Review: Toshiba Portégé X20W-D 2-in-1 computer

The newest of Toshiba’s Portégé line of computers is the X20, a 2 in 1 convertible. You know the kind of thing: you might think it’s a standard notebook, but the screen can fold all the way back, turning it into a kind of tablet. Or you can use it “tent” style, with the keyboard section acting as a kick stand. It comes with a stylus as well, for finer work, for text entry or for the exercise of artistry.

Features

Portégé is one of Toshiba’s premium lines of computers (the Satellite and Satellite Pro are more entry level).

The review unit was the PRT13A-05S002 model. That’s fitted with a Core i7-7600U processor, a 512GB M.2 solid state drive and 16GB of RAM. There were originally three lesser models: 8GB RAM and 256GB solid state drives with a Core i5-7200 processor ($2145), a Core i5-7300U ($2420) or a Core i7-7500U ($2365). But I see that an additional model is now also available with the same processor as this one, but with the 8GB/256GB memory option for $2640.

Obviously a bigger SSD is nice to have. Its benefits speak for itself. Having 16GB of RAM rather than 8GB also helps performance, especially if you tend to run many programs at once and some are memory hogs. But what does a Core i7-7600U offer one over a Core i7-7500U? Well, as the model numbers suggest, the 7600U is a little more recent (released in the first quarter of this year, versus the third quarter of last year). It’s slightly faster, with a nominal 2.8GHz clock speed versus 2.7GHz, and benchmarks suggest it could be around ten per cent faster on some low level functions. In practice, that’d make no difference at all.

But what it does offer (as does the Core i5-7300U, but not the Core i5-7200U) is something called Intel vPro Technology. This is a package of features designed to provide improved performance, improved remote management and increased security. With regard to security, Intel says that in includes “Intel Authenticate … [which] captures, encrypts, matches, and stores user data in hardware, reducing the exposure to sophisticated software-level attacks, such as password cracking, phishing, and screen scraping.”

Physically, the Portégé X20 is a lovely little computer. It’s finished in something called “Onyx Blue”, although to my eye the magnesium alloy casework looks almost black. The full HD screen has a 12.5 inch diagonal. When closed, the unit is 15.4mm thick and it weighs 1.1 kilograms, so a very easy lug.

On the right side is a USB 3.0 socket next to the power button. On the left side is a USB Type-C/Thunderbolt 3.0 socket, along with the audio input and output. Remember, Thunderbolt is plug-compatible with USB Type-C. Bundled with it is an adaptor which has a USB Type A socket (with USB 3.0 support), a USB Type C socket (with USB 3.1 support) and a HDMI output for an external monitor.

The computer is powered and charged up through the USB Type-C/Thunderbolt port. The adaptor passes through power so it can be used while charging continues.

Other communications features are Bluetooth 4.1 and WiFi at up to 802.11ac.

Of course, as a two in one, the screen is touch sensitive. But as a nice extra touch, so to speak, it’s bundled with a stylus so you can take fuller advantage of the various drawing functions available in modern versions of Windows. Or write in the handwriting text entry box when the screen is folded back.

Another nice touch, the Toshiba Portégé X20 comes with a three year warranty.

In Use

As delivered, Version 1607 of Windows 10 (Pro version) was installed. This model of computer was apparently granted a high priority to the Version 1703 Creators Update because pretty much as soon as I plugged it in, it started updating.

There is no doubt that things were fast. The other day I wrote about how it took nine minutes for the update process of Version 1703 to get to 100% in the first stage on my Surface Pro 4. With this computer I got the update happening then turned away to download the user manual for a piece of equipment I am reviewing, and when I turned back after, what?, two or three minutes, it was at 100% of the first stage.

And that was the sense I had through my time with this computer. Fast. At least as fast as any notebook I’ve used.

The WiFi was solid and quick. Dragging in a large video file from my network server, the transfer speed was around 38MB/s (compared to around 108MB/s I get with a wired Gigabit connection). With USB, transfers were limited only by the speed of the USB card, not by the computer.

