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Review: Toshiba Portege Z20t-B

By Leigh D. Stark | 10:08 am 11/02/2015

Toshiba has always had a strong presence in the laptop market, practically inventing the category, and a couple of years ago we saw a sign that the company was doing its best to find a middle ground for the tablet and laptop hybrid section. Fast forward to now and we think Toshiba might have found the balance with the Z20t.

Features

There are plenty of hybrid computers out there, and Toshiba’s latest joins them with a new Intel processor, a new design, and two batteries to help make a machine aimed at lasting a full day of work.

There are two sides to this computer, though, with a tablet screen section and then a keyboard and battery section, and both are there in the box, so no need to buy extra bits to make the machine complete.

We’ll start with the tablet section, though, because that’s really where everything is on this model, the Portege Z20t.

Here in the tablet section, you’ll find a 12.5 inch In-Plane Switching (IPS) display running the Full HD resolution of 1920×1080 and producing a pixel clarity of 176 pixels per inch. An anti-glare sheet has been applied to this screen, which also supports touch and pen interaction, meaning it is now a matte display. A variant of Corning’s Gorilla Glass also protects this screen, helping to stop the odd scratches here and there.

Under this display, you’ll find Intel’s “Broadwell” processors from the fifth-generation, with the Core M chips available here. Our review model relied on a 5Y71 processor, but you can find different variants around the place.

Memory is paired with this processor at 8GB (though a 4GB version can be found), with the storage offered through solid-state drives, either a 128GB or 256GB option. Microsoft’s Windows 8.1 Pro comes installed out of the box, though we’re told you can find Windows 7 on these models, too.

Cameras are also here, with a 2 megapixel camera up front working alongside two microphones and what Toshiba describes as an “Advanced Light Source”, while a 5 megapixel camera can also be found on the back.

Then there’s the keyboard dock, where you’ll find a full keyboard, two mice — trackpad and Accupoint nib — and a battery built inside.

Connections are fairly well catered for, though, with ports on both sections — tablet and keyboard — and wireless connections, too.

For the wireless, you’ll find support for 802.11ac as well as the standard 802.11a/g/n, while Bluetooth 4.0 is also provided. Hard ports come in the form of a microUSB port on the side of the tablet section, also sitting alongside a microHDMI, 3.5mm headset jack, and a microSD expansion slot, while the keyboard dock sports two USB 3.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI, VGA monitor, and the AC adaptor port.

A lock can also be found on the side for locking down the Kensington Lock port along the left edge of the keyboard dock.

Performance

It’s been a little under two years since we first saw Toshiba tackle the hybrid laptop in a professional sort of way.

Back in the middle of 2013, Toshiba released the Z10t, a machine that boasted a hybrid form-factor comprising of an 11.6 inch tablet section and a keyboard dock, making for a laptop that could be both regular notebook and tablet.

When it came out, we liked what we saw, but the keyboard was too shallow and no battery was in the dock, making it a usable machine for on the go, but one lacking in much needed life.

For the Z20t, Toshiba has taken the Portege back to the drawing board, redoing the way it connects, what goes inside, and even how the keyboard dock works.

Let’s start with the design, and gone is the textured bronze brown of the old model, replaced with a charcoal grey and a look of brushed metal, made with magnesium. By itself, the screen is solid and yet fairly light at a little over 700 grams, while the machine with the dock doubles the weight and brings it to a little over 1.5 kilograms.

While neither are thoroughly hefty, Toshiba has managed to still keep the machine from feeling solid and well built, great for keeping it in the luggage and using it in all manner of places.

Next up is the screen, and Toshiba’s choice here isn’t as high a resolution display as what you might find in Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3, but it’s still a solid choice altogether.

Here in this 12 inch screen, you’ll find a resolution of Full HD, more than enough for a 12 inch, though not quite as strong as the competition, and down in pixels per inch compared to what Toshiba has previously offered in its Kirabook concept.

Where Toshiba makes up for this resolution difference is in the treatment to the screen, because there is no glare and no reflection in this panel making it viewable in practically any environment without diverting your attention to anything happening around you.

Traditionally, touchscreens tend to have that reflective surface, and while it’s easy on the fingers, smooth and slick, it also means the lighting behind you will show reflection too easily, while working out in sunlight is drowned out from those reflections.

But not the Toshiba Z20t’s screen, a display which offers up an anti-reflective treatment and is very viewable outdoors, making it a really great machine to take out in public when you need to work outside the office.

The screen resolution is decent enough for Windows 8 native apps, too, and the updates to Windows 8’s high DPI support means even the older style of apps are clear on this screen, which will be great news for every Windows user since Windows has more of these available than the “metro” style.

Performance is also decent, hardly a surprise given the inclusion of the very very recent Intel Core M processor Toshiba has decided on. That’s the Intel Core M 5Y71 clocked at 1.2GHz, fast enough to get most of the work you’re probably looking to get done, and a little of something else.

