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), 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) 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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