With incredible battery life, a sturdy keyboard and handy dual styluses, Toshiba's Portege Z20t tops Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 in several key ways. The device is a sleek 12.5-inch tablet that snaps onto its keyboard dock to transform into a reliable laptop computer, with no kickstand required. You also get solid performance and a crisp HD display.
On the other hand, the Z20t is heavier and pricier than its closest rivals, and it's not as speedy as the fastest hybrids. Still, this feature-packed device is a great choice for anyone who needs to work on the go.
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The Z20t tablet snaps together with its keyboard seamlessly enough that you might forget you're carrying a hybrid device, at least when it's closed like a traditional clamshell notebook. When you open it up the silver hinge protrudes a bit below the bottom edge, though it doesn't hinder the laptop's usability at all.
Like most hybrids, the Z20t is a bit top-heavy. In fact, exactly half the device's 3.2 lb. total weight is in the upper tablet display. The notebook is perfectly stable on a desk or table, though it occasionally threatens to tip over when you're balancing it on your lap. The sturdiness of the keyboard dock makes this mostly a nonissue, however.
Speaking of weight, the Z20t – which weighs 1.6 lbs. as a standalone tablet or 3.2 lbs. with the keyboard – is lighter than competing machines, which makes it a good pick for commuters and travelers. Dell's Latitude 7350 feels noticeably heavier at 3.67 lbs., while Dell's Venue 11 Pro 7000 weighs in at 3.6 lbs.
Connecting the two components of the Z20t is easy but not exactly elegant. While other hybrids like the Surface Pro 3 come with magnetic connectors that snap together automatically, Toshiba's hybrid requires users to carefully line up a series of six pins and connectors along the top edge of the hinge with corresponding holes on the tablet. It's easy enough, but requires a bit of precision. Disconnecting the parts is easier; just slide a switch at on the hinge, located just below the left edge of the display, to pop the tablet off.
The tablet can also be connected in a backward-facing orientation, which lets you continue using the touch screen as a tablet without disconnecting the keyboard. You can also prop up the reversed display in Stand mode for presentations, or tip it back partway, which is handy for using the tablet in cramped quarters such as on an airplane tray table.
The Z20t's keyboard dock is pretty comfortable for typing, though its keys are a bit on the shallow side with just 1.25mm of travel distance (1.5mm is average). Deeper keys provide a more comfortable, desktop-like typing experience, though I had no trouble hammering out the text of this review on the Z20t. The keyboard is also spill-resistance, so it can withstand a bit of moisture, and back lighting can be toggled on for low-light typing.
Touchpad and pointing stick
Though it's a bit on the small side, the Z20t's 4 x 2-inch touchpad is easy to use, with a smooth matte texture that my finger glides over easily. Mouse movement felt precise, and gestures like two-finger scrolling worked reliably. The pad itself clicks down for left and right clicks, but light taps on the pad also work fine.
In addition to the touchpad, Toshiba included a blue pointing stick, positioned between the G, H and B keys. I like using the stick because it gives me precise cursor control without moving my hands away from home row on the keyboard. The two physical click buttons, located just above the touchpad, were also within easy reach as I used the pointing stick.
The Z20t's stylus support is as good as it gets. The tablet comes with a Wacom digitizer built into the display, which provides top-notch pressure sensitivity. It rivals or beats the pen technology in Microsoft's Surface Pro 3, providing an extremely smooth and precise writing experience.
To make use of that digitizer, you get not one but two styluses in the Z20t's box. The first is a full-size pen with a single button on the edge for right clicks, and an eraser button on top. The plastic design of the pen feels a bit flimsy and cheap compared with the Surface Pro 3's metal pen, though. And as with the Surface, there's nowhere on the tablet to stow the stylus when it's not in use, so I suspect it will be easily lost.
That's probably why Toshiba included a small backup stylus that slides out of a slot on the bottom edge of the Z20t. The secondary stylus works as well as the full-size pen for writing on the tablet's display, even though it lacks buttons. I just wish that the stylus silo had been positioned on any other edge of the tablet but the bottom, since it's impossible to access when the device is docked with the keyboard.
I love the anti-glare coating on the Z20t's 12.5-inch display, which easily fends off annoying shine from overhead office lights. Colors look a bit dull compared with the Surface Pro 3's glossy display, but that's a fair tradeoff for a display with superior visibility. Otherwise, the 1080p panel looks great, producing crisp text and sharp images.
