I’ve been fortunate enough to have had the chance to try out two excellent ultraportable notebooks recently, the MacBook Air and the Fujitsu P8010. Shortly after the P8010 went back, the mailman knocked on the door with year another ultraportable, this time the Toshiba R500.
The model I was sent included the 64GB SSD drive, just like the MacBook Air. I’m not sold on these priced-like-gold hard drives, they just seem too expensive for what they are at the moment, but to each his own!
The first thing I noticed taking it out of the box was it’s LIGHT, and I mean REALLY LIGHT. I have never held such a weightless notebook in my life. It is plastic though, and flexes rather badly, which is quite a shame. It may not be as solid as the Air, but it is noticeably lighter.
Unlike the Fujitsu, the R500 doesn’t just rely on light weight and small footprint, this machine is thin to boot! Like Airishly thin, but without quite as many connection deficiencies. Around the edges you’ll find several USB ports, a PC Card slot (again, yay!), Firewire, full-size VGA, Ethernet and headphone/mic jacks. It really annoys me that a tiny, slim laptop like these has more USB ports than my MacBook Pro…
It’s barely thicker than my BlackJack II!
The keyboard isn’t bad either. Sure it’s a little bit bouncy, something that seems to infect notebooks like a plague, but otherwise comfortable to type on. I was more confident to type normally than I was on the P8010, so I could work faster. The keys are a good size and have excellent travel, so touch-typists should be very satified.
Like the P8010 the R500 has a fingerprint reader, but in this case it was absolutely hopeless. Apart from being ridiculously small, it would rarely recognise my fingerprint. Sitting in the coffee shop I must have looked like some lunatic, stroking his laptop in the hope it would purr. Perhaps the one on my review unit was defective.
Performance has been very good, sure it was no speed demon, but none of these ultraportables are (or should be expected to be). It had the lighter duty of running Windows XP, which I’m sure helps matters. Running lots of apps simultaneously (Firefox with several tabs, Word, folders, etc) never caused the system to slow down or be unusable.
I was pretty happy with the R500, except for one major detail. I noted in the P8010 review that the screen had poor viewing angles; this machine takes that to a new level. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I saw such a poor laptop screen. It is ghastly. After less than an hour of usage my eyes were hurting from trying to look at the washy, unevenly lit “display”. Just to add to the woes, when you open the screen with one hand it opens bent, and the strong (hey, a good point!) hinges keep it that way. Every time I opened it I had to adjust it so that it was FLAT. What the hell??
When I first took it out of the box, I really REALLY wanted to like the R500. It was expensive, and felt a bit cheap, but it was so thin and light, I wanted it to stand up to the MacBook Air as a truly excellent competitor, to give people an alternative that was not only as good, but better. Lots of ports, PC Card slot, decent sized keyboard, it was all going so well, then Toshiba dumped in a truly awful screen. The screen is terrible, and on that basis I couldn’t buy one, or recommend it to someone. Sorry Toshiba, fix the screen and all will be forgiven.