It's easy enough to find a light, well-built and premium-feeling 13.3in laptop that will last a while away from a socket if you're willing to spend over a grand. From the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 to the imminent Sandy Bridge refresh of the Apple MacBook Air, there's plenty of choice. However, if your budget is limited there are far fewer candidates. One of last year's most interesting ones was the Toshiba Portege R700. Clad in a light metal shell and without compromising on features, only a few flaws held it back from an unreserved recommendation. Now we're looking at an ultraportable that has the chance to fix these niggles and become one of our favourite choices in its class, the Toshiba Satellite R830-143.
The R830-143 sports a magnesium chassis, which makes it far lighter than rivals using aluminium. Combined with an understated yet attractive design, a matt screen, powerful Sandy Bridge Core i5 internals backed by 6GB of RAM and a 640GB hard drive plus generous connectivity – in a package that weighs a mere 1.47kg with integrated optical drive - it has all the elements in place to be a winner.
First off, let's talk about design. From a distance, you might mistake it for a budget business machine, but once you get close the subtly brushed metal lid and keyboard surround show otherwise. Thankfully, Toshiba has resisted the temptation of glossy black here - which we have seen rather too much of on its consumer laptops throughout the years, including the recent Satellite p750. The only exception to the lack of shininess is the chrome finish on the R830's touchpad buttons, and being as they're the bits you're likely to be touching most, regular maintenance may be required. However, this is a minor niggle and overall, we love the laptop's understated ethos.
The R830 feels deceptively flimsy due to its lightweight construction, but actually build quality is flawless. Our only possible niggle is some mild flex in the keyboard. Apart from that, every aspect of this machine feels premium. It's also worth keeping in mind that the magnesium lid isn't quite as scratch-proof as aluminium ones tend to be, but with a little care this is not an issue.
Connectivity is another area where the R830 has few rivals in its size/price class. VGA and HDMI are around for video, 3.5mm headphone and microphone jacks deal with audio, while data is taken care of by USB 3.0, USB 2.0 and a combined USB 2.0/eSATA port. The memory card reader accepts high-capacity SDXC cards, and the Ethernet port is of the Gigabit variety. However, what really stands out for an ultraportable this light is the presence of an optical drive - in this case a tray-loading DVD-rewriter. All connections are found around the sides, leaving the front and back free in keeping with its minimalist styling. Naturally, the wireless front is covered by both Wi-Fi N and Bluetooth 3.0 HS.