Walt Mossberg

New Laptop From Toshiba Is Lightweight and Speedy

For all the excitement about tablet computers, the traditional clamshell laptop still rules. In fact, the computer industry is working hard to make it smaller, lighter and sleeker.

There have been two broad approaches to this task. One, exemplified by netbooks, has been to shrink the footprint of the machine, so it’s lighter and cheaper. But this has meant cramped keyboards and screens, and generally wimpier processors and battery life.

The other, pioneered by the MacBook Air and the Lenovo ThinkPad X300 series, has been to preserve a standard 13-inch screen, a roomy keyboard, and standard processors for decent performance, but to pare thickness and weight. But this has meant much higher prices.

Now Toshiba, long known for making thin, light, laptops, has introduced a standard-footprint machine that is thin and light—and uses the latest Intel processors, with generous memory and storage, and strong battery life. Yet it costs much less than the MacBook Air and X300, with the tradeoff being a bit more bulk. I’ve been testing this model, which is called the Portege R705. Despite a few drawbacks, I like the R705 and can recommend it to consumers willing to pay higher-than-netbook prices for a speedy, standard-size, but easy-to-tote laptop with good battery life.

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Toshiba’s Portege R705, which is just over an inch thick, has a roomy keyboard with generously sized keys.

The R705 is the sole consumer model in a new R700 line mainly aimed at corporate customers. Toshiba sells it online for $890, while Best Buy’s site has it at $800. That is about double the price of a top-of-the line netbook, but the R705 is much more powerful than a netbook and is much cheaper than the MacBook Air, which currently starts at $1,500, or the ThinkPad X301 (the latest in the X300 series), which starts at over $2,000.

This new Toshiba has a dark-blue cover and a solid construction, despite feeling very light in the hand. The bright, vivid screen is sturdy, and the roomy, well-spaced keyboard is firm, with a large space bar, delete key, tab, backspace, shift and arrow keys. The touchpad and buttons also are generously sized.

The R705 is thicker than the MacBook Air, at just over an inch thick versus about three-quarters of an inch for the Apple. It’s also thicker than the ThinkPad in some places and thinner in others. At three pounds, it’s about the same weight as the Apple, though it’s slightly lighter than the ThinkPad. Unlike the Apple and like the ThinkPad, the new Toshiba has a built-in DVD drive.

It has a much better selection of ports than the Apple, including three USB ports instead of one. It also has three ports missing entirely on the Apple: a built-in Ethernet port; an HDMI port for direct, high-definition connection to a TV; and a memory-card reader. (The ThinkPad has three USB ports and an Ethernet jack, but no memory reader or HDMI.)

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The new Toshiba sports a big 500 gigabyte hard disk and 4 gigabytes of memory to power its 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium. The Apple and Lenovo have just 2 gigabytes of memory and a maximum storage capacity of 128 gigabytes, though both offer solid-state drives versus the standard mechanical hard disk on the Toshiba.

The R705 also has better battery life than the MacBook Air or ThinkPad X300 series. In my tough battery test, where I disable all power-saving features, crank the screen to full brightness, leave on the Wi-Fi and play a continuous loop of music, the R705 got four hours and 29 minutes of battery life. The MacBook Air racked up three hours and 24 minutes in my test, and the X300 just three hours and five minutes.

I estimate that in more-normal use, the R705 could last 5½ hours on a single charge—an impressive figure, though short of the company’s eight-hour claim. There is an Eco button, which switches the machine into a low-power mode to get more battery life.

In my tests, the new Toshiba speedily handled common software, such as Microsoft Office, Adobe Reader, Apple’s iTunes, and the Firefox and Chrome Web browsers.

The Toshiba has some other benefits. It uses the latest Intel Core processor—albeit the lowest-end version—and incorporates an Intel technology called Wi-Di which wirelessly beams whatever is on its screen to a TV, via a $100 adapter. It also has a couple of nice Toshiba software utilities, including a handy Bulletin Board program for organizing files and another called ReelTime, which lets you quickly find recently used files by date.

So what about the drawbacks? Well, for one, it has a relatively low-end integrated graphics chip. It stuttered repeatedly while streaming high-definition video from the Web, even on a very fast Internet connection. I found scrolling on the touchpad to be a bit jerky. And its start-up and restart times were relatively slow, approaching two minutes. Also, the R705 lacks Bluetooth connectivity. Finally, it includes an obnoxious, prominent “craplet” program from Best Buy that’s basically an ad.

Still, overall, this is a very nice laptop whose light, thin body hides a pretty powerful computer.

Find Walt Mossberg’s columns and videos, free, at the All Things Digital Web site, walt.allthingsd.com. Email him at mossberg@wsj.com.


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