One of the goals of the Ultrabook specification was affordability, but you wouldn’t know that by looking at the list of options currently available, nor the list of laptops soon to be released. Many models will set you back one Grover Cleveland — and that’s if you don’t pick any options.
There are a couple Ultrabooks that offer a price more than a dollar below a grand, however. One of them is the Acer Aspire S3, which we’ve already reviewed. The other is the Toshiba Portege Z835, which can be had for as little as $799.
This price allows the Z835 to undercut almost every other Ultrabook besides the S3, which can also be had for $799 (or even less, if you wait for the right deal). However, the base model only has a Core i3-2367M processor. That means no Turbo Boost.
We have no doubt that would impact performance, but we aren’t able to confirm it. Our review unit is better equipped, packing not only an upgrade to a Core i7-2677M processor clocked at 1.8GHz but also two additional gigabytes of RAM, bringing the total to 6GB. As if that weren’t enough, our laptop is the “built for business” model. That means it includes a fingerprint reader, a three-year warranty and various software utilities.
It has another extra — a price tag of $1,429. Suddenly, this budget-friendly laptop has turned in to a computer capable of intimidating the bravest wallet. Can the Z835 stand up to its own price? Let’s find out.
We’ve eaten pancakes thicker than this laptop. The 0.63-inch profile is impossible not to notice the instant you look at it. This is no cheap parlor trick made possible by tapered edges or an uneven frame, either. That figure is the maximum thickness — the laptop is actually thinner along the front edge, which rounds upward.
Most of the materials appear to be metallic, but you wouldn’t know that by touch. Everything feels like plastic. The use of magnesium alloy only becomes clear if you place the laptop in a chilly environment, giving it time to cool. Aesthetics aren’t helped by the tacky chrome accents along the touchpad buttons and on each side of the single, wide display hinge.
Build quality reveals the natural opponent of thin design. Strength. Many surfacesfeel flimsy, from the display lid to the keyboard to the palm rest. The lack of stiffness in the display, as well as the hinge, makes wobble a frequent issue. Even normal typing on a stiff surface (such as a kitchen table) causes the display to bend and sway slightly.
That’s not to say the Z835 isn’t practical. It doesn’t suffer from much lower chassis flex and there’s almost no use of glossy material, which means scratches and dents won’t be noticeable. The issue is luxury. Even at its base price this is not a cheap laptop — at the price of our review unit, it’s incredibly expensive. And the design doesn’t keep up with the price tag.
Connectivity options are a bright spot. There are three USB ports, HDMI and VGA out as well as a standard Ethernet jack, separate headphone and microphone jacks and an SD Card reader. Better yet, these ports are all at the rear of the laptop. Hello, Asus, Acer, are you listening? If Toshiba can pack all of this into such a slim chassis, why can’t you?
Stiffness isn’t the only part of the laptop impacted by its thin profile. The keyboard also has issues. Because the laptop is so thin, there simply isn’t any space for key travel. I would not be surprised if the total length of key travel on a ThinkPad T420 is nearly as deep as this laptop’s chassis.
The result is the least tactile laptop keyboard we’ve ever used. That can make touch-typing a bit of pain. Misaligning your fingertips is too easy, and you may not know anything is wrong until you see goobly-gook instead of the characters your intended.
The bad news ends there, though the rest is merely average. Space is not a problem and the layout features large keys across its entire surface. Backlighting is standard and works well, but the lighting used is uneven.
Touchpad quality is acceptable. You won’t receive much feedback from the flat, un-textured surface, but input is received quickly and multi-touch scrolling works reasonably well. Individual left and right buttons are provided, but as with the keyboard, there’s not much travel.
Display and audio quality
Our review unit surprised us by coming equipped with a matte display panel, which is apparently part of the “built for business” package. The less expensive models instead come with a glossy display. Either way, you’ll be receiving a resolution of 1366×768.
The matte coat does a great job of repelling reflections, and that’s about all the display does right. Black levels aren’t great. Contrast is poor. Colors appear flat and uninteresting. Perhaps the only strong point is the backlight, which is bright enough to allow outdoor use. That’s not true with most Ultrabooks.
Audio is also disappointing. Volume is fine, but music quickly dissolves into a tinny mess if you attempt to play it full blast. Quality is acceptable at lower volume, but then the sound isn’t loud enough to overcome moderate background noise. The poor audio performance isn’t surprising given this laptop’s dimensions, but the Asus UX31 and HP Folio 13 are better.