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Toshiba Portege R500-10U review: Toshiba Portege R500-10U

The Toshiba Portege R500 is an ultraportable in the truest sense of the word. Whereas many laptops are too bulky to be taken on the road, its 779g chassis, long battery life and transflexive screen make it the perfect travel companion.

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8.3

Toshiba Portege R500-10U

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The Good

Weighs almost nothing; comfortable keyboard.

The Bad

Feels very flimsy; no 3G.

The Bottom Line

Nothing beats the Toshiba Portege R500-10U for sheer lightness. It lets itself down slightly due to its questionable build quality, and the battery life could be a bit longer, but it's still an astonishing product

There are five different R500 models, with the entry-level Portege R500-106 costing around £1,200 from Toshiba resellers. Our review sample, the R500-10U, is available from Toshiba resellers for around £1,800.

Design
The first thing you'll notice about the Portege R500 is how incredibly light it is. Our review sample, the R500-10U, tips the scales at 779g. That's about as heavy as a mug of coffee, or a loaf of Hovis Original Wheatgerm bread. Seriously -- when you take this laptop out of its box, you'll think Toshiba sent you a dummy model.

The downside of its light weight is its questionable build quality. The palm rest flexes under the lightest of pressure and makes a worrying cracking sound if you lean on it too hard. The screen is also flimsy, flexing like a piece of cardboard when you open or close it. The entire thing feels as if it could break if a gnat sneezed on it.

Although it doesn't push the style envelope, the R500-10U is a good-looking laptop. It's somewhat minimalist but it still has a decent number extra physical features. There's a fingerprint reader, three USB ports, an SD card reader and an analogue volume wheel on the left, which lets you adjust the sound levels quickly.

Despite its petite dimensions, the R500-10U manages to incorporate a very comfortable keyboard. We had no problems touch typing with it, which isn't something that can be said of the slightly smaller Sony Vaio TZ series.

Features
One of the major reasons for the lightness of the R500-10U is the fact it uses a 64GB solid state hard drive (SSD). This doesn't have any moving parts so it weighs less than ordinary 46mm hard drives. It's also less susceptible to physical damage and accidental data loss. The downside is that it can't store much data, and it adds a great deal to the overall price of the laptop. The R500-10U is the only part of the R500 family that comes with an SSD, and you'll pay for it.

The R500-10U also lacks an optical drive, so you can't watch DVDs or make backups to a disc. Some versions of the R500 come with an optical disc drive, but this adds a couple of hundred grams. If weight is all-important, you'll want to give these a miss. 

At the heart of the system, the R500 uses an Intel Core 2 Duo processor. This is the U7600 ultra-low voltage model, which runs at a pedestrian 1.2GHz. It's a dual-core chip so it's still quick enough to handle most tasks, but don't be surprised if it suffers the occasional bout of slowdown when multitasking. We'd recommend going for 2GB of RAM -- standard on the R500-10U -- for added peace of mind.

One of the biggest issues faced by ultraportable laptops is the fact it's sometimes impossible to see what's on screen when you're outdoors, due to extreme reflectivity. Toshiba gets around the issue by using a 12.1-inch transflexive display, which remains visible even in bright sunlight. The laptop's transflexive on/off button at the top right lets you switch the LED backlight off when ambient light is sufficient to take the place of the internal LEDs.


It's not a perfect solution -- if you live in the cloud-infested land that is Britain, there's often not enough ambient light, so you end up using the internal backlight anyway. When doing so the LEDs bleed noticeably, leaving a strip of light across the top and bottom edges. In addition, the vertical and horizontal viewing angles are very poor, meaning the picture isn't very clear unless you stand or sit in exactly the right position.

The R500 comes with 802.11a/b/g/Draft-N Wi-Fi and Bluetooth as standard, but because it lacks a 3G SIM card slot, you can't go online outside of wireless hotspots. Considering this laptop is aimed at travellers, it's a silly omission that should have been added regardless of any extra weight. It is possible to add third party 3G datacards via the laptop's PC Card slot, but this isn't a very elegant solution.

Given the fact the laptop feels so flimsy, we're glad to see it has a three-year international warranty. The software package isn't as generous, though. It comes with copies of InterVideo WinDVD, Norton Internet Security 2007 (with 90 days of free updates), Ulead DVD MovieWriter and a smattering of Toshiba software. The R500-10U, R500-10J and R500-106 come with Windows Vista Business edition, while all other versions use XP Pro.

Performance
The Portege R500-10U scored 2,756 in PCMark05, making it faster than the Sony Vaio TZ series, which scored 1,049. As a result, it's quick enough to handle most everyday tasks such as Web browsing, desktop publishing and office productivity. Forget about gaming, though -- it only scored 158 in 3DMark05.

The R500-10U scored well in the most important benchmark of all. It lasted 97 minutes in BatteryEater, which isn't bad considering the test basically runs the CPU at full tilt until the batteries die. It's not as impressive as the 208 minutes achieved by the Sony Vaio TZ Series, though Toshiba says the R500 can last up to 7.5 hours with more restrained use. We suspect you may have to switch off the LED backlight and the wireless adaptor to get anywhere near that figure.

Conclusion
If you want a laptop that's ridiculously light with a good battery life, it's a toss-up between the Toshiba R500-10U and the Sony Vaio TZ series.

The R500 isn't as well-built as the TZ series, and its battery life isn't as impressive, but it is slightly faster, has a more comfortable keyboard and is lighter.

Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday