The last Toshiba notebook to make it into the TrustedReviews offices was the Portégé R100, and I was surprised at how many people thought that it looked like a copy of the slimline Sony VAIO range. The reason that I was surprised is that the Toshiba Portégé sub-notebook brand has been around for a long time. In fact the Portégé range was launched a good while before Sony had even entered the notebook market. What is interesting though, is just how different this Portégé is from the last one that we looked at.
The first thought to go through my head when I took the Portégé A100 out of its box was "iBook". There is simply no escaping from the fact that the A100 looks similar to Apple's consumer focused mobile machine. It's probably the glossy white finish on the lid that does it, but that's not to say that imitation is in any way a bad thing, after all, there are few that would say that Apple doesn't know how to design stylish products. OK, so the lid is glossy white, but the rest of the case is matt silver. Open up the A100 and you'll see this contrast of colours continuing, with a white bezel surrounding the screen and a white keyboard centred in a matt silver chassis. Apple clone or not, the Portégé A100 looks good.
The A100 carries full Centrino certification which means that there's an Intel Pentium M CPU inside, as well as an Intel wireless networking card. Looking at the Intel Pentium M CPU first, you'll find a 1.4GHz chip, which is more than powerful enough for a notebook like this. However, what is slightly disappointing is the poor complement of memory. With only 256MB on offer you're going to struggle to have a lot of applications open at once. If like me, you find yourself with applications like Word, Photoshop, Outlook and multiple web browser windows all open at once, you'll find your productivity grinding to a halt as you just run out of memory. It's also worth noting that some of that 256MB of RAM will also be shared with the integrated Intel graphics chipset, so you've got even less memory at your disposal. But the lack of memory isn't as huge a problem as it sounds, I would just suggest that you make sure that you have at least 512MB of memory at point of purchase. If however, you do purchase an A100 with only 256MB of memory, you'll be glad to know that there is a spare SODIM slot, so you could buy some extra memory yourself and install it.
Storage comes in the form of a 40GB hard disk, which isn't the most capacious drive I've seen, but it's reasonable enough for a machine this size. Surprisingly, there's also a DVD/CD-RW combo drive present, so you can backup important data if the hard drive does start to get full. I say that it's surprising to see an optical drive, because the Portégé range usually sacrifices an optical drive for ultimate portability. That said, this machine is far from large, and I have to say that I like the idea of having an optical drive built-in if it doesn't add too much weight or size.
Sound wise, there are two speakers mounted just below the screen that produce adequate, but hardly awe inspiring effects. That said, I managed to watch some of the BBC live Olympic coverage while reviewing the A100, and the sound was clear and loud enough.
The area that more often than not has to suffer with ultra-portable notebooks is ergonomics, and unfortunately this is one of the most important aspects of mobile computing. Having a good screen, keyboard and pointing device are paramount to a comfortable working environment. On the first count Toshiba can't be faulted. The screen is superb, despite its small dimensions. At 12.1in it's fairly small compared to average notebook displays, and the resolution of 1,024 x 768 is also pretty conservative by today's standards - but in a machine like this it's just about perfect. The quality of the TFT display is first rate, with even lighting across the surface, vivid colours and a wide viewing angle.