Toshiba Portege R200-S234
At a Glance
Toshiba Portege R200-S234 Notebook
This superportable laptop has a good keyboard and screen, but no built-in optical drive.
Go superportable with the light but pricey Toshiba Port
You get a 12.1-inch XGA screen and a surprisingly good keyboard. The layout isn't perfect--the <Delete> key is awkwardly buried in the bottom row --but it was good enough to let me pound out 80 words a minute (okay, maybe 60--I'm a little rusty). The touchpad, a gray-skinned membrane set in a snazzy chrome panel bottom-lit by a blue LED, works fine with the unit's two small mouse buttons.
The only real trouble I encountered was in using the R200 while it sat perched on my lap. The case is so thin that every keystroke rocks the entire unit; if you don't want to drive yourself crazy trying to manage the flopping screen, you need to set the laptop on a stable surface.
The R200 includes both 802.11g Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless networking to handle both long- and short-distance wireless communications, as well as a built-in biometric fingerprint reader for extra security. The included OmniPass security application lets you replace Windows, application, and online passwords with a finger swipe, a process I found fairly easy to accomplish. Swipe readers record more of your fingerprint than press-and-hold windows, but they can be cranky about recognition because you have to move your finger precisely.
Data ports are scarce, however: You get just network and modem jacks, a VGA port, two USB ports, a headphone port, and a single PC Card slot. The design needs some fine-tuning here and there; I struggled to remove the battery, a big, flat pack that takes up a good portion of the bottom of the notebook. Despite a release switch and a fingerhold, I had to pry the battery out with a screwdriver. Like most ultraportables, the R200 has only one built-in speaker, with audio so tinny I could barely understand movie dialogue; the volume wheel is pretty useless, too.
The R200 is a bit of an underpowered performer compared with full-size laptops, relying as it does on Intel's 1.2-GHz Pentium M ULV 753 processor. I wouldn't choose this notebook for heavy number crunching or multitasking several demanding applications. However, it performed as expected, with a WorldBench 5 score of 60--in line with a score of 56 earned by a Sony VAIO VGN-T150P using a 1.1-GHz Pentium M ULV 733. In other words, it's fine for e-mail, word processing, and playing back video, but not for video editing or complex-spreadsheet crunching.
The R200's biggest drawback is its lack of an integrated optical drive; you have to use an expensive add-on USB device. Toshiba's $342 External DVD SuperMulti Drive (included in our $2414 price) can be powered by either its rechargeable AAA nickel metal hydride battery or its power adapter, and does not add much weight (just 1 pound, 5 ounces). However, the two drives I looked at were afflicted with trays that I had to close multiple times before they'd stay shut.
On the plus side for do-it-yourselfers, the R200's 60GB hard drive and single SODIMM memory slot are user upgradable (an additional 256MB of memory is built onto the motherboard). And if you want to make the R200 your primary PC, a connection on the bottom hooks you up to the Toshiba Slim Port Replicator, a $269 attachable plate with seven rear ports, including four extra USB ports, a VGA port, and an ethernet port.
Most of the documentation is relegated to an Acrobat guide preinstalled on the hard drive. However, it's thorough and liberally linked for easy searching. Finally, the R200 comes with the basic Microsoft Works 8 bundle of applications.
Next-to-nothing weight--check. Good keyboard--check. Long battery life--double check. The Toshiba Port