Toshiba’s surprise: the amazingly slight Satellite Z830 Ultrabook

From above the Z80 looks like a standard 13.3 in laptop.

If the ideal of Ultrabooks is to take current big fat battery-guzzling notebooks and transform them into tablet-like feather-light slivers of alloy without sacrificing too much performance or functionality the Toshiba Satellite Z830 doesn’t just attain it it smashes it.

Flip open the coin-thick lid look down on the laptop from above and the Z830 looks just like an elegant 13.3in high-end/executive notebook. But pick it up and you get your first shock – you have to quickly adjust your lifting force to prevent yourself from accidentally flinging it across the desk. We’re serious. It’s not that it weighs nothing at 1.2kgs it definitely has mass (the ASUS UX21 is even lighter at 1.1kgs) but the laptop design just tricks you into thinking it’s heavier so when you pick it up you just don’t expect it to be so light.

But pick it up and its low weight throws you

A look at the Z830 from the sides confirms that this is no ordinary notebook. It’s not so much the slimness; yes technically it’s the thinnest of the Ultrabooks so far 15.9mm at its thickest point but that’s probably because it has eschewed the wedge-shape MacBook Air -like design of the ASUS and ACER Ultrabooks which forces these to cram the back end. What’s different about the Z830 are the ports and slots. Unlike the other Ultrabooks the Z830 does not skimp on them. It has the full array of ports you expect to find on a full-sized notebook. There’s three USB ports (one a superfast USB 3.0) while other Ultrabooks have only two. Then there’s full HDMI and a VGA ports and even a Gigabit Ethernet port. And an SD card slot and microphone and audio jacks and even a Kensigton security slot! These full-size connections mean you don’t have to carry a bunch of adapters with you.

The beautiful array of full-size ports on the Z830. An Ultrabook does not mean you have to miss out on some connectivity.

Design-wise Toshiba has succeeded in giving the Z830 a unique style. In the world of Ultrabooks (so far because it’s early days) the ASUS UX Ultrabooks scream gangsta rap and nouveau riche through their stunningly bare polished aluminium finish. Acer went with a G-rated design for its S3 Ultrabooks that only your grandparents would find edgy. Toshiba’s gone for an understated but elegant polished look that looks good on the mahogany boardroom table or designer study desk . But clearly you can’t account for taste in some people since several critics find the Z830’s design and finish too boring for their liking.

The combined performance from the Z830’s Intel Core i5-2467M (1.60GHz – 2.30GHz) CPU 4GBs 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. We did real APC production work with the Z830 which generally involves having Word Excel Outlook Chrome and Firefox browsers open all the time with PowerPoint Photoshop and InDesign opened on-and-off through the day. That’s as real world as you can get and the Z830 delivered just like a full-size full-voltage notebook would (we’re also about to do the usual battery of synthetic benchmarking for the next mag).

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 still have let us play intensive games at low details and would have been totally adequate for internet-based gaming.

So is the Z830 perfect? Not as far as all the critics are concerned. It has been widely criticised for a couple of things: its display and keyboard.

On the display we disagree with the whingers. While the Z830’s magnesium/alloy chassis is rock solid the insanely thin (3 mm or so) display flexes like it’s made of thin plastic. Toshiba representatives told us the lid is designed that way so it can withstand a significant amount of punishment without breaking but you would be amazed at how many people just plain dislike a screen that flexes. To them it just doesn’t feel right. I don’t understand the problem. It flexes. yes. It breaks? No. It works? Yes. The image quality is excellent? Yes.

We gave the screen lid of the Z830 a bit of punishment below and it held up!

The other screen-related criticism is that the Z830’s display has a resolution of only 1366 x 768 (by contrast the ASUS UX31E has 1600 x 900). Again not sure why this is an issue given that most bigger 15.6in notebooks come with the same 1366 x 768 resolution.

But if we have one criticism it’s that the Z830’s glossy screen is just stupid on an ultraportable like this. You buy an UItrabook because you want to use it in all kinds of places while on the move particularly public transport where you can’t control the lighting conditions. I enjoyed using the Z830 on the train on the way to work because it was so light except when the sun shone right into the window and turned the screen into a mirror and kept reminding me of the bags under my eyes.

Others have criticised the Z830’s keyboard describing it as cramped and with keys that are not deep enough. I dont think the keyboard is a problem even more so considering it’s the only keyboard so far among the Ultrabooks 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.

The only difficulty I had was getting used to the Z830’s trackpad with its discrete and smallish buttons after using the MacBook –like button-less trackpads of the other Ultrabooks.

Battery life on the Z830 was excellent coming in at about 5.5 hours of light to medium use.

Leaving aside the debate about the flexiness of the screen and whether it makes the Z830 feel cheaper than it actually is this is a great Ultrabook. Its unique differentiator is that it feels like a traditional laptop 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) has an RRP of $1399 selling in retail for between $1300 and $1400 while in the US its MSRP is $1199.