How nice it is to be looking at a proper ultra-portable notebook, rather than a netbook. Don't get us wrong, we love the netbooks and all, but anyone who has actually used or needs a proper portable notebook will understand what we mean. Yes, they're all very expensive and all that - they're not the everyman machines that netbooks are - but if being productive on the move is your serious business then an ultra-portable is still the pinnacle of mobile computing.
And, this being the case, Toshiba would argue it has the best of the lot. Last year it released the impossibly thin and light Portégé R500 that weighed an improbably light 755 grams, taking with it the crown of "world's lightest notebook" - or something to that effect. Yet, though it's easy to be blasé about such headline grabbing antics, this would be doing the R500 and its replacement, the Portégé R600, a great disservice when you consider the upcoming Sony VAIO TT and Samsung X360 both weigh in excess of one kilo. This doesn't make them heavy, not at all, but does put into perspective what an achievement the R500 really was and the R600 continues to be.
Unfortunately when we reviewed the R500 we found problems. A rattling and spongy keyboard, flexing panels, poor battery life and a mediocre screen left us somewhat crestfallen, disappointed that such a promising machine had been let down by some poor execution. Some of these issues were reputedly remedied in later manufacturing runs but the initial impression remained, so we were delighted to discover a much improved machine when we got our hands-on on the Portégé R600 at Toshiba's Mobility Conference in Zurich.
On the surface very little has changed, in fact visually speaking the Portégé R600 is exactly the same as the R500. This is a pretty good thing, though, because the R500 was a great looking machine. Maybe not as eye-catching as a VAIO TZ or its replacement the TT, but then the R600 isn't meant to be - it's all about class and understatement. This it achieves very nicely thanks to a durable matte silver finish throughout and some elegant curves and lines.
This is all contrasted by the black screen bezel, within which remains a 12.1 inch, 1,280 x 800 LED backlit display. It's still transflective, so will reputedly convert natural light into viewable light for the screen; though we were unable to test this at the time and our previous experience hasn't been all that positive. Likewise, without the benefit of a darker room, we weren't able to check for the backlight bleed problems of the previous models either, so we'll have to wait and see on that front.
What we can say, however, is that the build quality issues of the R500 have been remedied quite comprehensively. There's still some flex here and there, but no more than on any other notebook and vitally the rattles of old are gone and the actual plastic panels fit together faultlessly.