Toshiba Portege R200

There was a time when the instruction manual that came with your computer told you to turn it off before you tried to move it anywhere. To look inside an average PC, you’d still be forgiven for thinking you’ll do irreparable damage to the delicate workings if you even bump the chassis.

So one of the early challenges facing notebook manufacturers was to bring the concept of a mobile computer to market successfully, not just in the minds of consumers, but in a way that would actually work. It’s somewhat easier to move a notebook than a desktop computer not just because of the obvious factors like weight and space, but because — as you’d imagine by looking at one — they pack all or most of the same components you get in a desktop model into that slender little case. Fitting so snugly against each other, there’s little room for them to move.

But there’s still one snag; inside the hard drive of any computer there’s a system not too dissimilar to putting the crystal stylus on an old vinyl LP to read the tracks and play music. As the platters of your hard drive spins, a similar mechanism reads the data using a tiny stylus, and the worst kind of hard disk crashes happen when the stylus comes into full contact with the disk and scratches it.

Despite the tiny margin of error in hard disk technology today, the risk is exacerbated in a notebook where we stuff our laptops unceremoniously into bags, pass them to each other one handed and plonk them rudely down on any number of hard, computer-unfriendly services.

With the Portege R200, Toshiba has the answer. Marked as the model that celebrates their 20th anniversary edition, it has a unique system with the unimaginative moniker of Toshiba Hard Disk Protection. Every time the system detects a bump or movement, a message flashes up on screen to let you know the hard drive has parked the stylus safely away from the disk platters (which you can choose by default not to appear). If you drop the machine from a great height, it obviously won’t save the casing or other components, but everything else can be replaced — your data can’t.

And that’s not the only brand new feature. For years we’ve been seeing people in the movies get access to top secret military bunkers or alien spaceships using their thumbprint. Now the R200 makes it a reality — a small print reader beside the trackpad scans your print and you simply set the software to prompt you for a print before opening folders, files etc that you choose to encrypt. Pressing your finger to the little reader to get access to a folder will make you feel like James Bond, and unlike many sci-fi technologies’ early steps in the real world, it really works.

And it’s all wrapped up in an extremely sexy silver package that’s so small and light (less than a kilogram, 29 centimetres wide by 22 deep) that it’s hard to pass up. It’s a little on the pricey side considering it’s too small to offer you an optical drive (you’ll have to hook one up separately), but that much cool technology doesn’t come cheap.

There’s also nothing special about the graphics and certainly nothing special about the tinny single speaker on the underside, but there’s enough ports to hook up most of what you’ll need for peripherals and it’s fully Bluetooth enabled. There’s another Portege model that comes a Combo drive and everything most notebooks have, but it isn’t nearly as cute. Owing to the size, the keyboard is only just comfortable enough to use, the lesser keys small and hard to aim at if you’re a fast typist but slotted neatly around a tight block of real estate.

But for a corporate-style road warrior — for whom price isn’t really a concern and who wants a solidly performing mobile office with that extra bit of security, it’s hard to beat in both form and function.

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