Toybox: Squishy and lightweight, but packed with functionality

Toshiba has managed to squeeze in an optical drive, a PC card slot and three USB ports

Toshiba’s Portégé R500 is an incredibly lightweight notebook, with a surprising amount of functionality on-board.

Weighing in at just 1 kg, the little notebook is a mere two centimetres at its thinnest, and just over 2.5 centimetres at the heavier end — the battery-pack end. Handbag potential? Huge.

Despite the R500’s petite form-factor, Toshiba has managed to squeeze in an optical drive, a PC card slot and three USB ports, in addition to a VGA port, Ethernet, headphone and microphone jacks. There is also a little volume wheel on the left side and a wireless on/off switch on the right. It also has a fingerprint scanner, located in between the click buttons below the track pad.

One thing that really surprised me was how flexible the super-thin 12.1-inch widescreen was. While there might be a compromise involved in allowing the screen to be so thin, it can actually handle quite a lot of abuse, like being bent, and opening the lid from one corner. Even when putting pressure on the back of the screen (while open) or bending it slightly, there is no distortion or rippling effect on the screen.

The keyboard has full-size keys and is quite comfortable to type on. A nice detail is that it has dedicated page-up, page-down, home and end keys — something not usually seen on ultra-portables. There is a good deal of flex in the keyboard as well, and even more in the panels on either side of the track pad. This is not necessarily a disadvantage — it just feels a bit unusual. In fact, the whole notebook has a squishy feel to it, and, while this might not go down well with some people, I liked it.

The R500 sports a 1.2GHz Core 2 Duo processor and 1GB of RAM. It comes with either a 160GB hard drive or a 64GB solid-state drive. It is also available without the optical drive, which would shed further weight off the machine.

Our review unit came loaded with Windows Vista Business.

Battery life is reportedly around three hours, but with the SSD you could probably expect a longer battery life.

Also worth mentioning is that the little machine has a docking-station port underneath.

The Portégé R500 may be one of lightest notebooks around, but price-wise it is a heavy-weight. At $4,033 (including GST), the R500 far out-weighs one of its contenders, Apple’s MacBook Air, which costs $2,999, or $5,139 with a 64GB solid-state drive. However, the R500 64GB SSD version costs less than the MacBook Air SSD version at $5,040.

Update: Apple has since slashed the price of the SSD MacBook Air to $4,318.

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