Best Buy would rather not show you that laptop, thanks

The Toshiba Portégé R700, with which I'm rather taken, was due to make its way into Best Buy stores today, and I had hotly anticipated the chance to see if its vitals—the all-important quartet of keyboard, screen, touchpad, and build quality—match up to its impressive specs. I checked the online listing at Best Buy's website today and confirmed availability at my local store. What's more, I was pleasantly surprised to see R705 (the consumer version of the R700) listed at $799, not $899 as originally announced. That was all the encouragement I needed to hop into car and head down to my local store.

Unfortunately, what came next was a too-typical retail experience with high-tech products. An eager blue-shirt greeted me as I entered the computer section of the store and asked if he could help with anything. I inquired about the Portege R705, and I might as well have been asking to purchase a set of leather riding chaps or an alchemy supply kit, so foreign was my request to him. Further, the R705 was nowhere in sight among the display models. Soon, the "computer guy" was summoned, and after looking at the same Best Buy website I'd consulted, he pledged to dig out an R705 for me.

Time passed, and I fiddled around with various consumer laptops, confirming the consistent awfulness of their keyboards. (Man, what is it with that?) Eventually, the computer guy returned without a laptop, explaining that he had two R705s in the back and that his inventory person was helping look for them. He could still pull one out for me if I wanted. At this point, I felt compelled to tip my hand. I wanted to look at the R705 before a purchase would happen. Could I open the box and have a look at one?

The computer guy's answer was essentially "No." He had no plans to put the laptop on display until the other, similar Toshiba had sold out. Besides, he told me, the one out there now is pretty much the same thing, pointing to a glossed-out 13.3" Satellite with an Athlon Neo processor—a super-sized netbook, essentially—as a sort of consolation prize. I guess the look on my face gave me away quickly, since he followed up with: isn't it? I tried to explain that no, these were entirely different classes of systems the best I could, but one never knows how well one's words are being received in these situations. He was unmoved on the question of opening a box, so I retreated to the next line of questioning: when would the R705 go on display? One week? Two? His answer was something to the effect that, definitely, it'd be out there in a month. And so I left. Dunno if I'll go back in a month or not, but I doubt it.

I'm pretty sure nothing of this sort could have possibly happened at the Apple store I visited on Saturday, which was teeming with people and fully stocked with iPad and iPhone 4 demo units, despite both being new and essentially sold out. If it had, I expect Steve Jobs would have personally flown to Kansas City on an RDF cloud and severed the throat of the store manager with the blunt edge of an iPad in a swift, compact motion.

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