The original Toshiba Portege Z835 was the lightest 13-inch Ultrabook around and was a very good choice for business users because of its generous port selection and long battery life. The Portege Z935-P300 ($862) adds a faster solid state drive to boost performance along with a third-generation Intel Core processor. Does Toshiba still have the best business-friendly Ultrabook under a grand?
The Z935 and last year's Z835 look like twins, down to the placement of ports, touchpad and power button. With a chassis that consists of gray brushed metal, the Portege Z935's sleek and elegant exterior makes it look worthy of a cameo in a James Bond flick. The touchpad's chrome buttons and green/orange status lights provide minor but welcome accents. Constructed of magnesium alloy and guarded by a honeycomb internal structure, the Portege Z935 refused to creak or buckle when we waved it back and forth like a paper fan with the lid open.
At just 2.4 pounds, the Portege Z935 is six ounces lighter than both the HP Envy Spectre XT and the ASUS ZenBook Prime UX31A (3 pounds each), making it the lightest Ultrabook you can get in the U.S. With measurements of 12.4 x 8.9 x 0.3 - 0.6 inches, the Portege Z935 is slightly smaller and thinner than the ZenBook Prime UX31A (13.3 x 8.9 x 0.4 - 0.7 inches) and the Envy Spectre XT (12.4 x 8.8 x 0.7 inches).
Keyboard and Touchpad
While the island-style keys on the Portege Z935 felt shallow, they're spaced nicely, making for a comfortable typing experience. The keyboard is both backlit and spill-resistant, too. On the Ten Thumbs Typing test, we averaged 63 words per minute speed with a 1 percent error rate, which is below our average of 68 words per minute. We chalk up the slower typing speed to the lack of travel in the keys.
In the top left hand corner of the deck is the power button, along with one button to enable the "eco Mode" power-saving feature and one to activate WiDi.
The 3.3 x 1.9-inch Synaptics touchpad is small, but provided just enough room for gestures. Horizontal and vertical flicking, two-finger rotate, two-finger scroll and pinch-to-zoom were easy to execute. The touchpad's pair of dedicated buttons felt a little stiff when pressed, though.
The Toshiba Portege Z935 stayed pleasantly cool throughout our tests. After streaming a full-screen Hulu video for 15 minutes, the touchpad and the space between the G and H registered 78 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively. However, the underside ran warmer, at 94 degrees. We consider any anything 95 degrees and above to be uncomfortable.
When we watched the 1080p version of the "Skyfall" trailer on the Z935's 13.3-inch 1366 x 768 screen, colors looked vibrant. Objects such as debris and individual cables were sharp as well. However, images started to degrade at 45-degree angles from either side of the Z935. The display's glossy surface creates lots of reflections, which can be distracting when trying to watch a movie.
We measured the Portege Z935's brightness at 234 lux, a little higher than the 223 category average. It also outshone the HP Envy Spectre XT's 176 lux display, but the pricier Zenbook Prime UX31A and its 423 lux IPS screen is in a different league.
Two small speakers are perched right below the Z935's lip, but they're angled so that they don't sound muffled if the Z935 is on your lap.
When we listened to "The Boss" by James Brown, vocals, guitars and wind instruments sounded clear, though not overly loud. When listening to live versions of heavier tunes such as "Wicked World" by Black Sabbath and "E5150/After All" by Heaven & Hell, crowd noise was distorted and guitars didn't sound as full as we would like.
The speakers get a substantial boost from SRS Premium Sound 3D. The utility has three presets: Music, Movie and 3D. The Music setting accentuates instruments, while Movie makes vocals sound more powerful. With the software turned off, music sounded very hollow and relatively unpleasant.
The Portege Z935 wields a healthy roster of full-size ports, which business users should appreciate. The right side houses one USB 3.0 port and a Kensington lock slot. Audio in/out jacks and an SD card reader rest on the left side.
By comparison, the Zenbook Prime UX31A has one micro-HDMI and a mini-VGA port, while the Envy Spectre XT has a full HDMI-out, but no VGA.
