The Toshiba Portege R835-P94 is a Windows laptop that is fine for wireless productivity in your home or on the occasional business trip, but it is not made to stand up to daily wear and tear of a heavy user. It's a pity, because it's a fast, efficient machine.
BACKGROUND: I previously owned an indestructible, tiny SamSung NetBook, but after three years of using it 8-12 hours a day the keyboard was finally giving out. I am a HEAVY user, and while I'm not rough on my electronics, they do need to survive constant use and the jostles that come with a daily urban commute. I needed something light, portable, and sturdy that would allow me to be productive ALL DAY and EVERYWHERE - on my couch, riding the subway, walking to meetings at work, at lunch in the city, and between sets with my band.
Four months into my purchase and I have many regrets, but depending on how you use a laptop you might not have the same turnoffs as I do.
THE GOOD: Right out of the box, the Portege R835-P94 seems as though it is a decent MacBook Air competitor. That's not why I purchased it - I'm not a Mac fan - but when I held it next to my wife's Mac the form factor and weight were a close match, even if this machine is much more plastic-y.
This Portege comes right up to the limit of what I consider portable. Any bigger and it just wouldn't work in tight situations like airplanes. While heavier than NetBooks, this machine is still very lightweight for its size.
First and foremost, I think the battery life is stellar. On a relatively bright, high-functioning battery setting I can get 6-8 hours. It's rare that I ever run out battery unexpectedly and - if I do - it charges fast.
The machine is decently ergonomic, with a full-sized keyboard and a slightly off-center track pad with two click buttons. The function keys make sense, and a guide to them overlays onscreen when you press function. I do object to the Page Up and Down buttons being relegated to a vertical row on the side rather than being nested on either side of the up arrow (which is available), but that's a personal preference.
The screen is really bright and clear, though it does glare at some angles and on darker content due to its gloss finish. The CD/DVD drive is a lifesaver, and I marvel at how they managed to fit it in.
I was relieved to find that the computer has hardly any junk software I associate with most major laptop brands. Aside from standard MicroSoft programs, there's not much of anything pre-loaded. If you haven't used Windows 7 before, it is transparent. It has not once gotten in the way of my daily use, and in some instances of hunting for features or settings I think it is a considerable improvement over XP.
THE BAD: Despite all of my likes of this machine, they cannot overcome the fact that the build quality is cheap. Yes, that makes it light, but it's not worth the trade-off!
My left hinge fell off within my first day of use. I can push it back on, but it has never fit snugly. The battery locks fell out the first time I set it down sharply on a counter at lunch, and never went back in the same. The hinges are weak, allowing the screen to swing with any small amount of momentum or a strong breeze (I'm not joking!).
A few keys are already missing my keystrokes. They just don't depress and rebound fast enough to keep up with my typing - I switch to a desktop to write anything lengthy, which defeats the purpose of having a laptop! Also, the trackpad is beginning to show signs of failure.
However, my major complaint is the hard drive. I have had complete hard drive failures within the first 100 days of ownership of every Toshiba product I've bought in the past year, and this laptop was no exception. My old NetBook survived being accidentally punted down a shallow set of stairs and all of the other abuse of three years of daily use. This computer? Three months and a dead HD, right in the middle of my work day - no punts! I replaced it with a Solid State Crucial 128 GB m4 2.5-Inch Solid State Drive SATA 6Gb/s CT128M4SSD2, which I recommend doing RIGHT AWAY if you decide to purchase it. It was as easy to install as RAM, and it only took about two hours to load the factory settings from backup DVDs (which you have to make yourself or order for an additional fee).
This machine can be loud. Not at rest - the fan is audible, but not annoyingly so. I read other reviews stating the mouse buttons were loud. This seemed like a trivial complaint to me, but they really are! No matter how gently you click, they make an obnoxiously loud KERTHUNK. The chicklet style keys are also rather clacky, and extremely squeaky since day one (even with a dab of WD-40). The DVD drive is incredibly loud - I think prohibitively so if you plan to watch anything. Also, the computer weirdly emits a loud chirp every so often - I assumed this was the hard drive, but it continues to do so even with the SSHD installed.
Another minor complaint - there is no on-screen overlay when you raise or lower the volume with function keys. I thought for sure something was broken until I Googled it! The sound is decent for a laptop - loud, but no bottom end.
Finally, while glossy finishes make for attractive electronics, they also mean you are constantly wiping away dirt and smears. It's no big deal, but if you are the kind of person who needs your electronics to look elegant and spotless this might not work for you. The screen shows smudges very quickly, so keep a microfiber cloth handy in your case.
BOTTOM LINE: This laptop is probably heaven sent for lighter users who simply want something that will keep them surfing and productive when they need a connection. If that's what you want, I cautiously recommend it - though, I do endorse springing for the solid-state HD.
My complaints are those of someone who LIVES on a laptop. It's where I work, play, and create. If you're like me - who uses a machine morning until night, who juggles it between meetings and writes thousands of words a day - the Portege is just not ready for the task. You'll be shedding plastic pieces, wincing at the loud and squeaky keys, and praying the HD doesn't fail between cloud backups.
I can tell this is not going to last three years - it has already broken in at least three ways in four months! If you are looking for a daily use laptop, please use caution (and back up your data)!
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