Toshiba Portege Z835: A New Ultrabook Appearsby Dustin Sklavos on November 16, 2011 2:50 AM EST
Conclusion: But Who is This For?
Now here's an interesting opportunity: while Anand mostly skirted the ultrabook discussion with his review of the ASUS Zenbook UX21, I have the chance to tackle it head on. But first...does the Toshiba Portege Z835 stand on its own, irrespective of Intel's big ultrabook push? Is this a notebook that we can recommend?
As far as portability is concerned, Toshiba has mostly a homerun on their hands. If you don't take the price tag into account, the Portege Z835 is in many ways directly superior to most netbooks out there. The HD 3000 is a faster graphics core than NVIDIA's NG-ION or AMD's Radeon HD 6310, two pieces of graphics hardware that are unfortunately tied to netbook-class processors. And while the Intel Core i3-2367M's paltry 1.4GHz, turbo-free clock speed is slower than just about anything AMD is willing to sell you above Zacate, it's still substantially faster than Atom or the E-350. To top it all off, the Z835 is cool, quiet, lasts a long time on the battery, and is actually lighter than many netbooks on the market.
The problem is that we do take the price tag into account, and even at $879 for our model, the Z835 is a hard sell. The difference in processor power is great, but I don't think it's enough to open up entirely different usage models from a traditional netbook. Having an SSD standard is also a major benefit, but it's also not something another $100-$200 can't fix when buying a netbook...and that's still going to leave a healthy deficit between the netbook of your choice and the Z835. This also ignores the Z835's mediocre keyboard. Speaking candidly, if I had to choose between the Z835 at $899 and Lenovo's ThinkPad X120e at half that, I'd take the ThinkPad. The E-350 may be a lot slower, but it's still fast enough to handle the same tasks the Z835 would, and it has a more comfortable build. So what if it's a pound heavier? At least it's built to last through several years of use.
Honestly I think a lot of the problems with the Z835 can be laid squarely at Intel's feet, not Toshiba's. The ultrabook initiative invites direct comparison to the Apple MacBook Air, but it's tone deaf to what the appeal of the MacBook Air is. Intel instead came up with a list of bulletpoints and said to vendors, "have at it," but ultimately this is a market that I'm not sure really exists. The MacBook Air has Apple's cachet behind it, and it is the only ultraportable choice Apple offers. If you don't care about OS X, we've had good and even affordable ultraportables available for Windows users for some time now.
The difference between 2.5 lbs. and 3.5 lbs. is comically minor as far as moving a notebook around is concerned. Fighting to get the form factor under an inch thick is just as pointless, an exercise in style rather than practicality. I could be completely blind and out of my depth here, but I just don't see the market an ultrabook serves that a Lenovo ThinkPad X220, Dell XPS 14z, or Sony Vaio SB series couldn't have already served...and better. Windows users who just want something portable to handle word processing and media on have already had the HP dm1z around for a year.
Time could very well prove me wrong on this one. If the ultrabook as a concept appeals to you, the ASUS Zenbook UX21 is probably going to be a better buy. The $999 model may be $100 more than Toshiba's Portege Z835, but it has a much faster CPU, a slightly better screen, better build quality, and a vastly superior SSD. As we're fond of saying here, there are no bad products, only bad prices. Even though comparatively speaking the Z835's $899 price tag isn't unreasonable, in practice I honestly think it would need to go south at least $100-$200 before being worth considering instead of a thicker ultraportable or a netbook. That may not necessarily be Toshiba's fault, but unfortunately Toshiba's stuck with it. The Portege Z835 feels like the best of a bad situation.
Update: The price tag of the Z835 is just $799 at Best Buy. That does make the unit more competitive and definitely worth a second look, but my sentiments regarding ultrabooks in general still stand.