On Monday I took delivery of my new work laptop. A Toshiba Portege R500. Despite being ridiculed by my boss for getting a 'wimps' machine, I chose this computer because of certain irresistible promises:

  • Low weight - good for all the flying and travel I'll be doing in my new role. Actually pretty good for carrying between meetings at the office too.
  • Long Battery Life - again, great for being away from the power supply all day, not to mention sitting on aeroplanes.
  • Aesthetics - it is undeniably the coolest looking laptop of the current contenders.

R500

The rest of it's features, frankly, just meet, or pale in comparison to my most recent laptop (the HP Nx8430). All that is, except for one, but more on that later.

Over the last couple of days, whilst I've been installing software and transferring data, I've come to really appreciate this machine. But then so has everyone else who's seen it as well. Like a pregnant woman's tummy, everyone seems to think they have the right to touch it.

It's a computer that's something like the new Lotus Exige. A sports car, with super car pretensions. Like the Exige, everything that's not considered essential is stripped out or pared down.

For example, the speakers, or should I say, speaker, is small and hardly hi-fidelity. There is no built-in webcam, an omission not seen on any self-respecting laptop today. The chromed mouse buttons look great, right until you click them, and leave unsightly smudgy fingerprints. Video out is an outdated 20th century VGA connector. No, the keyboard is not backlit; and unlike the new Macbook "Air" you can't use gestures on the trackpad to zoom your browser or rotate your pictures.

Smudgy Trackpad

But then, you pick it up, and marvel at it's lightness. The model I have, with the 120GB HDD, weigh's less than a kg. The keyboard, whilst not backlit, has 85 full sized keys with great tactile response.

R500 Keyboard

Last night I worked for over 4 hours without AC power. When I eventually went to sleep, the Low battery warning informed me that I only had juice for another 1 hr 05. Did I mention that this is on the 4-cell battery that comes as standard. There's also a 6-cell battery which comes as an accessory. Be careful though, this bumps the width to a whopping 25mm. (battery life to circa 8 hours though)

You'd think, after Apple's recent announcement that, to put together something his sleek, one actually has to sacrifice on peripherals we've come to take for granted. But you'd be wrong!

The Toshiba R500 is a mere 1mm thicker than the Macbook Air, and Apple compromised with a hidden peripheral slot, housing a single USB, mini-DVI, and headphone socket; no optical drive; no replaceable battery, and a paltry 80GB HDD. They did this in a computer up to 400g heavier.

The R500 on the other hand has a full Dual-layer DVD Burner, a firewire slot, no less than 3 USB slots, PCMCIA type II slot, VGA connector, SD Card slot, physical wi-fi switch, headphone and mic socket with volume control, a 1Gbps Ethernet socket, and a 120GB HDD.

R500 Left R500 Right

All that, in just one more millimetre! Not bad Toshiba. Like the Mac, you can choose to get the 64GB Solid State Drive, unlike the Mac, this will boost the battery life to an amazing 12.5 hours.

And it's not ugly either. Gone are designs reminiscent of clunky brick, or fridge plastic. This machine is a svelte magnesium alloy. On this PC stickers will detract from it's beauty.

Cover

And then....    ...there's the display!!

It's only 12.2" diagonal, but drives a respectable 1280 x 800 pixels. Actually the VGA out simultaneously and comfortably drives my 22" 1680 x 1050 display. But this isn't the innovation.

Transreflective Button

On the top left corner of the keyboard is a button with a strange icon. A screen with the sun behind it. Press this in the office and whoops, the screen goes dark. But press this outside in the bright sunlight, and suddenly, as if by magic, the screen lights up to wonderful, readable, useful display. The magic of the transreflective screen. In one fell swoop you get to use your computer outside, by the pool, at the coffee shop, and save more battery-life.

Lit Display Unlit Display

So since the Macworld announcement this morning, I've had some interesting thoughts:

  • How often do I want to sit with my laptop outside in the sun vs need to see the keyboard in the pitch black on a night flight?
  • How many DVD's do I already own that I'd like to watch vs movies I can't yet purchase in Australia to download legally?
  • More to the point, just how cool and attractive is this machine.

This is one great computer.

R42