Big heavy stuff (not): Toshiba Satellite Z830 review

If the ideal of Ultrabooks is to take current big power-guzzling notebooks and transform them into tablet-like feather-light slivers of alloy without sacrificing too much performance or functionality the 13.3in Toshiba Satellite Z830 comes closer than most to meeting it. This is a big notebook slimmed down to a ridiculous thickness (15.9mm) and weight (1.2kg) but which doesn’t jettison many of the features found in full-sized notebooks.

What’s amazing about the Z830 is that it has the full array of ports you expect to find on a full-sized notebook. There are three USB ports (one a superfast USB 3.0) while other Ultrabooks have only two. Then there’s full HDMI and VGA and even a Gigabit Ethernet port for plugging into a corporate network. And an SD card slot microphone and audio jacks and even a Kensington security slot. These full-size connections mean you don’t have to carry a bunch of adapters with you.

The combined performance from the Z830’s Intel Core i5-2467M (1.6GHz-2.3GHz) CPU 4GB of RAM and its 128GB solid state drive was good enough in our intense use of a Z830 over a week not to be noticeable. That means it wasn’t blindingly fast but equally it didn’t produce any of the lag and tardiness we’ve come to expect from ultraportables.  

Like all Ultrabooks the Z830 doesn’t have a discrete graphics card so we weren’t going to review Battlefield 3 on it but the Intel HD 3000 onboard graphics would have let us play intensive games at low detail and would have been totally adequate for internet-based gaming. The 1366 x 768 display is pretty standard although the ASUS UX31E has managed to pack 1600 x 900 pixels into its 13.3in display.

While the Z830’s magnesium/alloy chassis is rock-solid the insanely thin (3mm or so) display flexes like it’s made of thin plastic and this has upset some people not used to that amount of flexing in a notebook screen. Toshiba representatives told us the lid is designed that way so it can withstand a significant amount of punishment without breaking.

Others have criticised the Z830’s keyboard describing it as cramped and with keys that are not deep enough — but if you’ve used lots of shallow chiclet keyboards then it’s not an issue. Actually it’s the only Ultrabook keyboard to be backlit utterly invaluable if you’re in a darkened aircraft cabin or trying to do some work late at night when everyone else is asleep.

We found battery life on the Z830 was excellent coming in at about five and a half hours of light to medium use. In all this is a great Ultrabook. Its unique differentiator is that it feels like a traditional notebook that’s been miraculously slimmed down to almost tablet-thickness. The array of ports and the performance are those of a big computer not of an ultra-thin.

In Australia the Z830 (Core i5 model reviewed here) kicked off with an RRP of $1399 but it’s already dropped down to close to $1200 and lower on the street. Compared to a similarly specced but full-size heavy battery-power guzzling notebook it’s expensive. But is the lightness slimness and extra battery life worth the premium? Absolutely. Get one of these and you’ll never go back to the heavies.

Available from Toshiba retailing for $1399.
APC rating: 9/10 (Editor’s Choice)