Don't Mess With Success?

While no company makes a product expecting it not to sell, I remember reps from Toshiba telling me in a meeting about how surprised they were by the original Portege R700's success. The slim form factor, matte plastic shell, and chiclet keyboard were a major departure from their other notebooks, but the success with the design seemed to have struck such a chord that Toshiba took design cues from the R700 and adapted them part and parcel to the Tecra R800 series.

Progress in the industry can be slow, though, and while I've seen some of the pretty radical changes Toshiba has planned for the back-to-school season this year, the Portege R835's shell hasn't really changed much from its predecessor. You could go back and take a look at Vivek's thoughts on the R700's design and apply most of the same information to the R835.

The difference, though, is that his review unit was north of $1,600. The one we have on hand is just $849, and what's unacceptable at a premium price can merely feel like a compromise at a more mainstream cost. Gone from our unit are the fingerprint reader, matte display, and ExpressCard slot; the one concession we get back is the USB 3.0 port, which is welcome enough.

My feelings do echo Vivek's regarding the keyboard, though. While the touchpad and touchpad buttons are perfectly fine and even pleasant enough to use, I'm not a fan of this keyboard. The slightly shorter keys Toshiba employs for this keyboard (and for the one on their ultrabook, the Portege Z830) feel just different enough in size to throw off my typing, and the action of the keys themselves is on the mushy side. I'm also not sure why Toshiba persists in using a glossy finish on their "premium" keyboards; the matte keyboards they use on lesser notebooks are actually more comfortable and practical in my opinion. To their credit, Toshiba continues to use a generally fantastic key layout, with dedicated document navigation keys and arrow keys that are all the same size.

 

With all that in mind, the relative absence of gloss elsewhere on the notebook is much appreciated. The matte black plastic with brushed aluminum pattern looks slightly chintzy, but generally it's the kind of minimalistic aesthetic that I personally enjoy. The placement of expansion ports is smart, and access panels on the bottom allow the end user to quickly and easily replace the memory and 2.5" drive. Something else you're not liable to see in an ultrabook (besides the optical drive) is present here, too: a user-replaceable battery.

I'm not necessarily wowed by the Portege R835 as a whole, but I'm not underwhelmed by it either. Toshiba's designers seem to have tried to make the most of the limited real estate the form factor provides, and while nicer build materials would've probably helped they also would've been liable to drive the total system cost up.

Introducing the Toshiba Portege R835 System Performance
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  • kvort - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    I bought my r835 over a year ago, and it had been out for a few months at the time. I remember looking all over AT for a review to find out if was any good.

    Why review after a year and a half on the market?
    Reply
  • jacobdrj - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    In my experience: People don't need dual core systems. They rarely need more that 2 GB of RAM. They CERTAINLY don't need huge display resolutions. They want to go online, check their mail, punch out the occasional Word document, and facebook themselves to death.

    A netbook with a single core processor and a HDD: Worthless. A netbook with a SSD (even with a 10.1: screen) the most used computer in a household... It starts fast. It is portable. The battery goes on for 9 HOURS (with a 6 or 9 cell battery, depending on your processor).

    I have to deal with a HDD boot drive at work, and it is HORRIBLE. I told them when I was hired in: Give me a the cheapest system you can buy, and put a SSD in it... My request has been postponed, but everyone in the Office can't wait for the SSD budget to be approved... That day is coming. Just waiting a few more months through the pain...
    Reply
  • bennyg - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    Netbook with dual core (N570) atom, and with a SSD is still slow. Quick to get to windoze desktop but slow to finish booting due to the slow CPU. A Corsair Force (285/180mb/s) was no better than the slow old 90mb/s Samsung RBX harvested from a busted Dell. But no argument, both are much preferable to the bog slow 5400rpm that was in it. Everything I use has a SSD in it, even the HTPC.

    It's Android x86 ICS that makes it fly, it shines when paired with an OS designed for low power CPUs.
    Reply
  • bji - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    I finally got SSDs in my work system. Now my home laptop, desktop, and fileserver, and work workstation, all are SSD only. Life is good.

    What an amazing difference it has made already (at work). I got two 240 GB Intel 520 SSDs. I wouldn't touch Sandforce before Intel endorsed it. So far - incredible. Perceptibly faster than the X25-M and Intel 320 I have in my home systems. Eliminated every single performance problem that I had been having during my software development work. My company sprung for the $750 upgrade. I would recommend it to anyone. My company is easily going to get more than $750 worth of extra productivity out of me in compensation for the upgrade cost.
    Reply
  • bootsattheboar - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    Although it looks like it has a docking port, it doesn't really: the motherboard connector is missing. You have to dock it to a dynadock u3 that connects to the usb 3 port, which doesn't provide power. We bought 2 of these for people in my department. One works fine. The other has a problem with the usb3 port crashing after a few minutes of use. You have to restart the pc for it to work again. We tried both dynadocks with it, and 2 different usb2 mice, and it's definitely the port. It has been to the Toshiba repair depot once, and is awaiting a new box for a second trip since they did nothing but a burn-in test. Several people on their laptop forums have complained about the same issue with the renesas usb3 chipset. An unsupported (by Toshiba anyway) firmware update and driver update only prolonged the time before the port crashes.

    Other than that, it's a great laptop for the price.
    Reply
  • Hulk - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    I hear the super PLS screens are very good. Reply
  • apudapus - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    I completely agree about getting better displays. That is why the last 2 laptops I've bought are the Sony Vaio Z1 and Sony Vaio Z2 (that and because they're great little machines). Display resolution is the first spec I look at when I see a new laptop. Thank you for continuing to wave the "we need better displays" banner. Reply
  • Daller - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    In Europe it is called the Satellite R835. Mine has an i3 processor, but I do not care, since I do all the heavy lifting on my workstation.

    I think the cooling system is very good, I've even tried blocking the exhaust while running Prime95... The system stays stable. Intel actually helped Toshiba design this cooling system, so I think they know what they are doing. Running a CPU hot is not a problem as long as it is within spec and you do not have many rapid heating/cooling cycles.

    I use it with a OCZ Vertex 2 120GB and it is very responsive.. if only I could replace that crappy screen! >:O
    Reply
  • Bob-o - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    > When Toshiba released the Portege R700 in 2010, it came out of nowhere.

    Uh, no it didn't. It evolved from the R600, which evolved from the R500,. . . , which evolved from the R200. . .

    Toshiba has made thin/ultralight/whatever notebooks for some time. I still have an R500 and R200 sitting around. And yep, the screens have always sucked. :-) But very light and decently capable in their time.
    Reply
  • bennyg - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    Good that someone is trying to remedy the deficiencies of the 'ultrabook' spec (... where are you AMD..??)

    Removeable battery = biggest yay. Don't care for runtime stats if I can double whatever they are by a hibernate & swap. Works great for my phone. My cheap ten year old 24V drill came with a spare battery. Why does no one advertise this for laptops!!?

    768p screen = boo.
    100C CPU temps? ouch!

    I had a notebook that pushed over 80C CPU and 95C GPU, but that was running a 45W i7 quad and ~65W GPU off the one tiny fan. Not a 32nm dual core with int gfx! Not good enough Toshiba!
    Reply

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