TECHNOLOGY SPECTATOR: Toshiba PORTG Z930 review

Toshiba's 13.3-inch ultrabook is lighter than the MacBook Air but still packs plenty of punch when it comes to hardware.

Technology Spectator

For frequent business travellers the key features of a laptop are lightweight, plenty of ports, backlit keyboard and sufficient battery life. The Toshiba PORTG Z930 Ultrabook delivers on all fronts while claiming the title of world’s lightest 13.3-inch laptop.

We tested the Z930 during a trip from Sydney to San Francisco, north along the west coast to the interior of Alaska and back home again. During a journey involving seven flights, an interstate train and a three day ferry trip through Alaska’s Inside Passage the Z930 performed admirably.

After the launch of Windows 8 some readers may be worried that there don’t seem to be any "traditional” non-touchscreen premium business oriented laptops available with the option of using Windows 7.

Fear not as Toshiba’s Z930 is being sold pre-installed with Windows 7, offering the option of switching to Windows 8 instead if you wish. I would advise against doing so because the Z930 is not a touchscreen enabled laptop andWindows 8 is unlikely to be useful for business anytime soon (if at all).

Despite the positives the Z930 does have its annoying quirks, most notably a preponderance ofpop-up warnings trying to get you to register, activate or buy various preinstalled trial applications like Norton Internet Security and Clickfree backup.

Windows laptop makers get paid an amount per application they preinstall on their laptops. It’s a catch-22 because this revenue increases their profit margin or allows greater room for discounting the price a bit, but it’s done at the risk of annoying users.

Toshiba has made a good move by preinstalling full versions of Google Chrome browser and Kindle for PC but the rest of the "crapware” tends to reduce performance and continue to bug you until you pay up for a full version or uninstall it.

Taking on the Macbook Air

The Z930’s silver brushed metal looking magnesium alloy shell may seem flimsy but it is strong and designed to flex without snapping. As a testament to the skills of Toshiba’s designers and engineering team which managed to create this thin ultrabook weighing just 1.1 kilograms, I often had to double check my Crumpler satchel to check I hadn’t left the Z930 behind. The MacBook Air weighs 1.35 kilograms.

When inevitably compared to the equivalent top model Macbook Air the Z930’s 1366x768 screen resolution is not as vibrant and slightly lower than the Air’s 1440x900 screen resolution. However, the Air has a glossy screen compared to the Z930 which has a matte screen. Glossy screens look great in a retail showroom but during actual use require constant wiping to remove fingerprints and are annoyingly reflective under bright lights. Also in terms of warranty the Air has one year limited to in-store service whereas Z930 offers a far superior three-year parts and labour warranty, including courier pick-up and return service within Australia and New Zealand.

We made two calls to the Toshiba Australia sales centre pretending to be a customer and were impressed that my quite specific questions were answered swiftly and correctly.

Nuts, bolts and ports

The Z930 variant we tested was equipped with an Intel Core i7 processor 3667U and 256GB SSD drive so it came as no surprise that when it comes to speed of general use and data transfer via USB 3.0 to/from the drive that this laptop is a screamer.

A rare but welcome addition for such a thin laptop is the 1GBit RJ45 Ethernet port at the back of the Z930. Very handy if you have to transfer a large number of files or want to use the fast broadband via ethernet cable available at some hotels.

Mobile network connectivity is available via a 3G SIM slot at the right side of the Z930, capable of upto 21Mbps download/5.67Mbps upload speeds which complements the standard WiFi 802.11 a/g/n capability. Laptop accessories can connect to the Z930 using Bluetooth 4.0 with enhanced data rate (EDR).

Next to the 3G SIM slot on the right side of the Z930 is a USB 3.0 port for fast data transfer. If you buy a business laptop we recommend purchasing a 64GB SanDisk Extreme USB 3.0 Flash Drive which retails online from $64 or so.

Weused an Extreme USB 3.0 for daily backups of all the documents and photos stored on the Z930 and it saved many minutes each day compared to backing up using a much slower USB 2.0 drive.

There are also two standard USB 2.0 ports on the back of the Z930. Be careful when using the laptop with USBs plugged in the back because if the Z930 is close to a hard surface, e.g. the plane seat in front of you moves back suddenly, the USB drives could get damaged. An anti-theft Kensington cable lock slot rounds out the right side of the laptop.

On the left hand side there are microphone (input) and headphone (output) jacks as well as a full sized SD card slot that supports large SDXC cards. I used it to transfer photos from several SanDisk Extreme Pro UHS-I cards in our SLR cameras.

At the back of the Z930 there are a plethora of ports. Joining the aforementioned Gigabit ethernet and two USB 2.0 ports are full sized SVGA RGB and HDMI ports which allow you to present documents connected to any projector.

Battery life

The eight cell 3200mAh Lithium-Ion battery has a claimed battery life of up to eight hours. We managed over seven hours in eco mode at low screen brightness and without any connectivity being turned on. For more normal use with Wi-Fi enabled and a mid level of screen brightness the laptop ran flat in about 4.5 to five hours.

While the keyboard ideally would have a bit more travel depth to keypresses we got used to it and the trackpad worked fin, it is unremarkable apart from supporting gestures, which is a feature that would be useful if you use the Z930 with Windows 8.

During one of our discussions with Toshiba Sales it was revealed that the original shipment of PORTG Z930’s to Australia included some laptops which weren’t equipped with backlit keyboards. According to the sales representative we chatted with on the phone, all PORTG Z930’s sold in Australia will have backlit keyboards once that mistakenly ordered stock is sold.

It should be noted that the PORTG Z930 is aimed at business users while Toshiba has a SATELLITE Z930 variant aimed at home users. Make sure you specify which one you want when you order.