Toshiba Portégé Z30 review

Everything business users want, and little else

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Our Verdict

The average user will not find the Toshiba Portégé Z30's abundance of ports or backlit keyboard enough to justify its high price.

For

  • Tactile backlit keyboard
  • Ports galore
  • Solid battery life

Against

  • Lackluster screen
  • Tinny, oddly-placed speakers
  • Imprecise trackpad

Toshiba calls the $1,470 or £1,260 (about AU$1,935) Portégé Z30's coloring Cosmo Silver, but Drab Gray is a more accurate description. This unfortunately gives the Z30 a rather utilitarian appearance better suited to being wedged under a wobbly chair, instead of delivering email or aiding in presentations. But appearances, it's often said, can be deceiving.

Embedded in this gray slab is everything a business user might need: Ethernet and RGB ports, fingerprint scanner, backlit keyboard, two mouse options (trackpad and pointing stick), three different ways to mouse click, a docking connector and, for good measure, a pipe for the kitchen sink. I'm kidding – but I wouldn't be surprised if a later iteration of the Portégé Z30 had such a connection.

Toshiba Port eacute g eacute Z30

Toshiba engineers fit all of this into a slim and light Ultrabook frame. The downside, of course, is Toshiba engineers had to fit all this into a slim and light Ultrabook frame.

Sacrifices had to be made. The keyboard is cramped. The screen washes out at every angle except when looking at it straight on. And the speakers are more akin to an 80's portable radio than a 21st century sound bar. This is no MacBook Air.

I'll say it again: the Toshiba Portégé Z30 is decidedly utilitarian.

Toshiba Port eacute g eacute Z30

Design

The Portégé Z30 's "Cosmo Silver" exterior features the typical Toshiba flair: a subtle etching made to mimic wood grain. But this aesthetic fits better on Toshiba's black devices than its silver ones. Even post-modernists will admit silver and wood are rarely complementary.

Its keys and bezel are black, which gives the interior a two-tone appearance. It's not unattractive, nor is it striking or particularly original. The Cosmo Silver paint job is also too dark to effectively contrast against the black keys. Like its exterior, the Z30's interior reinforces the "no flash here, just business" theme.

The Portégé Z30 at least ticks all the compulsory Ultrabook boxes. The device has a thin, clean profile and is very well-balanced. No matter the surface – table, tray, or lap – the Z30 never tips or wobbles; it sits flat even when you have the screen leaning all the way back.

Toshiba Port eacute g eacute Z30

Most importantly, the Z30 is light. It's a svelte 2.65 pounds – lighter than both the Lenovo Yoga 900 (2.84 pounds) and the Asus ZenBook UX303 (3.2 pounds). Of its ultrabook competitors, only the 2.47 pound Dell Latitude 13 will make your business trips easier.

Slight-framed Ultrabooks sometimes suffer from flimsiness, but not the Portégé Z30. Its feels sturdy and well-constructed. The one bendable component, the screen, is a purposeful design choice to help prevent cracking.

The Z30 is also spill and drop resistant, as expected. Toshiba prioritizes build quality in their devices (though this is often to the detriment of other aspects, like aesthetics and power).

The Z30 achieves this durability without adding weight-and-profile killing plastic fairing. It's a design element that shouldn't be overlooked. After all business users need a device that will survive the rigors of travel in planes, trains, and automobiles.

Toshiba Port eacute g eacute Z30

Keyboard and touchpad

The base of the Portégé Z30 is as busy as its business users. In addition to a backlit keyboard and touchpad, there's a pointing stick (or AccuPoint, as Toshiba calls it). Both pointing devices come with delineated left and right mouse buttons. In the final tally, the Z30 gives you two ways to mouse around and three ways to click if you include tapping on the trackpad itself.

There's also an enterprise-standard fingerprint scanner, and an array of indicator lights, each for plug/battery status, power on/off, and hard drive usage.

It seems Toshiba went with the age-old chef's strategy: throw everything into the pot and nobody will complain.

This gumbo approach is not visually appealing, but neither is it uncomfortable. All these inputs somehow stay out of each other's way. The end result is a net benefit for users. Old ThinkPad'ers will appreciate the tactility of the pointing stick and buttons; the rest of us will continue to trackpad and pretend the 90's never happened.

Toshiba Port eacute g eacute Z30

Backlit keyboards are compulsory for business laptops and the chock-full-of-features Portégé Z30 doesn't forget this one. The backlight is a pleasant soft-white, which provides plenty of illumination without feeling like my retinas are burning when working in the dark.

The mechanics of the chiclet-style keyboard provides a pleasant typing experience as well. Each letter key is relatively oversized, and they provide sufficiently springy feedback with excellent travel.

The keyboard does have two minor downsides. Like many of its laptop compatriots, the keys towards the edges (i.e. function and number keys) feel spongy. And the oversized letter keys occupy so much real estate that integral keys (like Enter, Shift, and Caps Lock) feel a bit cramped.

The Z30's trackpad has a few downsides as well. Namely it's multi-touch responsiveness, which is mediocre at best. While the trackpad gestures and functions are very customizable, they are a little too responsive. All too often, swipes to scroll are interpreted as zoom or right click.

On the positive side, the trackpad's slightly off-center placement keeps it out of the way when typing. The mouse buttons are cleverly delineated within the trackpad by two finger-perceptible hashes. The "physical" mouse buttons sit right above the trackpad, where they are easily accessed when using the trackpoint.

Toshiba Port eacute g eacute Z30

Mute and dull

The Z30's ports, weight and inputs are home runs (or at least stand up doubles), but its screen is a big whiff.

Its 1,366 x 768 resolution is a downgrade from all other comparable laptops. At 3,200 x 1,800 resolution, the Yoga 900 blows it away. Even the ZenBook UX303 and the business-oriented Latitude 13 7370 outpace it with their 1,920 x 1,080 resolution. The Z30's screen drags it down; it makes the whole device feel behind the times.

Plus, there are issues even beyond low resolution. Colors are dull. Grays in particular suffer from graininess, regardless of the screen's brightness. Off-angle viewing is also awful: I have to view the screen straight on or else it washes out.

Even worse than the display are the Z30's speakers. Muted, tinny sound is all they can muster, and it's not surprising. Toshiba slipped them underneath the front of the base, where only pants and desks will ever be able to clearly hear them.

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