Laptop & Tablet Reviews

Toshiba Portege Z20t: Australian Review

Toshiba’s Portege laptops have always been thin and light. Really thin and light. They’re known for their ultraportable and small form factors, business-friendly designs and impressive feats of battery life. That same trend continues with the new Portege Z20t, which now splits in half — it’s one half Intel Core M-powered tablet and one half battery-packing keyboard dock, combining for one versatile Ultrabook.

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What Is It?

  • Processor: Intel Core M-5Y51 up to Core M-5Y71
  • RAM: 4GB 1600MHz DDR3L up to 8GB
  • Graphics: Intel HD 5300
  • Storage: 128GB SSD up to 512GB
  • Display: 12.5-inch, 1920×1080 pixel, IPS
  • Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, gigabit Ethernet,
    stereo analog audio, 2x USB 3.0, microUSB, microHDMI, microSD, HDMI, VGA

The $1815 Toshiba Portege Z20t is an Ultrabook, but an ultra-versatile one. It has the super-thin aspect of the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro, but all the laptop’s smarts are encased inside the screen half of the clamshell — and that little sliding switch lets you entirely detach screen from keyboard and use it as a Windows 8.1-toting touchscreen tablet.

The Z20t runs any of Intel’s latest Core M laptops, although Toshiba expects that the majority of units will be the mid-range Core M-5Y51. You can choose either 4 or 8GB of RAM, and while the two models initially on sale now in Australia use 256GB SSDs there will be a wider array released in the future — including a model with an integrated 4G mobile broadband modem. The Z20t doesn’t have an optical drive — it doesn’t have the internal chassis space for one — but you can buy a matching Toshiba external.

Everything you do on the Portege Z20t is displayed and relayed back to you through a particularly beautiful and vibrant 12.5-inch 1920x1080pixel display with an anti-glare coating; it has a slight pixel density advantage over its 13.3-inch equivalent cousins, unless they use particularly high-res panels like the QHD+ display of the Aorus X3 Plus.

The Z20t’s display is also 10-finger multitouch compatible, which will come in handy for temporary use as a tablet, and it’s also digitiser pen compatible. Toshiba includes two stylii with the Z20t — one full-size digitiser pen, and one simple stylus integrated into the tablet’s body. And, of course, in true Toshiba fashion you can buy additional pens and a huge range of extras and accessories during or any time after your initial purchase.

Being a business device, the Portege Z20t was always going to need a good keyboard. And it has one, along with a sizeable multitouch trackpad with physical left- and right-click buttons, and an Accupoint pointing device. The keyboard docks with the tablet portion of the Z20t with a multi-part docking hinge, combining the tablet’s battery with the keyboard dock’s own battery and array of ports — it’s certainly versatile, but it’s not perfect. More on that later, though.

What’s It Good At?

Ultrabooks are rarely blessed with a huge array of input and output ports, but the Portege Z20t squarely bucks that trend. On the tablet, you’ll find a variety of mobile-friendly I/O — a microUSB port (use one of these nifty dual USBs for that), a microSD card slot for expandable storage, and microHDMI for connecting to a TV or larger display. On the keyboard you get full-size HDMI, and two full-size USB 3.0 ports, gigabit Ethernet and VGA.

Whether you’re mobile with the tablet, chained to a desk with the keyboard dock or travelling with the entire setup, the Portege Z20t is genuinely usable. The combo of two touch-sensitive pens, one of them excellent, and the touchscreen display itself, makes typing without a keyboard easy. But the keyboard itself is excellent despite a little flex in the centre of the board, with just the right amount of key travel, first-for-the-Portege-line backlighting, and a really handy central Accupoint trackpoint between the G and H keys.

The battery life of the Toshiba Portege Z20t is supreme. The company itself rates the tablet portion of the Z20t at 9 hours of usage and the keyboard dock’s portion at 8, and combining the two really does get you that 17 hour run-time figure that you’re all hoping for and dreaming of — at least under the official usage guidelines. That low-power Core M is so good at giving you a usable amount of performance, more than enough for everyday working tasks, while positively sipping on electrical energy.

Having a good display is paramount for a tablet or a notebook, and I am so glad to report that the Portege Z20t’s 12.5-inch 1080p touchscreen panel is one of the best I’ve seen at its screen size. Despite the anti-glare coating that very slightly reduces per-pixel detail compared to a fully glossy panel, colours are nonetheless vibrant and accurate and make this device one equally competent at watching movies, playing games or browsing the Web.

What’s It Not Good At?

This is a minor quibble given the Portege Z20t’s versatility and flexibility — you can transform it from a laptop to a tablet to a tent to a stand, for god’s sake — but the hinge is quite wobbly. That is, the point at which the tablet docks with the keyboard, not the hinge that lets you angle the screen back and forth whatever its orientation. The docking point just feels a little loose, and it means that the ‘screen’ — such as it is — wobbles around a little.

17 hour battery life was always a lofty ambition, but the Portege Z20t merely gets close rather than surpassing its stated figures. Over a run-down test looping 720p video at half the screen’s maximum brightness, I achieved 12 and a half hours of battery life — certainly a very strong showing, but not MacBook-grade supreme. Toshiba deserves serious props for its battery management, though — the keyboard dock always runs out of juice before the tablet starts to drain, maximising its flexibility.

The Portege Z20t is usable as a tablet, but coming with Windows 8.1 means that you’re confined to the Windows Start screen, and its walled garden of apps like Internet Explorer and no Chrome when you do so. In my educated opinion, Windows 8.1 isn’t nearly as usable in tablet mode as a tablet-only interface like Android, and that means that you’re probably not going to be able to get as much done — it’s great for content consumption, but not creation.

Having a tablet and a keyboard dock separate for each other necessitates a little extra heft to the Toshiba Portege Z20t, as does having not one but two independent batteries and the charging hardware for those batteries. Having independent charging for both is an excellent and incredibly useful feature, but at 1.51kg the Z20t is a little bit heavier and thicker than the 1.19kg Yoga 3 Pro.

Should You Buy It?

Toshiba Portege Z20t

Price: from $1815

  • Beautiful display.
  • Huge array of ports.
  • Tablet versatility.
Don’t Like
  • Wobbly docking hinge.
  • Windows 8.1 still imperfect for touch.
  • Battery, while great, doesn’t match claims.

If you want a laptop first and a tablet second, the Toshiba Portege Z20t is a great ultraportable. It gets extra points for being able to transform at the drop of a hat, and for the versatility of its battery management and the huge array of ports on offer whether you’re using the Z20t either as a tablet or a fully-fledged laptop.

The locking hinge isn’t perfect, though, and that’s one small thing that takes away from what is an otherwise solid and easy to recommend notebook. The mechanism itself is exact and easy to use, but it’s once the tablet is docked to the keyboard that the slight wobble starts to be distracting. If possible, I really think you should get your hands on one to try it out and see if the hinge lock is enough of an annoyance to be a deal-breaker.

I have a few quibbles with Windows 8.1 more generally for touchscreen and tablet use, but your mileage may vary and in any case they’re quibbles that you can quickly learn to live with. Toshiba’s stated battery life is probably achievable under a light-duty working scenario, but even with constant video watching you’re almost certain to get a full long-haul international flight from the Z20t. What’s better is you’ll be able to do every piece of work that you need to along the way, too.

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