capsule review

Toshiba Portégé R500 Ultraportable Laptop

At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Toshiba Portege R500-S5008X Notebook

    PCWorld Rating

    The R500 is one of the lightest notebooks with its screen size that we've tested, but its overly flexible screen worries us.

It's a feature, not a flaw: You can twist the Toshiba Portégé R500's screen in your bare hands. Pressing the plastic panel on the bottom of the case underneath the hard drive makes it pop inward. The company insists that these unusual design attributes are intentional, and indeed bills both as features ensuring improved durability; even so, we'd prefer a rock-hard shell.

The plastic bezel framing the 1280-by-800-pixel, 12.1-inch screen doesn't exactly come apart at the seams under such twisting, but it is a little loose-fitting. Though I kept waiting to hear the sickening snap of plastic breaking, the display still returned to its original shape and worked fine.

The ultraportable R500 (it weighs 2.4 pounds without an adapter) looks a little bit like a laptop version of a DeLorean sports car, complete with gleaming silver plastic paneling and with glossy metal trim highlighting a plastic shell. And like a DeLorean, it has a somewhat anemic engine (a 1.2-GHz Core 2 Duo U7500). It slogged through our tests with a score of 49 on WorldBench 6. But what the R500 lacked in the short sprint, it more than made up for by staying in for the long haul, lasting a little over 5.5 hours in our battery tests, or about an hour longer than the average ultralight notebook we've tested. In the configuration tested, the R500 cost $2149 at the time of review.

The keyboard has ample key spacing, so large-handed typists won't bumble over it, but the tactile response of the keys feels hollow and unsubstantial. The mousepad is better suited for small hands; however, I give credit to Toshiba for metallic mouse buttons that can definitely take a beating. Don't try beating too hard, though, because you don't want to accidentally damage the fingerprint reader that rests between the buttons. Also, all the indicator lights for everything from Wi-Fi to hard-drive activity shine through the silver panel that houses the mouse buttons.

Toshiba also smartly loads on all the outputs one expects from an ultraportable these days: FireWire, VGA-out, an SDHC card slot, and a PC Card slot--heck, the R500 even has an old-fashioned analog volume knob. Like the MacBook Air, though, it has only one USB port. On the other hand, it also has built-in ethernet.

Other uniquely Toshiba features are a couple of shortcut buttons adorning the top-right of the keyboard, including one that brings up the handy Toshiba Assist application (think of it as a pared-down version of Lenovo's awesome ThinkVantage utility suite that comes with the ThinkPad X300). For the less tech-savvy, the Toshiba Assist button pops a suite of useful utilities for doing everything from connecting Bluetooth devices to configuring output to an external display.

The second button controls the screen's backlighting. It kills the lights in a hurry, letting you operate the notebook in broad daylight without totally burning the battery. (In my case, I use it as a panic button when I don't want passersby knowing that I'm watching The Goonies again for the millionth time.)

Toshiba does many things right with the Portégé R500--you just can't become too bent out of shape over the twisty monitor.

--Darren Gladstone

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    The R500 is one of the lightest notebooks with its screen size that we've tested, but its overly flexible screen worries us.

    Pros

    • Above average battery life
    • Battery-saving backlight toggle

    Cons

    • Mediocre keyboard
    • Mousepad buttons awkward for big hands
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