The keyboard was a pleasure to type upon. It provided a very solid foundation under the keys with no flex, no give. The function keys default to being function keys, with secondary roles accessible using the Fn modifier key, not the other way around. This is a working person’s computer. There’s also a parallelogram-shaped numeric keypad available under the letter keys using that Fn key. That can be useful for people who need to enter lots of numbers. The main document navigation keys – Page Up and Down, Home, End, Insert, Delete – were their own keys, not functions of the arrow keys. Writers (like yours truly) will take only a couple of goes to learn their locations and use the keyboard as instinctively well as any desktop keyboard.

I did not find the touchpad a pleasure to use. The pointing function was fine, but it did not respond well to the light taps to which I’ve become accustomed, and I found it hard to change my habits to the firmer touch required, leading to a bit of frustration – and plugging in a mouse whenever possible.

The touch screen worked smoothly and well, and thanks to the fast processing, interpretation of my handwriting using the virtual scratch pad was extremely fast. The stylus worked effectively both with that and with graphics apps, such as Sketchpad. But I wasn’t so keen on the feel of it. There’s a very fine texture to the surface of the screen, I’d guess to help reject reflections. But you can feel it through the stylus as you’re writing or drawing. It didn’t seem to be of any practical difference. It was just a feel thing, and it didn’t feel as smooth as the glassy surface of a Microsoft Surface Pro 4.

The screen was clear and clean and bright, but the colour was slightly off. It was somewhat biased towards green and red, mostly green. Not in the sense of things looking more green than it ought to in any obvious way, but that’s how the bias is explained. I took a photo of it side by side with my Surface Pro 4 showing the same test pattern. The Surface Pro 4 produces a similar colour result to my two desktop monitors – one of them a BenQ BL3200, designed for graphic artists. The white box in the test pattern had colour values of 237, 237, 235 (R, G, B) on the Surface Pro 4, and 223, 235, 211 with the Toshiba Portégé X20. That’s a spread of 24 instead of 2. The shift was more obvious in the greys. On the SP4 a grey box was 152, 157, 151 for a range of 6 (ideally, they all would have been the same number). On the Portégé it was 105, 130, 98 for a range of 32.

That makes it difficult to recommend to those with art work or graphics as a major focus.

Test pattern on Microsoft Surface Pro 4

Test pattern on Toshiba Portégé X20

Unless you use an external monitor. I cast the picture wirelessly to a TV from the Portégé X20, and its colours were accurate.

The sound from the “Premium Harman/Kardon” speakers worked. I don’t expect much from notebook computer speakers, so of course I wasn’t disappointed. If you’re using it for music, I’d recommend any of a hundred Bluetooth speakers.

One of my battery tests didn’t go entirely to plan. Specifically, the “doing nothing” one, where I fire up the computer with a fresh reboot, let it settle down so that the CPU has finished all the start up stuff and is just idling, make sure the computer isn’t going to switch off the screen or move to sleep mode, and then pull the power and see how long it runs. Experience suggests that Windows computers typically run down something like 11 to 13 hours into the test. So I got it going – noting that on battery it automatically reduced the screen brightness to 40% — and went away to do stuff.

Come bedtime, it was still chugging away, showing 34% remaining. That was after running for 12 hours and 23 minutes. I didn’t have time to repeat the test before the computer was due to go back. Assuming reasonable proportionality, and the usual hard switch-off at 5% remaining, that would mean more than 18.5 hours of life.

Perhaps even more. While the test was running I went for a long walk and took some photos with my phone, several of them in RAW format (so they were 24MB in size in addition to the usual 5 to 6 megabytes of the JPEG versions). Only the next morning did I realise that these photos were subsequently synced to the Toshiba computer by OneDrive during the test.

Running a 4K test clip on loop in VLC, the battery held out for two hours and 27 minutes. The indicated amount of battery went down to 3% before the computer put itself to sleep, rather than the 5% I’ve been whinging about. Has Toshiba set this? Or is it a change in Windows 1703? Who knows. But it does mean getting a slightly longer effective battery life.

Conclusion

It’s kind of funny seeing a real powerhouse of a computer in such a small package. For those interesting in an excellent performer in a light weight and compact package, the Toshiba Portégé X20 really ought to be checked out, even if it’s only desired as a standard laptop. The convertible nature means you’ll probably get away with using it (keyboard folded all the way around) during take off and landing.

I just wouldn’t recommend it for those who need accurate colour on the screen.