Nothing gets the gadget fiend excited as much as the phrase, “A Best Buy Exclusive.”
Expectations could not have been lower for this machine, seeing as it’s headed into that electronic dumping ground: Holiday season at big box retailers.
Sure enough, Toshiba’s Portege Z835 looks at first blush like just another knock-off of the MacBook Air, stripped down, all plastic, and price-slashed to bring it down to a super-cheap $900, exactly in line with the new Acer Aspire S3. And yet the Portege offers some very compelling upgrades to the package.
To start with, although it is configured with just a 1.4GHz Core i3 CPU and 4GB of RAM, it’s significantly faster than the Acer — about 30 percent faster on general apps — and roughly on par with the Aspire as a gaming machine. Why then is it so speedy compared to the i5-powered Aspire? Probably due to the 128GB SSD drive, a feature you rarely see on machines this inexpensive.
Connectivity is also better than usual. You get both VGA and HDMI output, three USB ports instead of the usual two (one is USB 3.0 and one is chargeable), plus Ethernet, separate headphone and microphone jacks, and an SD card reader. The 13.3-inch screen (1366×768 pixels) is also substantially brighter than both the Aspire and the Sony Z Series ultrabook.
The kicker, though, is this: At 2.4 pounds this is the lightest ultrabook we’ve seen to date, lighter even than the 2.5-pound ultra-luxe Sony Z Series… which is nearly triple the price.
So far it sounds like a miracle machine, so what’s not to love? The keyboard isn’t too pretty, with nearly-no-travel keys and uneven backlighting that comes off looking cheap. The trackpad is nice, but the buttons are tiny and hard to press, as they’re both stiff and slightly recessed into the chassis, making them difficult to reach. My biggest complaint, though, has to be against the Z835’s lack of stability. I had far more than my fair share of inexplicable problems simply installing apps and more getting them to run successfully. While all the crashes were eventually recoverable, I found I wasted a lot of time troubleshooting issues I really shouldn’t have had to deal with at all.
Aside from the keyboard, the Z835 looks good — and professional — and feels impossibly lightweight. If the crash issues can be remedied (driver updates, perhaps?), Toshiba’s got a surprisingly near-perfect and world-class ultrabook on its hands.
WIRED Gorgeous display, great performance, ultra-cheap price, and dazzlingly light weight. More port options than most ultrabooks. Sleek and sophisticated looks despite the plastic construction. Above-average battery life at over 5 hours.
TIRED More crashes than you can shake a MacBook Air at. Screen flexes ominously. Weak keyboard with ugly backlighting. Ports (almost all in the rear) are difficult to reach.
Photos by Ariel Zambelich/Wired