Design and Build Quality
What's most impressive about how light and sleek this machine is that Toshiba didn't have to cut out the optical drive to make it happen. With Apple's MacBook Air, which is obviously a bit thinner, you give up the ODD entirely. The R705 does an amazing job of concealing the optical drive, and having a dual-layer DVD writer on board is still a big plus in our estimation. We aren't quite ready to do without optical drives on our portable computers just yet, and the R705 manages to include one without adding an unwanted amount of bulk and heft. Great job on this aspect, Toshiba.
Once you open the lid, you're greeted by a handful of stickers on the left side of the palm rest. We're definitely no fans of palm rest stickers, but outside of that, the rest of the interior is beautiful. The trackpad is quite large for a machine of this size, and the dedicated left/right click buttons are a welcome change from the trend of a single bar (most of Asus' new machines come to mind here). Toshiba has also bucked another trend by including LED status indicators just beneath the click buttons, for AC power, Wi-Fi, HDD activity, etc. We actually like this placement a bit better, as the lights aren't nearly as distracting compared to LEDs located just beneath the LCD.
The keyboard is very unique. Toshiba calls this a "tile" layout, and unlike the vast majority of ultraportables in this price range, this one is "spill-resistant." If you drown it with a 2-liter soda, you'll still have issues, but it's capable of shaking off the occasional coffee or water spill without any real trouble. That's a huge plus in our book. For those who use their ultraportables on airplanes, we all know how easy it is for turbulence to turn a cup of water over, and this safeguard really gives the R705 an edge over similarly priced 13.3" machines -- particularly for those that travel often and put their machine at more risk for things like this.
Toshiba also includes a very useful "Trackpad On/Off" button just above the trackpad. If you're using a mobile mouse, simply tap this button to disengage the trackpad and prevent any unwanted cursor movements from accidental touches. This is a simple, subtle, but very useful feature. It worked just as advertised in our testing, and it's on/off in a moment. The "tile" layout of the keyboard is actually quite similar to the chiclet layout that has become so popular of late, but the travel on these keys is definitely shorter than most. It took a little while for us to get used to this; we're used to keys depressing a little bit further than the ones here, but it's not something that makes typing difficult. It just takes some adjustment. We assume this has something to do with the spill-resistant membrane underneath; it's likely thicker in a bid to protect important components that lie just beneath the keys.
There are two stereo speakers above the keys, and the LCD hinge reclines ~80% of the way flat. We can't imagine too many scenarios where you'd need to fold it flatter than what's available here. The 13.3" LED-backlit LCD is, of course, glossy and quite reflective. Viewing angles aren't exactly fantastic from the extreme left or extreme right, so you'll need to stay generally directly in front of the screen for the best viewing quality. Colors and sharpness were both on par with competitors, but only when looking directly on.
Along the left edge, you'll find a full-size HDMI output, a USB 2.0 port, an eSATA / USB 2.0 combo port with Toshiba's "Sleep and Charge" functionality (which charges gadgets even while the PC is asleep), a VGA output, an exhaust vent and an AC input socket. There are no ports along the front and rear edges.
Along the right edge, there's a Gigabit Ethernet port, another USB 2.0 socket, an audio input (3.5mm), a headphone jack (3.5mm), a DVD writer and an SD card slot. The position of the SD card is unique; it's actually on top and runs right into the palm rest. We love this design. It makes finding the card slot so much easier; no more peeking around the edge to see where to insert the card. The slit is always within sight from the top.