid and slight taper toward the front. The R835 felt a bit insubstantial, which was forgivable, as it was such a good overall bargain. The Z835 has a similar feel, and the shiny sliver plastic hinges look cheap, as do the similar plastic touch pad buttons, while the lid has a tremendous amount of flex when pressed. The system still has an overall upscale look, but if the Z835 plans to compete with not just the MacBook Air, but also high-end Ultrabooks from Asus and Lenovo, it's not going to win with those shopping primarily on aesthetics.
The keyboard does nothing to ameliorate the cheap feel, it's the laptop's single most frustrating feature. The letter keys are shaved down on the top and bottom, ending up more rectangular than square, and with a smaller surface area. The space bar is amazingly tiny, and frequently failed to register, although that may be a function of my particular typing style--you may have better luck. All of the keys are also especially shallow, which adds to the awkward feel. On the positive side, the keyboard is backlit, so it's not all bad news.
Taking a different approach than the other Ultrabooks, which all mimic Apple's buttonless click-pad design, the Portege Z835 has a more traditional touch pad with a smaller surface area and separate left and right mouse buttons. It's largely a matter of taste, as the bigger click pads on the Acer, Asus, and Lenovo Ultrabooks have been average at best (especially compared with Apple's industry leading touch pad). The smaller pad on this system was pleasingly responsive, and the biggest problem we had was that the mouse buttons were made of cheap, shiny plastic. We did appreciate, however, that the touch pad has a handy on-off button right above it, in case you have a mouse plugged in and don't want to accidentally hit the touch pad surface.
The display on the Z835 has the same 1,366x768-pixel native resolution as the vast majority of 11-inch to 15-inch laptops. That's fine, especially for a sub-$1,000 laptop, but some of the other thin 13-inch models offer more--the Asus Zenbook for example has a 1,600x900-pixel screen. The Toshiba screen was clear and bright, but colors didn't look as vibrant as the much more expensive MacBook Air. Its glossy surface picked up some glare from nearby lights, but horizontal off-axis viewing was good. The screen bezels were small on the left and right sides, although there's a lot of blank space above and below the display. The speakers, which fire from the front edge, got loud without distorting, but like nearly all speakers in laptops of this size, they lacked bottom end.
|Toshiba Portege Z835||Average for category [13-inch]|
|Video||VGA plus HDMI||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||2 USB 2.0, 1 USB 3.0, SD card reader||2 USB 2.0, 1 USB 3.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
|Optical drive||None||DVD burner|
The Toshiba Portege Z835 has a decent selection of ports and connections, including USB 3.0 and an Ethernet jack, the latter of which is missing from some of the other Ultrabooks. There's no Bluetooth on this model, nor an optical drive, so make sure you won't need either of those.
This version, the Z835-P330, is a retail model sold at Best Buy. In order to hit that appealing $899 price, a few corners had to be cut, such as the aforementioned Bluetooth, or the slower Intel Core i3 processor. Toshiba plans to make more expensive versions of the Z800 series available via its Web site, so you'll be able to pay more upgraded components, such as a Core i5 CPU, if you want.
In this particular case, the 1.4GHz Intel Core i3-2367M in our review unit is certainly powerful enough for everyday computing, such as Web surfing, e-mail, basic office productivity, and even streaming HD video. However, it doesn't come close to matching the performance of the other Ultrabooks we've tested, all of which had faster Core i5/Core i7 processors.