Toshiba Portege R500 (PPR50A-07S05C)

One for the road

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Toshiba Portege R500 (PPR50A-07S05C)
  • Toshiba Portege R500 (PPR50A-07S05C)
  • Toshiba Portege R500 (PPR50A-07S05C)
  • Toshiba Portege R500 (PPR50A-07S05C)

Pros

  • Built-in 3G module, great battery life, very light, built-in optical drive, plenty of ports

Cons

  • Gets noticeably warm, screen has narrow vertical viewing angle, hard drive was slow, touchpad is sticky

Bottom Line

It's well-suited to road warriors thanks to its light weight and built-in 3G module, but it's still not the perfect laptop. If you're going to go for the R500, opt for a solid-state drive instead of a conventional hard drive.

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Working while on the road can be inconvenient if you have to lug around a 15in laptop that weighs 3kg or more, so an ultraportable is the best way to go. For a while now, Toshiba's Portege R500 has perhaps been the best ultraportable on the market for business users, mainly due to its very light weight, thin profile, long-lasting battery and generous array of features. With this new model, Toshiba has made it even better.

The R500 now comes with a built-in 3G module, which Toshiba has partnered with a Telstra BigPond data account, and it offers download speeds of up to 3 megabits per second (Mbps) if you're in a well-covered Next G area. The built-in module means there are no dangly bits, and all you have to do is insert a BigPond SIM card in the reader that's located in the battery compartment. The module isn't locked to BigPond accounts: Toshiba says that it will be able to support other carriers pending the carriers' approval.

Toshiba has also upped the processing power of the R500. This model comes with a 1.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U7700 ultra low voltage CPU, compared to the 1.2GHz CPU we saw in the previous model, and it also has a conventional, 5400rpm hard drive. This drive is a double-edged sword of sorts, as it provides a huge amount of space (142GB of formatted space), but it also makes the unit run very hot, and it also means that if you drop the laptop, the hard drive may get damaged. For a business model, which will most likely be used for word processing, presentation creation and Web browsing, we think this drive is overkill.

The solid-state drive (SSD) we saw in the previous model is a better option if you are considering buying the R500. It will keep the R500's heat production to a minimum, and there will be less chance of data loss if the laptop is dropped. It will also reduce the laptop's overall weight slightly, and it will be faster. Indeed, we were a little surprised that the installed 5400rpm drive performed slower than the 64GB SSD drive; the 5400prm drive recorded an average transfer rate of 12.04 megabytes per second (MBps) in our tests. This is about 6MBps slower than the 18MBps rate of the SSD drive.

Using the laptop while out and about was a joy for the most part, as it has a conventional keyboard layout with big keys. However, its screen isn't the best we've seen. It's readable in bright, outdoor conditions, but its vertical viewing angle is narrow. When viewed from the top, there is a severe lack of contrast. This becomes an issue on public transport, where you can't place the screen very far in front of you and must look at it from a steep angle. Nevertheless, the thinness of the screen is very impressive (if it was any thinner it would be paper!), and it helps to keep down the overall weight of the unit.

Additionally, the amount of heat produced during use is bothersome, especially if you use the notebook on your lap. The left-side of the laptop's belly, where the hard drive and memory are both located, will produce noticeable heat. This heat will also travel up through the magnesium alloy chassis to the palm rest and keyboard, making it hot for your left hand, in particular, as well as your thighs.

As you can see, it's not all good for the R500 (we also think its touchpad is too sticky), but as we stated in the opening paragraph, it's still a wonderful laptop to take on the road. It weighs almost 1.1kg, and its battery will typically last close to four hours, if not more, depending on your usage pattern. Furthermore, it's a robust unit. Considering its light weight and thin frame, the R500 withstood a lot of bumps while being transported in a backpack, but its lid did get scratched. You'll definitely want to keep it covered if you're going to be tossing it into a backpack at the start of your day instead of a proper laptop bag.

The most impressive thing about the R500 is still its array of features. It has a built-in DVD burner, three USB ports, Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11n wireless networking, a D-Sub port, even a FireWire port! The SD card reader is convenient, and the rotational physical volume control is a welcomed addition, too. The only thing it lacks is a webcam, but making Skype video calls or video conferencing while on the road hasn't exactly become the norm yet.

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