The display has a 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio, which is typical for modern notebooks but feels too narrow when you hold the tablet in portrait orientation. That's especially true when you're taking notes with the included stylus in portrait mode. Personally, I prefer the Surface Pro 3's 3:2 aspect ratio, which is closer to the dimensions of a standard sheet of paper.
You'll get good performance for daily work tasks out of the Portege Z20t. The hybrid laptop comes equipped with 8GB of RAM and Intel's low-power Core M-Y571 processor, which was designed to provide good speed in thin, fanless laptops like this one. During my testing period I found that apps opened and closed quickly, and moderate multitasking was buttery smooth.
But while the Z20t scored a respectable 4,341 on the Geekbench 3 test, which measures overall performance, competing notebooks edged it out by a little. The Latitude 7350 scored 4,918, while the Venue 11 Pro scored 4,999. In practical terms, though, the performance of all three notebooks feels pretty similar.
And while a Core M processor is good for basic productivity, the Core i5-powered Surface Pro 3 is a better choice for processor-intensive tasks like spreadsheet computation and image editing.
With or without the keyboard dock attached, the Z20t comes equipped with a generous selection of ports and connectivity options. In addition to the standard micro USB charging port, the tablet itself sports a micro HDMI port for linking with a larger monitor or projector, as well as a microSD card slot for expanding its internal storage. That's especially crucial considering that competing slates like the Dell Latitude 7350 don't provide any extra ports at all in tablet mode.
The dock adds a bunch of additional ports, including two USB 3.0 ports, full-size HDMI and VGA ports, and an Ethernet port for connecting to wired Internet or secure office networks.
The Portege Z20t is hard to beat if you're looking for a notebook that can last through a long business flight. The hybrid ran for an incredible 14 hours and 37 minutes when docked with its keyboard, which includes an extra battery. That blows away the average ultraportable notebook runtime of 7 hours and 58 minutes, and beats similar docked hybrids, including the Dell Latitude 7350 (10:11) and the Venue 11 (13:33). Only a few notebooks, like Lenovo's 12.5-inch ThinkPad X250 (which ran for 15:12), can beat the Z20t's battery.
Without the keyboard, the tablet's longevity was more pedestrian, running for 7 hours and 29 minutes, which is solid but falls slightly short of the Surface Pro 3's battery life score of 7:42. Remember that the Surface keyboard doesn't include a second battery, though. Meanwhile, the undocked Latitude 7350 ran for a meager 5 hours and 14 minutes, while the Venue 11 ran for 8 hours as a standalone slate.
The Z20t comes with a clean installation of Windows 10, which is ideal for hybrid notebooks like this one. That's because in addition to the standard Laptop mode, Windows 10 has a separate Tablet mode that features a more touch-friendly interface with full-screen apps and big navigation buttons at the bottom of the screen. You can set the machine to enter Tablet mode automatically when you disconnect the keyboard, or toggle it on manually. Laptop mode, meanwhile, features a familiar Windows desktop interface with a taskbar and Start menu.
Toshiba also included a handful of useful pen input applications for use with the Z20t's stylus. TruNote is a nice note-taking application for scribbling in notes and keeping them organized. The app also features pretty good handwriting recognition, so it can digitize and catalog your notes and make them searchable. Microsoft’s own OneNote, a similar app, also comes pre-loaded on the device.
Toshiba sells the Portege Z20t in a handful of different hardware configurations. The entry-level model nets you an Intel Core M-5Y51 processor with 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD for $1,399, which is a pretty good sweet spot for the average business user. A couple of pricier models are also available as well. For $1,599 you can upgrade to 8GB of RAM and add Intel Active Management Technology for remote management of company computers. The top-end model also has 8GB of RAM but doubles the SSD storage to 256GB.
If you can afford it, Toshiba's Portege Z20t is an impressive 2-in-1 hybrid that's bursting with functionality. In addition to a sturdy keyboard dock that turns the device into a capable laptop computer, you also get top-notch stylus support, good performance, a gorgeous display, epic battery life and a great selection of ports.
And while the Z20t isn't cheap, starting at $1,399, it's not that much pricier than the competition. A comparable Surface Pro 3 will run you about $1,280 with the keyboard accessory, and while it's more powerful than the Z20t it's also a lot less practical as a laptop due to its kickstand-based design.
Other Core M-powered, snap-on hybrids match up better against the Z20t in terms of design. But while the Dell Latitude 7350 ($1,119) and the Dell Venue 11 Pro ($1,259) look similar and offer comparable performance, the Portege Z20t lasts longer on a charge than any competing hybrid, making it a dream machine for business travelers.