Toshiba's New Ultrabook: Serious Bang For Your Buck, But Still No MacBook Air [REVIEW]

As the year comes to a close, we’ve come to the final wave of Ultrabooks for the Holiday season. There are only a handful of decent ones to choose from now.

But the onslaught is coming. Manufacturers are expected to unveil more than 50 new Ultrabook models at CES in January.

For now, the choice is simple when it comes to super-thin laptops. First, there’s the MacBook Air, which has seen such massive success that everyone else is rushing to copy it. Then, you have the Windows-powered wannabes.

The Toshiba Portege is the third Ultrabook I’ve tested to date (not counting my MacBook Air.) It’s definitely one of the best, and comes at a cost-friendly starting price of $800 if you get it at Best Buy. Keep reading for the full review.

Or click here to see photos of the Toshiba Portege Ultrabook >

Hardware And Performance
Just like Toshiba did with its Thrive tablet, it packed full-sized ports into the Portege. While that strategy was a complete disaster on the Thrive, it works like a dream on the Portege. It has it all: Three USB ports, HDMI out, SD card, and even a Ethernet port in case you need a wired connection.

I’m amazed Toshiba was able to pack all that into such a slim profile. My only criticism is that the Ethernet port bulges out a bit, ruining the continuity in the Portege’s design. I would’ve gladly sacrificed the port to avoid that.

toshiba portege ultrabook usb and hdmi port

Photo: Steve Kovach, Business Insider

There are a bunch of configurations for the Portege, with more coming, but the model I tested had a 1.4 GHz Intel i3 processor, 4 GB of RAM, and a 128 GB solid state drive. The hefty RAM helps a lot with speed, but it’s the solid state drive that makes the Portege (and other Ultrabooks) fly.

In my tests, the Portege would boot up between 15 and 20 seconds. That’s pretty much the same speed as the MacBook Air, and very impressive for a Windows 7 machine. When you wake the Portege from sleep mode by opening the screen, it flips on almost immediately. Even the Wi-Fi connects almost immediately, which is refreshing.

Battery life was solid, too. Toshiba boasts a bit over 8 hours of use, but I got closer to 7. (It really depends on brightness and what you’re working on.) When the Portege is asleep, it barely sucks up any power at all. After leaving the lid closed for hours, I was able to open it up and pick up where I left off with almost the same battery life remaining. Nice.

toshiba portege ultrabook ventThe new ventilation system.

Photo: Steve Kovach, Business Insider

I also enjoyed Toshiba’s new cooling system. It sucks air in instead of pushing it out, creating a nearly noiseless flow. The bottom still gets a little toasty on your lap, but it’s not that bad.

The trackpad wasn’t as responsive as I’m used to on my MacBook Air. Two-finger scrolling works better than on the Acer Aspire, but I still don’t feel that perfect 1:1 movement that I do on the MacBook.

I can see how the Portege’s design wouldn’t appeal to everyone. The design is less inviting than the MacBook Air–full of angles and adorned in a gunmetal grey casing. It almost has a corporate-y look to it. Personally, I kind of like it.

I also love how light the Portege is. It weighs just 2.47 pounds (which varies depending on configuration), yet it doesn’t feel cheap and plasticky. Toshiba claims to have a fancy “honeycomb rib structure” to keep the casing stable. Marketing terms aside, all you need to know is there aren’t any bends and creaks. Even my MacBook Air gets a little creaky sometimes.

toshiba portege ultrabook angled view

Photo: Steve Kovach, Business Insider

I also enjoyed the screen size of the Portege. I think 13-inch screens are the sweet spot for notebook computers, since it allows for a full-sized keyboard and plenty of space to get stuff done on a desk top.

I was mostly OK with the keyboard layout save for the Home, Page Up, Page Down, and End buttons lined up in a vertical row on the far right side. I found myself accidentally hitting the “End” key a lot, which is bad news when you’re writing a long sentence.

As I said earlier, the Portege starts at $800 if you buy it now from Best Buy. That’s an incredible value considering the solid design and performance you’re going to get. If you want, you can soup the Portege up with an i7 processor and other goodies. That’ll cost you around $1,500 total.

Check out all the models and pricing options at Toshiba’s Portege site.

Should You Buy It?
As a diehard Mac user, it’s tough for me to recommend a Windows machine. But if you’re looking for the best bang for your buck, the Portege Ultrabook is one of the best in the class.

The design isn't for everyone

Slim profile

The Portege is light, but extremely sturdy

That's a bad position for the Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down keys

Full Ethernet port!

There's also a port for plugging in a monitor

Here's the bottom. Those two slits at the front are the speakers

There's an IR blaster and third USB port on this side

The SD card port is tucked on the side

The trackpad isn't as responsive as the one on the MacBook Air

The ventilation system pulls cool air in instead of pushing hot air out

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