There’s no optical drive inside this particular R500, which is one of the reasons that it’s so much lighter than the Sony TZ12VN. That said, you can get an R500 with an integrated optical drive, which will still undercut the Sony when it comes to weight.
The right side of the chassis is home to the Ethernet port, a USB 2.0 port, a hardware switch for the wireless adapters, an SD card slot and a PC Card slot. The latter will be useful for anyone who has a PC Card based HSDPA card – the Sony TZ12VN only has an ExpressCard slot, but then the new TZ2 series machines can be specified with built-in HSDPA modules.
The left side is stuffed to the gilles with connectors. Here you’ll find two more USB 2.0 ports, a four-pin FireWire port, the power connector, headphone and microphone sockets, a volume wheel and a D-SUB port. It’s actually quite surprising to see three USB ports on a notebook this slim and light.
A slight annoyance is that Toshiba has chosen to fill the R500 with useless applications that just take up space and system resources. For instance, if I want to search Amazon or ebay, I’ll go to the sites and take a look – what I don’t want is big Amazon and ebay search boxes sitting in the Vista Side Bar taking up my desktop space. I know that you can delete this stuff, but I’d rather just have a clean system from the get go.
When it comes to performance, the Toshiba Portégé R500 is very close to the Sony VAIO TZ12VN, when testing with our custom 2D benchmarks and using PCMark 05. But when it comes to battery life, the Sony simply murders the Toshiba. Subjective testing using general Windows application work, with the screen set to mid brightness and Wi-Fi set on, saw the R500 only just top two hours. Comparatively, the Sony managed around seven hours under similar test conditions.
I fully expected this notebook to be scarily expensive considering the light weight and the 64GB SSD, but somehow Toshiba has managed to bring it in for only £1,699. That’s a whole £400 cheaper than the Sony, despite having an SSD that’s twice the capacity.
Even though the R500 is lighter and cheaper than the Sony, with twice the solid state storage, I’d still take a VAIO TZ12VN given the choice. Yes, the R500 is the lightest notebook computer on the planet, but I think that too many compromises have been made to achieve that goal. The screen and the keyboard are particularly poor, while the battery life is woeful by today’s standards, even for an ultra-portable.
The Toshiba Portégé R500 is an unbelievably light notebook, with a large solid state drive and an attractive price. Unfortunately, the disappointing screen and rattling keyboard and apalling battery life let the package down. Ultimately, I’d be happy to put up with a little more weight, if it meant improved build quality, performance and usability.