The way we hoped Ultrabooks would materialise when we first heard about them is about as close as Toshiba has gotten with its design of the 13.3in Satellite Z830. It's a magnificent piece of work that fits necessary ports and slots into an almost impossibly thin and light chassis, a chassis that also houses speedy enough components to make everyday computing tasks a breeze. While most vendors talk of no-compromise thin-and-light computing when it comes to Ultrabooks, only Toshiba has walked the walk thus far.
This is what we expected from Toshiba. The company has a lot of experience building thin and light machines, with the company's Portege R500 and R600 models being marvels in the mobile computing field because of their truly ultra-light designs and full feature-sets. It's only natural then that Toshiba has used its prowess in this area of mobile computing to build an Ultrabook that is currently much better than the offerings from Acer and ASUS on the Australian market.
• Ultralight prowess: Toshiba's Portege R600 stripped and analysed.
Design and user comfort
The metal body of the Satellite Z830 is strong and light and it has the most original design that we've seen so far — the Acer and ASUS Ultrabooks take too many design cues from Apple's MacBook Air. The Toshiba looks square, but classy and the chrome details covering the hinges and around the touchpad's buttons add a dash of flair.
Most importantly though, the Satellite weighs in at a barely noticeable 1.1kg and it's only 16mm thick (with the lid closed). It's much thinner and lighter than the Acer and ASUS Ultrabooks that we've seen to date. Funnily enough, the Toshiba also packs the most features.
Along the spine of the Satellite you will find Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI (full sized), power, VGA and two USB ports. The right side has another USB port, which is USB 3.0-capable, and a cable lock facility; the left side has headphone and microphone ports and an SD card slot. The Acer Aspire S3-951 that we reviewed doesn't have Ethernet built in to it, nor does it have USB 3.0 or a VGA port. The ASUS Zenbook UX31 that we reviewed has USB 3.0 built in, but it doesn't have a full-sized HDMI port (you have to buy an adapter) and it comes with a breakout adapter for VGA and a USB adapter for Ethernet. On the inside, the Satellite has 2.4GHz, 802.11n Wi-Fi (Atheros AR9002WB-1NG) and Bluetooth 3.0. You also get a 0.9-megapixel webcam.
The balance of the Satellite Z830 is excellent. Its latch-less lid can be lifted with one hand without the chassis coming up off the table at all. The hinges could use a little more stiffness though — sometimes simply lifting the notebook up off the table made the screen tilt back all the way it could go.
We found the screen's contrast good enough to make photo and video viewing pleasurable, but only as long as the screen was angled perfectly. Like so many notebook screens, the Toshiba's vertical angles in particular are narrow and a lot of fiddling is required to get the view just right. Furthermore, it's a glossy screen, which means that reflections will probably get on your nerves more often than not. It's not as bright as the screen on the ASUS Zenbook, but it's not a dull screen either.
As for user comfort, we think the Satellite Z830 is the best of the Ultrabooks so far. It has an ample palm rest (82mm deep) that feels good to rest on and its chiclet, spill-resistant keyboard is backlit. It looks great at night and is very easy on the eyes when typing in the dark. It has keys that are somewhat 'spongy' to hit, but they are impressively responsive and we didn't have any problems typing on this Ultrabook for long periods of time.
We think it's much better than the keyboard on the Acer and ASUS models in this respect. It's also better because of its layout, which is standard and roomy. You can easily make out the arrow keys — they are not squished — and there are dedicated Home, End and Page Up and Page Down buttons on the right-hand side that come in very handy when perusing long documents. The down arrow makes an annoying 'click' sound sometimes when it is pressed, which can be annoying in a quiet room — what is it with down arrow keys? We also noticed a squeaky down arrow key on the ASUS unit.
The Toshiba felt very comfortable to use while resting it in our lap, but you will need to look out for the pointy corners. The front edge of the laptop has a rounded finish that feels good against the flesh while typing, but you won't want to accidentally hit the corners of the chassis with your wrists as they feel a little too sharp.
The Synaptics touchpad was responsive during our tests. The pointer didn't over-shoot objects and it wasn't sluggish. It also performed multi-finger gestures beautifully (including three-finger flicks in Firefox). At 85x80mm, it's an ample-sized pad that we found a lot more accurate and pleasurable to use than the touchpads on the Acer and ASUS Ultrabooks. Rather than its left- and right-click buttons being concealed under the pad, it uses conventional buttons that are separate to the pad itself. However, these aren't great. They feel a little too stiff to press easily and just a little bit cheap.
If you use the Satellite on your lap for long periods of time, then some heat will be generated and it might end up feeling uncomfortable, both on your lap and under your palms as you type. After typing up documents and browsing Web pages for a few hours while using the Ultrabook on our lap, it got mildly warm and somewhat uncomfortable, but it wasn't unbearable. It runs hotter when the CPU or graphics components are tasked with a lot of work; for heavy processing loads, you'll want to rest the unit on a hard, flat surface. There is a vent on the spine of the laptop and there are holes on the base for the fan that sits near that vent. It makes a low whirring noise, but we didn't find it to be annoying.
Overall, we're pleased with the user friendliness of the Satellite Z830 and we like Toshiba's design choices. Its keyboard and touchpad are good, we love the backlight and the chassis didn't feel harsh as we rested on it while typing. It's screen could be better, but that's a common complaint we have with most laptops.
Next page: Specifications, performance, battery life and conclusion