Top 10 ultraportable laptops

Ideal for the mobile professional, these notebooks stand out for their low weight and small footprint

Page 10 of 11

Toshiba Portege A605-P210
Portege A605-P210 Review, by Arthur Gies, PC World June 8, 2009


CPU: Core 2 Duo U9400; CPU speed: 1400MHz; Display size: 12.1 inches; Hard drive size: 320GB; WorldBench 6 rating: Fair

Great screen
Solid battery life

Mono speaker, poor sound

Bottom Line: The Portege A605 offers an ultraportable with fantastic battery life and great screen for an extremely competitive price.

The netbook onslaught of the past 18 months has forced a sea change. No longer is small size alone enough of an excuse for a notebook to carry an exorbitantly high price. With some good performance levels and a great screen, plus light weight and outstanding battery life, the Toshiba Portege A605-P210 could fit the bill for users who need to get real work done on the go with a netbook-size system--and without murdering the bank account.

Toshiba sent us the A605-P210, which has a current MSRP, or list price, of $1399. This midlevel configuration for the A605 packs a 1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SU9400 processor, 3GB of 333MHz DDR2 RAM, a DVD-RW drive, integrated graphics from Intel, and a 300GB hard drive with a 32-bit version of Vista Home Premium. In fact, the hardware isn't all that different from what we saw in Toshiba's Portege R600. But the latter, a higher-end machine, sells for about $700 more, yet scores almost the same as the A605 in performance tests.

Our tests show the A605 to be a decent office performer for an ultraportable, scoring a 69 on PC WorldBench 6, and beating out both the Fujitsu LifeBook T2020 (64) and the Dell Adamo (65), and even the pricier R600 (67). While it fell well below the Macbook Air in this regard (by about 14 percent), it's also several hundred dollars cheaper. Graphics-wise, set your expectations to "meh": At less than 6 frames per second in Unreal Tournament 3 at its lowest settings, don't expect to play decent games here.

However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the A605 handled multiple applications simultaneously without trouble and even dealt pretty well with high-def video content. The A605's memory footprint and full-fledged Core 2 Duo (versus the Atom processors behind most netbooks) are probably to thank for the snappy user experience. The A605 was generally a pleasure to use, a result aided a lot by the excellent display. The machine impresses in the battery life category as well, lasting more than 6 hours on a charge. The only ultraportable that did better was the LifeBook T2020, which also weighs and costs more and scored lower on our benchmarks.

The A605's screen is great for both the general office work and the odd media file for which it was intended. With a 1280-by-800 resolution that has enough real estate to get some serious work done, you'll find outstanding brightness and a low-glare screen that remains legible and sharp whether in an office or out and about. While the vertical viewing angle left a little to be desired, the hinge on the A605 only opens so far, and horizontal viewing angles were excellent. Color reproduction was very accurate, and text was quite readable, especially considering the size of the screen.

Small notebooks often feature compromised keyboards, hurting the user experience. Thankfully, that's not the case at all with the A605. The keyboard takes up about half of the laptop's base, and it offered the best typing experience I've found below 14 inches in any notebook. Unlike with its cousin, the R600, the keyboard feels sturdy, with no flex or give. You won't find miniversions of your keys or alternate key layouts like those found on some other ultraportables and netbooks. The touchpad is fine; though smaller than on many full-featured notebooks, it isn't so small that your wrists will ache after a few hours of use.

Apart from gaming graphics, sound is the A605's major failing, which is to be expected in an ultraportable. With just one lonely mono speaker that becomes unlistenable at high volumes (and is too quiet to hear over even moderate levels of ambient noise), the A605 is ill-equipped for media playback even in an office or bedroom situation. The old-fashioned volume dial on the notebook's left side looks dated, but it offers a reasonable level of control. If you're going to use this laptop for media, headphones or dedicated speakers will be a must.

The A605 comes with the standard update notifier and backup software (which works pretty well) and with biometric identification software tied to the fingerprint reader below the touchpad. Otherwise, it has no special software, but what it does have gets the job done. You'll want to dial down the hard disk protection software's sensitivity, which will otherwise steal focus with a popup message if you so much as breath heavily around the A605. The documentation is reasonably thorough and is specific to the A600 line.

The A605's look occupies a strange middle ground in Toshiba's design history. The lid and top panel of the base share the traditional Toshiba high-gloss, piano-black finish, while the lower half of the base has the brushed-metal look of the higher-end Portege notebooks. I'm not a fan of the traditional black finish, which is a fingerprint magnet, but it doesn't look bad, and the keyboard, with the same brushed-metal finish as the base, is easier to use because of its contrast with the rest of the notebook.

This machine isn't for multimedia fiends or gamers. But if you need a small computer than can still handle a lot of office work and open programs at once, and if an optical drive is a necessity, then the A605 will serve you well, with outstanding battery life to boot, at a price well below those of comparably equipped ultraportables.

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