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Toshiba Laptop is Simple But Rugged for Road

VENICE, Italy -- If you're like me, you've dropped, smashed or otherwise maimed a laptop or two in the course of doing business on the run. So you, like me, might be excited to know that notebook giants H-P (HP - Get Report), Dell (DELL) and Toshiba are finally taking durability seriously with a new generation of portable business PCs that can take a small-business licking but not weigh you down like a true ruggedized laptop can.

These PC makers have cribbed from -- who else? -- Apple (AAPL - Get Report) and its MacBook line of laptops. Many of them are weaving the sinew of solidity into notebook PCs: single-unit, etched-metal enclosures, hinges that are (gasp!) real hinges and not some spare part from Toy Story 4 and keyboards that are sealed to withstand risky late-night latte maneuvers.

Toshiba's durable business PC, the R830, is crafted out of a magnesium case and equipped with an essentially full-sized keyboard, an i3 or i7 processor and eight-hour battery.

Considering that notebook PCs are the centerpiece of small-business technology, I have been following this trend closely. Most recently I've been testing Toshiba's durable business PC, the R830 (starting at $889), to get a sense of its true road warrior mettle.

What you get
Let's keep it simple: Toshiba has a nice little business PC on its hands with the R830. It is crafted -- I don't use that word lightly; all the features on this box feel of a piece -- out of a magnesium case. Its essentially full-sized keyboard offers excellent layout, desktoplike key action and overall excellent ergonomics. My unit had a perfectly businessworthy i3 processor. But if you're a power freak, you can blow the roof off the processing house with a legit i7 for $1,249. Battery life is rated at about eight hours, which worked out to almost a full day of work in my usage. And most every connector and media input is supported: a DVD drive, an HDMI connector, a SATA drive input, USB 3.0 support. You get the idea.

All this at an easily portable, 1-inch-thick and 3-pound notebook PC. Not bad.

What you don't get
Don't expect a truly first rate-user interface, the absolute top-tier in design and features or a backlit keyboard.

This is mostly nickel-and-dime stuff, but you will notice it. Toshiba struggles when it tries to add software it creates -- for example, the R830 ships with a simply awful Toshiba photo and video conferencing app. Considering there is no shortage of media management tools, I would disable this application immediately.

The R830 is also designed to be a work laptop (read: a bland black box). So if you're looking for cool factor, look elsewhere. And there were features I really missed -- most of all that backlit keyboard, which is rapidly becoming a must-have for small-business travel on ever-darker airplanes.

Bottom line
The durable business notebook wave is not to be ignored. If you are dragging around a flimsy, old-school, plastic laptop, it's almost certainly time for an upgrade. And if you are thinking of getting a new work PC, you really should at least give the R830 a test drive. For a few hundred extra bucks you will get a nicely designed, well-made machine that will last a lot longer than an entry-level cheapie notebook.

If you are going down the small-business PC road, there really is no reason not take along the R830.

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This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.

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