That makes it part of the “Broadwell” set of processors and part of Intel’s fifth generation of Core technology, with part of the design made to use less power and still make it as powerful as some of the processors we saw from Intel’s “Haswell” generation, or last year if you don’t live by the codenames Intel tells us.

This choice of processor means it’ll be great for writing and productivity apps, with the odd game and entertainment application also working here, though the focus for this machine and chip is definitely work. That said, you can expect to get a little bit of gaming here if you want, though without discrete graphics, don’t expect too much going on here.

You don't have to attach the screen to the tablet in the traditional way. You can also make it look like an entertainment machine.

Over to the battery life, and the Toshiba Z20t is one of the better devices we’ve seen in this area, allowing us to keep the charger kept in a backpack for a while and just go on what the keyboard dock has inside of it: a battery that will keep the tablet battery charged.

Yes, there are two batteries here, with one in the tablet section and the other in the keyboard section. The first one is important, because that’s the one that will always stay charged when it’s plugged into the keyboard, which is the second one and the battery that will recharge the first battery, as hybrid tablets often do.

By itself, the tablet section can handle about 7 hours of use from its battery, which isn’t bad at all, but the moment you connect the screen to the keyboard dock, the extra battery in this section will add a good 7 or 8 hours to the charge, meaning you can get around 15 hours of life from the Portege Z20t when it’s used as a laptop.

We’ll just let that sink in for a moment, because 15 hours of battery life is no small feat.

Put simply, the Toshiba Z20t is a dream when it comes to surviving your work day. We wish more computers had this sort of battery life, we really do.

Usability is one area where the Z20t scores points, and big ones at that, for the most part.

Use the tablet by itself, or connect it to the dock to make it a laptop.

Obviously, there are two parts here: a tablet section and a keyboard section.

By itself and just as a tablet, you’ll find the 12 inch screen is quite responsive with your finger, but Toshiba has included a digitiser for you to use in case you like to write or get a little more accurate in what you’re pointing at.

But what if you forget to bring that digitiser? Unfortunately, there’s no slot to keep that not-quite-pen, and so you might leave it somewhere, so what do you do?

Check the bottom of the tablet because inside a small recess you’ll find another stylus, albeit a much smaller and thinner one. Think of this as your “in case of emergency” stylus, just make sure not to lose it!

So that’s the tablet, but remember, there is also a keyboard section here that you can connect up to the slate to get more battery life out of, and of course a keyboard and two extra mice.

Yes, we said two, because you’ll find the typical trackpad here as well as one of those original Accupoint pointing stick that early Toshiba laptops featured.

In case you haven’t seen one for ages, this is a little rubber stick that sits in the centre of the keyboard in between the G, H and B keys with two buttons for left and right click found directly beneath the space bar. This is an older style of mouse that had you touch the stick in small amounts to guide the on-screen mouse, and is an older style of notebook mouse that is generally only seen on Toshiba and Lenovo computers these days.

Toshiba’s keyboard is also a welcome inclusion, providing a solid typing experience that is still — like last time — a little bit shallow — but offers just the right amount of click, and doesn’t require quite a heavy strike.

Writing the review on this keyboard, as well as quite a few notes at several briefings, we found the Z20t was able to keep up with our speedy fingers the entire time with no lost characters, which is good.

Overall, we quite enjoyed the keyboard experience, and even found it was good for long bouts of typing, though if you like more depth in your typing, we suggest trying this keyboard before purchase.

But the trackpad does need some work, with the provided one in the keyboard dock shallow and often hard to press. Fortunately, there are two input methods on the keyboard, and you’re not forced to use either of them, with the touchscreen also part of the features, which together with the trackpad and the Accupoint rubber stick, means there are three distinct input mechanisms working as a mouse.

So that’s at least a positive out of a negative.

Beyond this, the cons are fairly short, with the screen connection on the keyboard dock still a little loose despite the extra pin and anchor connections Toshiba is using, as well as some font size issues that still exhibit themselves with Windows and the Full HD display.

There’s a bug here and there, too, one of them popping up on Toshiba’s own camera software which causes it to crash every time you take a shot, while the regular Windows app is stable. Solution: don’t use Toshiba’s camera app, because then the odd selfie of yours won’t crash.

Conclusion

Toshiba’s alternative to the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 is a solid competitor, offering a lovely screen and a battery that performs beautifully. Some might find that keyboard and mouse a little too shallow, but with three mouse types and a keyboard that you can get used to, these are cons that will quickly fade to the back of the mind.

If you need a machine to last not just the full work day, but possibly even a 13 hour trip, Toshiba’s Z20t has your name all over it.

Price (RRP)

$from $1672; review model was $2090;

Pros & Cons

Product Pros

Built well; Fantastic matte screen; Two types of stylus included in the box, one of which is built into the tablet itself; Brilliant battery life with keyboard section;

Product Cons

Screen still doesn't feel totally firm; Touchpad is a little too shallow; Windows still exhibits some font size issues;

Ratings

Overall

Features

Value for money

Performance

Ease of Use

Design

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