Editors' note (April 4, 2011): Anyone shopping for the product reviewed here should note that it has been replaced with the Portege R835 series. Those 2011 models offer faster Sandy Bridge CPUs and better battery life.
Editors' note: The review below reflects hands-on testing of the Toshiba R705-P25 model. The R705-P35 here adds a built-in 4G wireless option, but is otherwise identical. As such, it retains the Editors' Choice designation of its predecessor.
We know that the quest for the perfect laptop is ultimately fruitless. Different users have different needs, budgets, and expectations, and tomorrow's technology threatens to make any just-purchased laptop semi-obsolete before it even comes out of its cardboard box. That said, the new Toshiba Portege R705 comes about as close as anything we've seen this year, offering a great mix of price, design, features, and performance.
The Portege R705 is a 13-inch laptop (similar to Apple's MacBook), which is the biggest screen size we'd consider carrying around on a regular basis, but also the smallest we'd be able to comfortably use for full-time computing. It's thinner than the current white plastic MacBook (but not as svelte as the MacBook Air or Dell Adamo XPS) and has a sturdy magnesium alloy chassis.
Toshiba lists this version of the Portege R705 for $899, but as of this writing, it can be found online for $749. A handful of business-oriented configs are also available (called the R700, instead of the R705), adding a docking port and a few other corporate-friendly features for $999 and up.
In this fixed-configuration retail model, for $250 less than an entry-level MacBook, you get a newer Intel Core i3 processor (the basic MacBook has an older Core 2 Duo CPU), a large 500GB hard drive, and Intel's Wireless Display technology, which allows the laptop's display to be beamed to a remote TV or monitor (this requires a sold-separately $100 Netgear Push2TV adapter that connects to your TV). Not to draw too many MacBook comparisons, but the R705 also has an SD card slot (as does virtually every Windows-based laptop no matter the price), and HDMI and eSATA ports--all things the $999 MacBook lacks.
Another advantage found on the P35 variant of the R705 is built-in support for 4G wireless. If you live in an area served by a WiMax provider (e.g. Clear, Sprint, Time Warner), you can set up service at the time of sale (you'll need a contract, but may be eligible for a discount on the hardware) or add it later by contacting the provider directly. It's yet another monthly bill, of course--and it'll certainly speed up your battery drain--but you won't need to have any extra USB dongles or external Mi-Fi devices in tow.
There are a few issues. The integrated Intel graphics are a drag, the keyboard isn't backlit (which would have been a nice touch on this slick-looking system), and the merely average battery life isn't quite enough for a full day of on-the-go computing. Also, out of the box, the hard drive accelerometer was far too sensitive, parking our HDD head every time we so much as breathed on the R705. Onboard Bluetooth is also a no-show.
Those problems aside, the Portege R705 looks and feels like a much more expensive laptop, and is our new go-to choice for those who want a slick 13-inch experience but can't (or won't) join the MacBook masses.
|Price as reviewed||$749|
|Processor||2.26GHz Intel Core i3|
|Memory||4GB, 1,066MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||500GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Intel GMA HD (integrated)|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||12.5 x 8.9 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||13.3 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||3.1/3.9 pounds|
The brushed-metal magnesium alloy chassis feels sturdy, despite its thinness (and the front lip tapers, making it look even thinner). The Portege is a cousin of one of our favorite laptops of all time, the 12-inch Portege R500. That $1,500 (or more) system suffered from too much flex in its body and lid, which is not the case here.
The back of the lid on this consumer model has a subtle dark blue tint to it, as opposed to the solid black on the business-targeted variant. The only visual element on the R705 we really disliked was the overly chromed screen hinges, which would look more at home as rims on a tricked-out car than on a sophisticated laptop.
The keyboard uses flat, widely spaced island-style keys. While perfectly usable, the keys are noticeably more rectangular than most, as if they were shortened to save space. Typing is also a little on the clacky side, but not so much as to be a deal breaker. We do appreciate the large dedicated page-up, page-down, home, and end keys along the right side--they're usually relegated to alternate function keys on most laptops. Our biggest complaint is that the keyboard is not backlit. We've seen that feature on other Toshiba laptops in this price range, and it's always an appreciated extra. Toshiba would also do well to make media and volume controls easier to access by swapping them with their Fn key alternates--something we've seen trending in other multimedia-friendly laptops.
It's not as large as on a MacBook, but the R705's touch pad is among the bigger ones we've seen on a 13-inch laptop. Multitouch gestures include two-finger scrolling, but as always seems to be the case on Windows laptops, it's nowhere as smooth and responsive as on a MacBook. The left and right mouse buttons are well-sized and easy to use--a concept many PC makers seem to have trouble with.
Toshiba also includes a couple of custom software utilities with the system. ReelTime is a kind of history browser, displaying every recent document and Web page in thumbnail form along the bottom of the screen. It's surprisingly slick and usable, although it's not really a necessity. There's also a Toshiba Bulletin Board app, which lets you compile photos and notes in a single workspace. It's also slick-looking, but we're always dubious of learning a whole new software tool that only works on one brand of laptop.
The 13.3-inch LED display has a native resolution of 1,366x768--roughly comparable with the MacBook's 1,280x800, and the current standard for most laptops from 13 to 15 inches. While not exactly matte, the screen was much less glossy than we're used to seeing from a consumer laptop. The stereo speakers were thin and not great for blasting music, but not out of bounds for a laptop this size.
|Toshiba Portege R705||Average for category [13-inch]|
|Video||VGA, HDMI||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0 (1 USB/eSATA), SD card reader||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, optional 4G broadband||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
The inclusion of a combo USB/eSATA port, plus HDMI and an SD card slot, give the Portege R705 a big advantage over the MacBook in terms of ports and connections. Even though the system has an Intel Wireless Display transmitter built in (see our hands-on demo here for more details on this very interesting technology), it's a shame the R705 does not come bundled with the Netgear adapter required to wirelessly beam video to your television. The first round of Wireless Display laptops from earlier in 2010 all included the adapter (which sells separately for $100).