Toshiba's entry into the ultrabook race isn't quite as visually flashy as the Asus Zenbook or the Macbook Air. But it proves one of those things that your mother told you when you were young — it's what's underneath that counts.
What We Like
It might sound like an odd thing to start praising an ultrabook for, but what the Toshiba Z830 really stands out is for the number of ports. There's only so much space within the ultrabook form factor to put anything, and it's to Toshiba's engineering credit that they've managed to cram a lot of ports onto the Z830. The Z830 has three USB ports — and one of them is a USB 3.0 port with charging ability — as well as SD, HDMI, Ethernet, separate microphone and headphone ports and VGA. Most of the ports are located around the back of the Z830, which isn't always the easiest for access, but within the size limitations of an ultrabook this is still a nice bit of engineering.
Given the relatively tight processor and system constraints on Ultrabooks, we're not likely to see massive performance differences between any two particular Ultrabooks. I'm not a huge fan of synthetic benchmarks as a way of measuring system performance, but it so happens I'd benchmarked a 13" Core i5 Macbook Air running Windows 7 some time ago, and I was curious to see how the Z830 might stack up. The answer, not surprisingly, is that it's nearly identical; the Air edged out the Z830 slightly in PCMark scores, but not to a level in real world usage where you'd particularly notice the difference between the two.
It's unlikely anyone's going to buy an Ultrabook as an uber-performance machine in any case, as they're still machines that offer a tradeoff between power, storage and portability. The Z830 works well enough, and the SSD is fast enough that you're not likely to spot much of a difference between it and any other comparably priced Ultrabook.
Battery performance is stated as "up to" eight hours, and those kinds of "up to" figures are always rubbery. I managed an easy five hours of video playback with battery saving measures disabled, which suggests that this is a solid ultrabook performer that should last through the vast part of most working days. If you were only using it on and off, it should make it with power to spare.
What We Don't Like
The visual design. That's an aesthetic call, no doubt, but compared to the sleek style of the Asus or even Apple's Macbook Air, the Satellite Z830 is a plain looking beast. That's fine if you're going to only use it for powerpoint presentations in yet another boring meeting, but at the moment, Ultrabooks are a style choice rather than a utility one.
The display screen is fair but not great. It's not particularly bright and it flexes in a rather worrying fashion; this not only makes it feel a little cheap, but gave me concern for its long-term durability. Likewise, the keyboard is a little soft, although to its credit it is backlit. The use of a 128GB SSD is rather standard in Ultrabooks, but it's still not a whole lot of storage — although that's a rather obvious criticism of any ultrabook model.
We're likely to see a lot of Ultrabooks over the next twelve months, and at that time it's fair to presume we'll see a lot of different price points. For now, the Ultrabook vendors have clustered around some pretty similar price points, and that makes comparison on value difficult. Toshiba's ultrabook stands out for the flexibility its multiple ports offer, as well as the exceptionally good battery life.