Reviewing the Toshiba Portege R835-P88 is like revisiting an old friend. Previous versions of this laptop have won our coveted Editors' Choice Award, by offering excellent all-around performance in a slim, lightweight 13-inch body, for a lot less than you'd expect.
But since we reviewed the last version of the R835, a seismic shift in 13-inch laptops has occurred, thanks to the growing popularity of the ultrabook. The R835 now feels big and a little bulky compared to the 20mm-or-less 13-inch ultrabooks from Dell, HP, and even, which are all available for around $899-$999 for a similar Intel Core i5 configuration, but with a 128GB SSD instead of the R835's standard platter hard drive.
But despite not being the newest or sexiest 13-inch laptop around, the Portege R835 still comes off as an excellent full-featured 13-inch laptop. This specific configuration, the R835-P88, has 6GB of RAM, a big 640GB HDD, and includes features missing from most ultrabooks, such as an optical drive and Intel's Wireless Display technology. While most retailers have this system listed at between $850 and $950, it's currently available on NewEgg for $699, which is an excellent deal.
If you're looking for the thinnest and lightest 13-inch around, take the same money and put it toward an under-$1,000 ultrabook. But if you're willing to trade some portability for features and a great price, the scrappy little Toshiba Portege R835 remains one of our go-to laptop picks.
|Price as reviewed||$849|
|Processor||1.5GHz Intel Core i5-2450M|
|Memory||6GB, 1333MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||640GB 5,400rpm|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||12.4 x 8.9 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||13.3 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||3.2/4.0 pounds|
Physically, this version of the Toshiba Portege R835 is identical to previous models we've reviewed. Many of those earlier observations stand, but the recent ultrabook trend changes the expectations of what a slim midpriced 13-inch laptop should look and feel like, leaving the R835 looking chunky (but still feeling very light in the hand).
The R835 has a subtle dark blue tint to its brushed-metal magnesium alloy chassis. The bottom half of the body feels sturdy despite its light weight, but there's a bit of flex in the lid. This is still a smart-looking consumer/business crossover laptop, but it also keeps the one visual element we disliked last time: the chromed screen hinges, which just look cheap.
Previously, you'd have to spend a lot more on something like a MacBook Air or a Samsung Series 9 in order to get a thinner 13-inch laptop. Today, ultrabooks such as Toshiba's own Z835 offer slimmer bodies for around the same price or just a bit more.
The keyboard, like most current consumer laptop keyboards, uses flat, widely spaced island-style keys. 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 icons on black keys. The R835 still lacks a backlit keyboard, which many thinner ultrabooks have managed to work in. It would be a major plus to have in this case.
The decent-size touch pad is acceptable, and it has separate left and right mouse buttons, rather than being the all-in-one click pad style we're seeing more of these days. The mouse buttons are on the small and clacky side, but work well enough.
The 13.3-inch display has a native resolution of 1,366x768 pixels -- the same as most of the ultrabooks we've seen (by way of comparison, the MacBook Air's screen has a 1,440x900-pixel resolution). 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 are audible but pretty lackluster.
|Toshiba Portege R835-P88||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||1 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0, 1 eSATA/USB 2.0, 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||DVD burner||DVD burner|
Compared to a standard ultrabook or the MacBook Air, the Portege R835 has a generous selection of ports and connections. Bluetooth is the most obvious missing element, but the inclusion of an eSATA port is rare on a 13-inch laptop, and it's still a pretty handy way to hook up a large external hard drive.
This particular configuration of the Portege R835, called the R835-P88, is ever so slightly different from the pair of earlier versions we reviewed. Those 2011 models both had Intel Core i5-2410 CPUs and 4GB of RAM. This one has a 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-2450 CPU and 6GB of RAM, along with the same 640GB hard drive as before. That won't make a huge difference in everyday use, but the extra RAM is nice. At the list price of $849, it's acceptable but not a bargain. But, we've seen it for as little as $699, which is a pretty fantastic overall value, considering the big hard drive and extra RAM.
In our CNET Labs benchmark tests, the Portege R835-P88 performed as one would expect from a laptop with this very common mainstream CPU. It was closely tied with systems such as the HP Pavilion dm4 and just slightly faster than the R835-P56X configuration we tested previously. None of these slight differences in performance, however, were significant enough that you'd notice them while Web surfing, playing back media, or working on office documents.
The R835 did, however, far outperform Toshiba's popular low-cost ultrabook, the Portege Z835-P330, which gets its price down to $799 or so by dropping the CPU to a slower Intel Core i3. A $1,000-plus version of that Toshiba ultrabook, the Z835-P370, traded up to a low-voltage Core i5 CPU and cut the speed difference in half, but it was still slower.