Despite turmoil surrounding its chip business—and the decision to stop selling consumer laptops—Toshiba hasn’t stopped making portable computers. The company’s Portégé and Tecra laptop families are built for businesses and employees, so they may not be as flashy as consumer devices, but they’re still important. Work-issued laptops are the primary PCs for many people.
At a glance, the Portégé x30 has the painfully plain design of a work laptop, but it incorporates some features that we’ve been seeing take over consumer devices as of late: thin-and-light structure, USB Type-C and Thunderbolt, Windows Hello, and more. It also boasts up to 18 hours of battery life, which would be insanely useful for business users and regular consumers alike, if true. The Portégé x30 is a clamshell that tries to toe the line between commercial and consumer notebooks, and in some ways it’s a good mix of the two, but in others it could use more work.
Look and feel
There’s a certain look that comes to mind when you hear “work laptop.” Anyone who has been issued a company laptop in the past 15 years knows what those machines look like: clunky, anonymous-looking black rectangles with little style and sometimes less portability if they were too heavy to comfortably tote out of the office. The Portégé x30 takes a slightly different approach to the traditional “work laptop” uniform.
The lid is a simple matte blackish-blue color with Toshiba’s silver logo at one of the bottom corners, and the chassis tapers from back to front, giving the device a modern profile. Every edge is quite thin (the notebook measures 15.9mm at its widest point), and the rounded corners combined with the matte finish give it a friendly feel. Does it have as much flair or finesse as an HP Spectre or a Dell XPS 13? Not quite, but it’s simple, unassuming, and more attractive than the work laptops of yesteryear.
Its design is protected by a magnesium construction and internal honeycomb structure, and the entire design passes the Mil-SPEC-810G standard for extreme temperature, vibration, shock, drop, humidity, and dust. It certainly feels like a sturdy machine, even with its light 2.3-pound weight. Opening up the lid reveals the matte 1920×1080p touchscreen, full-sized keyboard, and trackpad with click buttons above it. An FHD display will be sufficient for most workers (unless you’re a creative and need a high-quality display), but considering the Portégé x30’s hefty price, Toshiba could have sprung for a slightly nicer panel. But as we’ve seen in other business notebooks, like the HP Elitebook x360, it’s not uncommon to see a high-priced business notebook with a basic FHD display. Most pre-fab Portégé x30 models have an FHD display, but you could customize the device to have a 768p display—other than to save money, I don’t know why anyone would do that.
The matte finish on the touchscreen nearly eliminates glare and gives the panel great viewing angles, which business users may prefer compared to fancy—yet somewhat obstructive—reflective displays. The touchscreen also feels pleasantly smooth when using tapping and swiping as your primary method of control. I tend to not use touchscreens on clamshell devices a lot, but it’s a convenient input method to have for a business notebook. Some Windows 10 apps will undoubtedly be easier to control using touch than using the cursor and trackpad, and some users may simply prefer to use their fingers on the screen rather than their fingers on the trackpad.
Another feature of the display is Windows Ink—it’s compatible with a stylus, although the x30 doesn’t come with one, nor does Toshiba advertise a stylus as an optional accessory for the device. I can see Windows Ink coming in handy if you need to mark up PDF files or write notes on a shared document, but the x30’s clamshell design doesn’t lend itself well to handwritten input. The lid only tilts back about 130 degrees, so it’s not at the most comfortable position for pen writing. Toshiba sells a convertible version of this business notebook, the Portégé X20W, which is better suited for multiple use modes and Windows Ink.
Consumer notebooks tend to have as little bezel space as possible now, but that’s apparently less important for business devices. The x30’s bezel is quite thick, measuring about 10mm on the two sides, 20mm on the top, and a whopping 30mm underneath the display. Considering who and what this notebook is for, I didn’t feel like I got ripped off in terms of screen real estate with such large bezels. The display still feels spacious, and while working I didn’t notice the bezels much at all. The top bezel holds the webcam as well as the Windows Hello-ready IR camera and facial recognition sensors. If you’ve set up Windows Hello to use your face to unlock the x30, those sensors will flash quickly with bright red, laser-like lights each time you open the lid of the device to use it. Although you might be temporarily blinded the first time doing so, it’s a small price to pay for such a quick unlock-and-log-in mechanism.
While it’s hard to compare a clamshell like the x30 with a convertible like the Elitebook x360, there is something to be said about Toshiba’s and HP’s approach to business notebooks. Toshiba’s device is a kind of modernization of the black rectangle design of old work-issued laptops. The Elitebook x360, however, looks like it could fit into HP’s consumer notebook line. The feel and perception of each device are different: HP’s convertible could pass as a consumer device, but Toshiba’s likely couldn’t because it looks like a business device just enough to be identified as one. And, what you want in a notebook really comes down to preference: do you like having a laptop that looks just as good as the Spectres, XPSes, and MacBooks of the world, or do you want a device that’s a portable workhorse and nothing more?
Inside the x30 is a hybrid cooling system to cool the CPU and other internals. The underside of the x30, the back-middle portion specifically, was slightly warm to the touch when I used the device as my regular work PC for a few days. However, the x30 never got hot enough for me to notice. The hybrid cooling system seems to do a decent job keeping the notebook cool, but the tradeoff comes with noise. The x30 hummed consistently when I ran our benchmark tests, but during Web browsing, video streaming, and the like, the device remained quiet.
I’m a big fan of the x30’s tapered sides, especially because Toshiba managed to include a good array of ports on the device. The left side holds a lock slot, a USB 3.0 port, and the audio combo jack, while the right side holds a microSD card slot, two Thunderbolt 3 ports, and a full-sized HDMI port. I appreciate the regular USB port because too often, now, consumer devices forego its inclusion in favor of more Type-C ports. Most consumers still need a regular USB port for data transfer, accessories, and more, and it’s likely that those ports are even more essential for business users. Type-C is becoming standard and will be the future in terms of connectivity, but if you need to transfer a presentation to your PC from a thumb drive, you need a regular USB on your work device now.
Toshiba also sells a Thunderbolt 3 dock for the x30, giving you more ways to connect to external displays, transfer data, and more. It connects to the x30 via a single Type-C port and adds two more HDMI ports, one DisplayPort and one mini DisplayPort, four USB 3.0 ports, two USB Type-C ports, another audio combo jack, and an Ethernet port. You can connect up to three 4K displays using the dock, and it supports resolutions up to 3840×2160p. The dock will cost you an extra $300, but for those who want to expand the x30’s ecosystem, it provides plenty of options to do so.
Listing image by Valentina Palladino