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Toshiba Portégé M800-106 13.3in Notebook - Toshiba Portégé M800
As an entertainment experience, the M800 thus pairs above-average audio with a below-par screen, and we can't help wishing it was the other way around. After all, a lot of the time you're likely to use headphones anyway, but the screen is pretty much a given - unless you're hooked up to a TV via HDMI, in which case you'll likely use the TV's audio too.
The guts of the machine certainly don't disappoint, though. An Intel Core 2 Duo running at 2.26GHz in a thrifty 25W thermal envelope powers through anything you can throw at it, and is backed up by 4GBs of RAM, which is more than the 32-bit Vista Premium needs. Storage too is more than adequately handled by a large 5400RPM, 320GB drive and the goodness continues with Draft-N Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.0, while a 1.3 megapixel webcam completes its communications credentials. Just don't expect to run any demanding games, since graphics come courtesy of an integrated Intel X4500.
Moving onto software, Toshiba do pre-install an overwhelming amount of it. But while for some this will just be bloatware, most of the utilities do at least have a useful function and will come in handy for computer novices.
Its the battery life, or the lack thereof, that really lets the M800 down, though. Its standard battery is a pathetic three-cell 3700mAh affair, which lasted only two hours in the Productivity test and an hour and half in the high intensity DVD test. So, though you might not have too much trouble with some DVDs at reasonable brightness, movies of two hours or more are going to be a real problem and you won't have much left afterwards, either.
To remedy this, you could get a nine-cell, 7,200mAh battery (part number PA3636U-1BRL) for around £100, or a six-cell 4,800mAh for £85. Yet, it's annoying and perplexing to have to purchase extra hardware just to get decent overall performance, especially when the likes of the 12.1 Samsung Q210 manages more than double the battery life straight out of the box.
Indeed, in terms of competition, Samsung's Q210 is probably one of the more interesting rivals, coming with a more portable, better 12.1in screen; a discrete graphics card; parity on other features (except for e-SATA) and the Centrino 2 platform for around the same price. Samsung also has a similar 13.3in model, the Q310, that competes in the same price range as the M800.
If getting the extra inch-and-a-bit of screen is important to you, the Dell XPS M1330 is also worth a look. Going for similar specifications and nine-cell batteries in both cases will set you back around £770. For this outlay the Dell might lack Centrino 2 and e-SATA, and obviously its speakers are not as good, but you do get superior styling, build quality, graphics and a media remote, in addition to Dell's famous customisation. Moreover, with the standard six-cell battery you will get more longevity from it than the M800 without gaining any weight in comparison. And, if you're not to fussed about styling, the Dell Vostro 1310 offers excellent value and far superior battery life as well.
With the Portégé M800-106, Toshiba delivers a 13.3in notebook that's attractive enough, eminently portable and stuffed with features. It also continues Toshiba's reputation for excellent notebook speakers. However, it's let down by an average screen and incredibly poor battery life, meaning that if you want to use it on the move you'll have to spend close to £100 more to get the desired performance. This, ultimately, makes the M800 disappointing value for money despite its other potential strengths, so Toshiba should be kicking itself for its penny-pinching since it makes an otherwise good notebook rather ordinary.