Toshiba Satellite R830 review

If you're on the go a lot, what you want is a small, light laptop that'll slip in and out of a bag. It should have a good screen, a comfortable keyboard and plenty of processing power plus a battery that just keeps going. Is the latest member of Toshiba's Satellite family that machine – and can you tell it apart from the pricier Portégé?  

The Satellite’s simple design hides a powerful and modern machine, like many of the latest generation of small business laptops. Weighing in at 1.48kg, the Satellite R830 has a subtle matte black case, with plenty of ventilation holes. Underneath there's a sturdy and light magnesium frame, giving the laptop a surprising rigidity for something so slim. The only spot of colour comes from the solid chrome hinges that drop the screen behind the keyboard and body. The thin 13.3" screen is set in a metal-clad lid and has very little flex.  

Design, keyboard and trackpad

The isolated keyboard is slightly recessed, an attempt at delivering a more ergonomic laptop typing experience. It's not perfect, as the keys themselves are slightly too close together, and unusually are wider than they're tall, making it slightly harder to hit the right key at the right time - and we found our typing error rate went up while we were getting used to the R830. There's not as much travel as on other keyboards we've used recently, and you may need to be a little more vigorous than on similar machines.  

There’s also the usual array of dual-purpose keys on the keyboard but you can hold down Fn with any of the function keys to launch Toshiba's onscreen function overlay, which provides a quick guide to key options. There are keys to manage wireless connections, others to handle brightness and volume controls - the only functions missing are media controls. That's not surprising for a business machine, but it does make working with video presentations awkward (or playing music). There are two additional buttons above the keyboard, one to launch Toshiba's power-saving ecoUtility, the other to handle connections to external screens and projectors.  

The large trackpad is set in the centre of the wrist rest, with two large physical buttons. While it has a slightly different aspect ratio from the screen it's fast, responsive and comfortable to use. The chrome surround is also home to a variety of indicator LEDs, and there's a small recessed button under the space bar that turns off the pad completely. This is an older Synaptics touchpad, with support for basic gestures, including two finger scroll, pinch-zoom and pivot rotate.

Matte screen wins our approval

Like many of the current generation of laptops, the Satellite R830 has a Windows 8-ready 1366 x 768 widescreen display. Unlike many of the current generation, it's a matte screen - reducing the number of annoying reflections.

Display quality is good and clear, with reasonable contrast. Internet 1080p video played clearly, with no downscaling artefacts. Similarly, a 720p video from the local network streamed with clear and smooth playback and plenty of detail.

Audio quality isn't as good, and the two tiny stereo speakers don’t deliver much bass. If you want to listen to music from the R380, invest in a good pair of headphones.  

Ports 'n' performance

With the drop hinges and a DVD drive there's just not that much room for ports but Toshiba has squeezed in what you probably need. You get one USB 2.0 port and a hybrid USB/eSATA on the left, and a USB 3.0 port on the right - right next to the headphone and microphone sockets, in the only space beside the optical drive. There's also space for a gigabit Ethernet socket and VGA and HDMI ports. Toshiba even managed to fit in an SD card slot - on top of the optical drive.  

Performance is good, as you'd expect from a Sandy Bridge Core i5 system. While you won’t get brilliant gaming performance from the integrated Intel HD video, the CPU has plenty of power for video editing, working with large Excel spread sheets and pretty much anything you'd expect from a business laptop.

64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium will take advantage of the 6GB of RAM; more than enough for everyday use. There's plenty of storage too, with a 640GB hard drive.

Spiffing battery life

The cherry on the top is excellent battery life. We saw just over five hours of use from a full charge with Wi-Fi on, browsing, using Web apps, watching streamed video and listening to streaming music. Turn off Wi-Fi and you should get most of a working day on battery, and if that's not enough the Satellite R830's battery can be quickly swapped out for a spare.  

Toshiba doesn't bundle much third party software, though its own tools are extremely chatty, popping up dialog boxes all over the place. That includes the very aggressive hard disk protection tools, which seem to trigger at the slightest jiggle.

You get Skype, Microsoft Office 2010 Starter and Windows Live Essentials 2011, as well as Nero's DVD burner tools. There's also the ubiquitous and intrusive McAfee security software, and a selection of links to websites like eBay and Amazon.

Verdict

At first glance the Satellite R830 is almost identical to the ultra-light Portégé R830, with the same respectable battery life - but not the same price tag. Toshiba has delivered a powerful and light budget machine, with all the features you'd expect from a laptop targeted at small businesses.

It's strong, too, and should stand up to most of the stresses of portable life. While the keyboard is a little unusual, you do get used to it. This, then, is a Satellite that's a Portege for the rest of us.