The Z935's webcam can capture stills and video at a maximum resolution of 1280 x 1024. In natural lighting, certain colors such as beige were brighter than they should have been and imperfections such as under-eye darkness were muted. In office lighting, lighter colors were more accurately represented, but darker colors seemed bland, though details like wrinkles in fabric looked accurate. The Toshiba Web Camera Application let us tweak basic image settings, flip image orientation and more. Direct uploading or emailing of content through the software is not an option.
Toshiba outfitted the Portege Z935-P300 with a 1.7-GHz Intel Core i5-3317U processor, 4GB of RAM, a 128GB Toshiba SSD and an Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU. In PCMark 7, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall system prowess, the Portege Z935 scored 5,486, much higher than the 2,970 category average. It squeaked by the HP Envy Spectre XT's score of 5,447, but blew past the Zenbook Prime UX31A's mark of 4,989. The Zenbook prime has a 1.9-GHz Intel Core i7-3517U CPU, while the Spectre XT has the same processor as the Z935.
The Portege Z935 took a mere 20 seconds to boot Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit), less than half the 42-second category average. The Zenbook Prime UX31A and Envy Spectre XT didn't trail by much, booting the same OS in 22 and 23 seconds, respectively.
The 128GB Toshiba SSD inside the Z935 took 31 seconds to complete our LAPTOP File Transfer test, which tasks the machine with copying a 4.97GB folder comprised of music, videos and photos. At 164.2 MBps, its transfer rate is more than double the 58 MBps category average. It also bests the HP Envy Spectre XT's score of 150 MBps.
In our OpenOffice Spreadsheet test, which pairs 20,000 names with their corresponding addresses, the Portege Z935 took 5 minutes and 56 seconds to complete the task. That's almost two minutes faster than the category average (7:53). However, Toshiba's score trails both the Zenbook Prime UX31A (4:59) and the Envy Spectre XT (5:43).
The Z935 held up well during real-world use. We saw only occasional and momentary hiccups while running a full scan with ZoneAlarm Security, listening to Internet radio in iTunes while having 15 tabs open in the latest version of Firefox. However, when we bumped it up to 18 tabs including a Hulu video, the Z935 began to falter, taking as long as two seconds to switch between browser tabs.
Running an integrated Intel HD 4000 Graphics GPU, the Z935's graphics performance was good, but not great. In 3DMark11, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall graphics prowess, the Portege Z935 managed a score of 621, which is way behind the 832 category average. Still, the Portege Z935 performed better than the Zenbook Prime UX31A's and Envy Spectre XT's marks of 594 and 569, respectively.
The Portege Z935 managed 30 frames per second in "World of Warcraft" at 1366 x 768 with the game set to "Good," which is playable, but behind the 47 fps 13-inch laptop category average. When we turned the settings up to "Full," it sank to an unplayable 13 fps, which is 10 frames behind the average (23 fps).
In our LAPTOP Battery Test (Web surfing over Wi-Fi with the display set to 40 percent), the Portege Z935's 8-cell battery lasted 6 hours and 35 minutes. That's a bit longer than the category average (6:13), as well as both the Zenbook Prime UX31A (6:28) and Envy Spectre XT (6:17). The Z935's battery is sealed, so swapping it with a spare isn't an option.
Software and Warranty
The Portege Z935 ships with a host of utilities, including Toshiba ReelTime (shown), which presents you with a horizontal bar filled with your most recently opened files. Toshiba Face Recognition scans your mug and provides with you a biometric login. Toshiba eco Utility is a power-saving feature that dims your display, keyboard backlight, changes the system sleep timer along with other settings in an effort to conserve battery life.
Toshiba offers four different configurations of the Z935. Our $862 review unit (Z935-P300) includes a 1.7-GHz Intel Core i5-3317U processor, 4GB of RAM, a 128GB Toshiba SSD and Intel HD 4000 Graphics. The top-end business model (Z930-S9302) costs $1,479, and includes an Intel Core i7-3667U processor, 6GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD, Windows 7 Professional, a fingerprint reader and a three-year warranty.
The Toshiba Portege Z935-P300 is an Ultrabook to be reckoned with. Like last year's version, it's super-light at 2.4 pounds, but a stronger performer, thanks to the combination of a third-gen Intel Core processor and faster SSD. We just wish the keyboard offered a bit more travel and that Toshiba offered a higher-resolution display. Overall, though, the Z935's design, port selection and speed earns it high marks.