Toshiba Portege Z830 Ultrabook Review

If you think computers ought to be thin and light above all, and you prefer them to look like old calculators, then the Toshiba Portege Z830 is the computer for you!

The Portege Z830 is the thinnest and lightest laptop on the market, which gives rise to the question whether a laptop be too thin and light. The answer, at least in this case, is yes.

Hardware and design

The Z830 does two things really well: (1) it is the thinnest and lightest 13″ laptop you can buy, and (2) it has an abundance of ports, so you can plug just about anything into it. Other than that, this machine is a study in compromises. Here are the good, the bad, and the worst.

The good

The main selling points for the Toshiba are its size and weight, plus a full complement of ports. The Toshiba Z830 is a half pound lighter than the Samsung Series 9 or Macbook Air, and just a bit smaller all around. It’s size and weight are definitely remarkable. After picking it up, your regular laptop will feel like a cinder block by comparison.

Incredibly, despite the size, there are all the ports you would expect to find on a full-size laptop. Along the back are VGA and HDMI ports, two USB ports, and an ethernet port. The left side has separate headphone and microphone jacks, as well as an SD card reader. Finally, the right side has another USB port. This selection makes the Portege Z830 ideal for a business traveler, since many hotel rooms require an ethernet port for internet access, and most projectors are still dangling only VGA cables. Many lawyers will fall into that category, and the same features might come in handy in the courtroom or boardroom, where VGA cables also remain the norm (in courtrooms that make technology available to litigators at all, that is).

Ethernet and VGA ports are available to users of other ultrabooks, but generally require an adapter, sold separately.

Like all ultrabooks, the Protege Z830 lacks an optical (CD/DVD) drive. As I explained in my review of the Samsung Series 9, an external CD/DVD drive is less than $50 and is easy to keep at your desk, which is the only place you are likely to need it.

The screen is fine. Viewing angles (useful if you want to show someone else what’s on your screen) are decent, but unremarkable. It will get the job done, but it won’t blow you away.

Unfortunately, besides its weight-loss regimen and abundant port selection, there is a lot to dislike about this ultrabook.

The bad

The hardware serves the Protege Z830’s main function: being thin and light. It definitely is thin and light, but it is also flimsy-feeling. Part of this is due to the fact that it feels unnaturally light—too light to be an actual computer. But the test unit I had wouldn’t even lay flat on a table due to the fan screen, which protrudes from the bottom (see image at right) further than the little rubber feet.

Speaking of the fan, the Portege is surprisingly loud. The fan runs constantly, and it is a distracting whir whenever the computer is on. It is also on the bottom, blowing hot air right into your leg, if the laptop is on your lap. The noise is actually very annoying. It completely ruins working in a quiet room, and you can still hear it over normal office-level background noise.

The worst

With the possible exception of the Lenovo wireless keyboard I tried last December, the Toshiba’s keyboard is the worst keyboard I have ever used. The keys are stubby, and the travel—the “depth” of each click—is so small it is barely better than typing on an iPad’s touchscreen. It’s not unusable. I had little trouble typing most of this post on the keyboard, and with few typos. But it is cramped and uncomfortable even after you get used to it.

The trackpad has physical buttons, which is a nice alternative to the mostly-awful attempt to replicate Apple’s buttonless trackpad in Windows. Unfortunately, these buttons are essentially below the surface of the palm rest, and difficult to press, besides. They also never seem to be where you would expect them to be, and although I used this laptop exclusively for a few days, I never managed to hit the buttons consistently.

Taken together, they keyboard and trackpad make document creation—you know, lawyer work—fairly miserable.

Bundled software

I hate bundled software. I don’t know why so many PC manufacturers seem to think the default Windows volume control needs to be re-created with cartoony icons, but the folks at Toshiba are no exception. The Protege Z830 comes loaded down with crapware.

It’s easy enough to get rid of, fortunately. The first thing you will want to do with this computer is run the PC Decrapifier and get rid of Norton and Toshiba’s suite of apps and utilities, none of which are worth using—or even further discussion.

Performance

Overall, the Z830 feels plenty quick, even if Engadget found that the solid-state drive was a good bit slower than the competition. I don’t think you will notice this in day-to-day usage.

It even outperformed when it came to Netflix. Quick refresher: I couldn’t stream HD video from Netflix on the Q180 media PC or the Samsung Series 9 ultrabook (which I otherwise loved). However, on the Protege Z830, I didn’t have any problem streaming HD content from Netflix. It came through just fine.

Since I still had the Series 9 in my office, I double-checked the specs. The Toshiba and the Samsung have the same processors (the Intel Core i5-2557M @ 1.7 GHz with the Intel HD Graphics 3000). I don’t have an explanation for why Netflix works in HD on one but not the other, but if your goal is watching movies, get the Toshiba. If you want to do legal work, on the other hand, the ability to stream Netflix is probably irrelevant.

