Toshiba's ridiculously lightweight Portege R600 might steal all the headlines, but, if you don't mind a few extra grams, the Portege A600 is cheaper. The A600-122 configuration that we reviewed comes in at around £1,080, and is just as well-featured as the R600. At just under 30mm thick, you shouldn't have any problems slipping it into your rucksack either.
With its silver livery, the A600 looks good from a distance, but, when you get close up, the plasticky chassis loses some of its appeal. It didn't take long for some small but noticeable scratches to appear on the lid -- investing in a carry case would be a wise move.
The left side of the chassis is home to two USB ports (one of which will also accept eSata devices), audio sockets (complete with a traditional-style volume wheel), VGA out and the power socket. On the right side are a third USB port, Gigabit LAN, SD card reader, Wi-Fi switch and -- impressively, considering the laptop's small dimensions -- a DVD burner.
The panel underneath the optical drive flexes more than we'd like, as does the screen, but the A600 feels surprisingly robust otherwise.
Toshiba has resisted giving the 12.1-inch display a glossy coating, so you won't be hampered by reflections if you take it for a jaunt outside. Better still, it's LED-backlit, which helps give the battery life a boost. On the downside, it's not the brightest display we've seen, and you'll need to position it carefully, as viewing angles aren't great.
Considering an optical drive is built in, the A600's 1.46kg weight (not including the power adaptor) isn't bad, but there are lighter alternatives available if you're willing to increase your budget.
The keys are rather spongy but we had no trouble typing at speed. The textured trackpad is comfortable to use and, although small, the left and right buttons are responsive.
Intel's Core 2 Duo U9300 drives the A600 -- the same processer as featured in Samsung's similarly portable X360, and 2GB of DDR2 800MHz RAM comes preinstalled.
If you have a mobile broadband-enabled SIM card, the built-in HSDPA modem, located behind the battery, provides up to a 7.2Mbps connection. It's also HSUPA compatible, allowing up to 2Mbps downloads. It's not locked to a particular provider and worked a treat with our T-Mobile SIM card, automatically selecting the correct profile and leaving us to simply hit the 'connect' button. Of course, anyone signing up to a mobile-broadband package will most probably get a USB modem included, but they're easy to mislay and, if whacked when attached, will soon damage a USB port.
The A600 also has 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and a fingerprint reader, sat between the trackpad buttons.
The Intel Core 2 Duo SU9300 CPU is designed with portability in mind, not power, as borne out by the A600's score of 2,974 in the PCMark05 benchmark test. The eagle-eyed among you will notice that this is less than the 3,322 achieved by the SU9300-powered Samsung X360. Samsung's use of a solid-state drive, as opposed to the 200GB SATA drive on the A600 is the reason. Once again, Intel's GMA 4500MHD integrated graphics processor proves good only for such gaming classics as Minesweeper, clocking up just 659 in 3DMark06.
We also noticed some odd behaviour on the part of the fan during testing. When under strain, it couldn't seem to determine at what speed it should spin, quickly ramping up to full pelt before slowing down again almost immediately, only to repeat the process a few seconds later. Thankfully, it whirred away quietly when we were running non-intensive tasks.
Battery life is commendable and, if you're extra conservative in your use, you can expect to get close to the 7 hours and 21 minutes it achieved in Battery Eater's Reader's test. This dropped to 4 hours and 23 minutes when we switched to the battery-bashing Classic test. If you make use of the HSDPA modem, battery life will drop faster.
It's hard not to be impressed by the Toshiba Portege A600. It might not be the thinnest or lightest of the thin and light models out there, but it's certainly a decent ultra-portable laptop. It features the built-in optical drive that rivals such as Samsung's X360 lack and, although by no means a powerhouse, will cope with most tasks. Throw in built-in HSDPA and a decent battery life, and it's a good amount of kit for the money. That said, increasing your budget slightly puts the 1.1kg Portege R600 within reach.
Edited by Charles Kloet