Ultra-thin, ultra-light and packed with features, but Toshiba’s Satellite Z830 ultrabook is let down by a disappointing keyboard.
The Satellite Z830 ultrabook is only 15.9mm thick and tips the scales at a petite 1.12kg - which is enough to set any road warrior’s heart aflutter. The $AU1399 Z830 is one of the first of a new generation of Intel-powered ultrabooks which I spoke of on Monday. Following in the tradition of Apple’s MacBook Air, the ultrabooks aim to deliver the portability of a netbook but with most of the grunt and features of a full-blown notebook. The Satellite Z830 packs a Core i5 processor and 4GB of RAM, running a 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium.
There’s a lot to like about the Z830, but first impressions are important when you’re reviewing gadgets. The trick is knowing when to run with them and when to put them aside. For me Toshiba’s Z830 made a rather disappointing first impression thanks to its cramped keyboard and trackpad buttons. The keys are very squat, which squashes up the keyboard so it’s not as deep as your average notebook. This might be an understandable sacrifice on a 10-inch netbook, but seems unnecessary on a 13.3-inch notebook like the Z830 - especially when you look at how much dead space there is above the keyboard. The keys don’t travel far, which is annoying but obviously forgivable considering how thin the notebook is. But the keys also make a plastic clickity-clack sound which is reminiscent of a cheap netbook and harder to forgive.
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As someone who writes for a living, for me the keyboard is the make-or-break feature of any mobile gadget. I don’t care how many bells and whistles a device has, I’m after a productivity tool so if it’s horrible to type on then I’m not inclined to like it. Yet not everyone sees things this way, so I’m trying to see past the Z830’s keyboard to appreciate what else it has to offer.
Despite being amazingly thin and light, the Z830 is surprising well balanced. It doesn’t feel in danger of tipping backwards, even when balanced on your lap. The hinge also offers just the right amount of resistance, so you can open the lid with one hand without flipping the ultrabook over (helped by the rubber feet).
The Z830 relies on a magnesium alloy casing, which helps keep the weight down. Unfortunately the display has a disturbing amount of twist and flex in it and it doesn’t feel like it could survive a lot of rough and tumble. A travel satchel with some extra padding might be a wise investment.
In terms of connectivity, the Z830 has one of the best offerings in the fledgling ultrabook market. There’s no optical drive, but that’s to be expected and these days I think it’s a sacrifice many people would be prepared to make - especially if the ultrabook isn’t their only computer. The Z830 also features a 128GB solid state drive, which keeps down the weight and improves the battery life. Allowing for the Windows 7 installation, and the fact that gigabytes ain’t gigabytes, you’re only left with around 75GB for your documents. This might be a bit tight for some people, but once again it probably won’t bother you too much if the ultrabook isn’t your only computer.
Turn over the Z830 in your hands and you’ll discover two USB ports on the back along with Ethernet, HDMI and VGA. You’ll find a third USB port and a Kensington security slot, along with an SD card slot, headphone jack and microphone jack on the left. Above the display is a built-in mic and HD webcam. Such an impressive list of features is what helps the Z830 stand out from the crowd and will certainly appeal to those who hate carrying around a bag of adaptors to support a so-called portable device.
If you’re looking to regularly use the Z830 on your desk, you might consider investing in Toshiba’s dynadock V, a USB dock that lets you access Ethernet, four USB ports, DVI, headphone jack and microphone jack via just one USB connection to the ultrabook.
I’m no fashionista, but I must say the Z830’s matte silver styling is rather underwhelming and it’s certainly not going to turn heads the way something like a MacBook Air does. Toshiba calls the colour scheme “ultimate silver”, but for me it’s only one step away from boring beige. This won’t bother some people, but those looking for a cafe fashion accessory might be disappointed.
What I find more disappointing is the consumer-focused Satellite Z830’s glossy display, which doesn’t handle outdoor glare well. This disappointing when you consider such a lightweight notebook will be used in a variety of lighting conditions. Toshiba’s business-focused Portege Z830 apparently features a matte display and it might be worth investigating if, like me, you hate staring at your reflection when trying to work outdoors. The Portege also features a fingerprint reader between the trackpad buttons.
Unfortunately the Satellite Z830’s 1366x768 LED display offers rather blue-ish whites, which doesn’t help with outdoors contrast. It’s worth noting that by default the screen brightness is set to 50% in battery mode, obviously to prolong the battery life. You’ll probably want to bump this up to at least 75%, tapping into the LED goodness which helps with the contrast. It’s also worth noting that the keys are backlit, as it’s a feature often lost in the move to thinner devices.
Battery life is obviously an important issue with ultrabooks. Under light load you’ll squeeze about five hours out of the Z830, which is nothing to be sneezed at. If you’re looking to milk every last drop of out it you can press the eco mode button which dims the screen, sets more aggressive idle times and kills the keyboard backlight. By default eco mode is too dim for my liking, but thankfully it’s controlled by a Windows power plan, so you can dip into the control panel and modify it to your liking.
All up there’s a lot to like about the Z830, but if it came in under $1000 I’d be a lot more forgiving of the mediocre keyboard. Keep in mind you’re paying a significant premium for ultra-portability, as Toshiba sells an entry-level 13.3-inch notebook with a Core i5 process for $AU899. You can save even more money if you’re prepared to go up to 15.6 inches. At $1399 I think you’d need to spend a lot of time on the road to justify the expense of the Z830. And that’s when the keyboard would start to irk me. I’ll admit the smaller keys grow on you after a while, but I’d want to test out the keyboards on the competing ultrabooks before putting down my money on the Toshiba Satellite Z830.
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