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)