Price

The Portege Z830 starts at $799, while most 13″ ultrabooks seem to be selling for about $1,000, these days. The base configuration comes in below the competition because it has a slower processor—a 1.4 MHz Core i3. However, there is a full range of prices and features. The version I tested had a 1.7 MHz Core i5 (the same as the Samsung Series 9 I reviewed), and rings up at $1,199. The fully-loaded version adds up to $1,429. So it’s really no cheaper—and even a bit more expensive—when you compare apples to apples.

Who should buy one?

The Toshiba Portege Z830 does two things really well: it is the thinnest and lightest ultrabook you can buy, and it has a lot of ports for plugging things in. Unfortunately, the keyboard is lousy, and the trackpad is worse. Since lawyers spend most of our time creating documents, that’s a pretty big handicap. I don’t recommend getting this laptop unless you just want the thinnest and lightest 13″ laptop you can get, and you are willing to compromise on everything else.

If you aren’t so set on thin and light, get the Samsung Series 9, instead. It’s a much better package overall.

Summary

Toshiba Portege Z830
Reviewed by Sam Glover on .

Summary: The Z830 does two things really well: (1) it is the thinnest and lightest 13″ laptop you can buy, and (2) it has an abundance of ports. Other than that, this machine is a study in compromises.

The Toshiba Protege Z830 is the thinnest and lightest ultrabook you can buy, and it has a lot of ports for plugging things in. Unfortunately, the keyboard is lousy, and the trackpad is worse. Since lawyers spend most of our time creating documents, that’s a pretty big handicap. I don’t recommend getting this laptop unless you just want the thinnest and lightest 13? laptop you can get, and you are willing to compromise on everything else.

Rating: 2.5 (out of 5)

Legal Technology

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  • GFaceK

    Sorry but your review sucks. In my opinion anyway. Not sure if you can’t type or what but the keyboard offers the perfect amount of travel for me, and the size of the keys are just right also. I type on it all evening being this is my online class machine and all I do is discuss and chat and post and write essays and blah blah blah. After tweaking the trackpad settings, it responds beautifully to my touch. It glides, it slides and it stops on a dime. Fan noise? Seriously. Again it’s subjective. But if you think it’s that bad maybe you should have installed the Toshiba update that modified the properties of the thermal cooling system and reduced the already barely there fan noise to nothing. So much for keeping abreast of current affairs. Anyways, I love my Toshiba. It was cheap, it’s lightweight, it’s fast and it’s powerful. Any questions??

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      I’m sorry you are unhappy that I didn’t like your computer.

    • https://plus.google.com/117235644077949816393/ Gyi Tsakalakis

      I have a question, Do you work for Toshiba?

      • GFaceK

        That’s funny

  • SR

    i am switching to this tomorrow. my IT people just replace the crap software with mandatory office tools n some wireless privilege. i did my thorough research and came down to toshiba i5 professional and hp folio 13 professional. toshiba’s got hp beat in every category except for two, the sturdy feel (but 3.3lbs heavy) and port options.

    toshiba has a finger printer scanner, an extra USB 2.0 (my HD happens to need two ports), and most importantly, a VGA, good for someone like me who needs to be on the road and able to run presentations in a snap.

    did i mention it’s only 2.24lbs?

    now the drawback: the fan (perhaps it’s really correctable with a software update) and the flimsy screen. the screen did upset me in the beginning but i verified in person at Fry’s that toshiba purposely picks this flexible material to withstand drop test and etc since it’s so light-weighted and seemly breakable. although it lacks the sturdy feel hp folio provides, the toshiba is indeed a rigid and solid. pit the two players side by side and you decide!

    oh yeah the mouse buttons can use a little help… how about titanium or carbon fiber?

    anyone checked out the new dell yet?

  • Sire

    Nice and accurate review.

    After two weeks of daily use of a Z830 I can appreciate that it is a solid machine of very high built quality. It was clearly designed as a tool with a purpose and very few compromises were made, considering the tight specifications and the price point.

    It sits flat on top a desk, can be picked up from any corner and the lid can be opened with one hand, without holding the base. The alloy structure is flexible, internally reinforced and, like the wing of an airplane, it flexes without breaking.

    Being so light makes it easy to carry around, ethernet and VGA ports are present and three USB ports (one can be used to charge other devices) are very useful. Screen is matte and the keyboard is lit, making it a day and night, all wheater machine. These are features I consider of high value. The keyboard and touchpad work as expected, keys are large, well spaced, silent. No flex when typiyng and there is good support for the wrists. Its a question of habit and taste. Also, its is claimed to be spill proof.

    The fan, being so small, is noisy. Fortunately, it only works when required and is not permanently on.

    It is a machine for travellers, powerful enough, robust, discrete and light. Very light indeed.

