Before there were netbooks, Adamos, Timelines or even a MacBook Air, there was the Portege. Toshiba’s long-standing marquee for ultraportable notebooks never achieved the prominence of many of its more fashionable contemporaries, but the business-styled portable has always pressed the bounds of technology. Back in 2007, the Portege R500 actually took the title of the “world’s thinnest notebook with an optical drive.” The R705 continues the thin-and-light, business-centric traditions of its fore-bearers, but with a new emphasis on value; an exotic prepped for the mainstream market. To that end, the R705 is neither as thin or as light as the old R500, but Toshiba’s “no-compromises” 13.3-inch portable still manages to make very few for the price, producing an excellent value for budget-conscious consumers.
Despite its netbook-worthy 3.2-pound carry weight, Toshiba’s Portege R705 packs a pedigree that’s less Chihuahua and more St. Bernard. That includes a full-speed (not ULV) Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of memory, a 500GB hard drive and a 13.3-inch screen with 1366 x 768 resolution. The machine also supports Intel’s WiDi wireless HD streaming technology, meaning it can push 1080p video to a remote monitor with an adapter like Netgear’s Push2TV.
Throw in an Radeon or GeForce GPU and you would have a certifiable gaming machine, but Toshiba omits the graphics muscle in favor of the lower weight and longer battery life from Intel HD graphics, leaving the Portege leaning more toward the coffee-and-suit demographic than the Mountain-Dew-and-t-shirt crowd.
The styling, smartly enough, aligns with those conservative sensibilities. Unlike Toshiba’s occasionally gaudy Qosmio gaming notebooks, the Portege reverts to clean lines, matte colors (an inky navy blue on the lid) and a complete absence of neon anything. The magnesium alloy chassis gives it a rigid feel that says it’s made from metal, rather than plastic plastered with cut-apart soda cans like some of the budget notebooks sporting the brushed-aluminum look. The only exception comes from the lid, which lacks the rigidity of the chassis and flexes significantly under a firm press.
Don’t confuse solid-feeling with heavy, though. Spreading 3.2 pounds across a footprint this big almost makes the R705 feel almost hollow. With the lid open, you can grasp both front corners between thumb and forefinger and lift it effortlessly. At just one inch deep, no one will confuse it with a MacBook Air, but it still looks slim and slides into a crowded backpack or messenger bag easily thanks to tapered edges.
Though not outfitted for every imaginable scenario like business ‘books with four-digit price tags, the Portege offers no shortage of inputs striping the sides of its slender chassis. The left side offers both VGA and HDMI video outputs, along with both a USB 2.0 and combined eSATA-USB port for accessories. A dainty power cable connects at the far back, connected to a petite power supply that’s little bigger than what you might find with a standard netbook. The right side includes dedicated microphone and headphone jacks for analog sound, plus an Ethernet jack, another USB port, and perhaps most impressive, a DVD drive, which has become a rarity on notebooks this light. The Portege also includes an SD card reader notched into the right-hand side of the palm rest, an odd-but-practical location that actually makes it easier to pop cards in and out without leaning over to find the slot.
True to its business roots Toshiba has gone light on the bloatware with the R705 – you won’t find any eBay links on the desktop. But in the name of convenience, you will find a heavy-handed smattering of preinstalled utilities. Toshiba’s hard drive protection, for instance, will warn you every time you so much as jostle the notebook that the hard drive head has been docked for your safety – but after 10 alerts in five minutes, any rational user will click the box to permanently disable this message. It’s almost like Toshiba left it enabled just to let us know it’s even there.
Perhaps a bigger irritation is Toshiba’s webcam dock, which peeks out from the side by a few pixels at all times and happily vaults out to greet you with options for settings, effects and facial recognition whenever you dare wag a cursor too close to the edge of the screen. We were happy to have the utilities, but puzzled by the prominent positioning. It’s as if Toshiba expects you to want to view different novelty frame options (heart, stars or bubbles?) at any time within seconds.
Toshiba Book Place and Toshiba Bulletin board both hang unobtrusively enough on the bottom dock, but both of them nagged us incessantly to update with the first run, and neither provided enough utility to make us happy we sat through the installers.
We might consider the entire software suite scrappable if not for Toshiba’s redeeming Eco Utility, which intelligently cinches down on notebook performance to wring extra minutes from the battery. Every notebook has something along these lines, but we we liked the instant graphing, real-time watt consumption, and the hard button above the keyboard Toshiba has tied it to, which flicks eco mode on and off near instantly.