  • monika

    can you please help me with advice where can i find machine with matte not the glossy glare screen?!?!?!?
    help!!!
    i fell in love with absolute lightness of this laptop and price and lit keyboard, and all other staff but this glossy screen was a deal breaker to me
    if anybody knows, please let me know, i will be eternally grateful and work it back for society :)
    so far i have checked Toshibe US, amazon, newegg, best buy – so i am slowly running out of options, while you are saying here that the matte screen was in use!!!
    monika

    • Bjim

      You can find the matte screen on the Toshiba website as the Z835. I believe that is the only difference in the model numbers. BTW, I have the same machine reviewed here and like it well enough> It feels like most Toshibas I’ve used over the years (which is a good thing). The only problem I have with the keyboard is that the spacebar often doesn’t register my hit if I am typing off-angle. Otherwise, the only time I heard the fan come on was when I was doing video transcoding and running all 4 cores in the processor to 100%. I love thin and light and this is the thinnest and lightest.

  • Carlos Lee

    I have the Portege for 3 months and was looking for ‘negative reviews’. I think that what is stated is incorrect and does not reflect good on the author. The laptop sits flat on a table. Toshiba fixed the fan noise issue and you can set the settings on when it should activate or not. The screen is flexible when you play around with it, well don’t touch it, the screen is meant to look at and not touching it (when I first flexed the screen it really worried me to but now I acknowledge that I should not be playing with it). I have no issues with the keyboard or mouse. Carlos from Belgium.

  • DG

    I recently bought my first ever laptop, toshiba z830, and my feelings about this are mixed. I got mine from bestbuy as a refurbished product from toshiba. i5 2467 with 6 gig of ram and 128 GB of storage. For those of you who are going to use this for entertainment 128 GB isn’t enough. After opening this machine, I only had 98 GB left to play with. You can’t also upgrade the harddrive as it is mSata rather than the conventional Sata SSD. There’s not alot of stores that sells msata that’s over 128 GB, but there are some. Although, It’s a tad more expensive.

    As the reviewer mentioned, the harddrive isn’t as fast as the other ssd out there in other notebooks, but it is atleast faster than my desktop with 7200 rpm. Documents do popup noticeably faster than my two year old desktop.

    As for the battery, it’s okay I guess. It lasts me about 15 hours on a single charge. I usually do a mix of things like create documents, browse, programming, occassional youtube videos/vimeo/flash videos and leaving it asleep or hibernating when not in use.

    My sister and mother both noticed how light is. My mother even said that it’s even lighter than her ipad 3. Compared to our 15 or 17 inch notebook, it is considerably lighter but not as light as I hoped it to be.

    The worst part of this laptop is the keyboard and buttons. My keyboard is bilingual, so it’s extra worse than the version you guys will get anywhere else on the planet. the keys are too shallow and need to be press like you’re pressing the elevator button! It needs a firm push! Although, it’s backlit! The keypad is so-so. Although, it usually gets in the way of typing as the stupid keyboard is cramped and the spacebar is not where it’s supposed to be. It’s too high up! Whoever did the QA testing on this hardware must be drunk or asleep!!! The spacebar is too low, and the enter key is too small and a bit far off the other keys. The keypad buttons are the worst!!! They hardly have any feedback, and you never know if your fingers are on top of them let alone when you’re clicking on them!

    Overall though, I do like the laptop. It’s quite light; it has good battery life; tons of ports (the ethernet port came very handy for chatting or network communication); backlit keyboard is a blessing (whoever thought of you, thank you); and it does apps faster (even faster than my desktop).

  • Kay

    I purchased Toshiba Ultrabook on June 30th, 2012, and I have already had a cracked and damage on this LCD screen within two months. It is ultra fragile. The product itself was a beautiful, nice keyboard touch, good battery hours, and light! However, I did not know how fragile it was. I treated this ultrabook with care. I did not drop it, I did not scratch it, I could not recall what damaged this screen so badly. Toshiba does not cover the repair with warranty. They charged $459 for repair. Their customer service was so bad. Once they emailed me the quote of $325. When I called them to confirm the repair, they said that the charge was $459. They also transfer me to person to person asking me the same question. (They tried to tire me out to pay for this, not doing anything about it.) Toshiba broke my trust in their product and their customer service. They even shame my country, Japan, where Toshiba belongs to. I will never buy Toshiba product again.

  • Peter Cooper

    I bought my Toshiba Z830 in July 2012. I really loved using it, but alas, the screen cracked after 4 months under normal usage.

    It is very disppointing and I note that I am not the only one that has had this exprience. Apparently a cracked screen is not covered by the Toshiba Warranty and will cost me around $165 to have replaced. I wonder how many othrs who bought this machine have suffered cracked screens.

    Peter

  • muriel

    broken screen for a 2nd time – I used to love this laptop but now I hate it – its costing a fortune and no-one will entertain anything other than it must be “physical damage” therefore warranty not valid. I have been ultra ultra careful with it, especially after the 1st time ARRRGGGH!