Toshiba Satellite P840 touchscreen notebook
Toshiba's 14in touchscreen notebook has lots of storage space and good performance, but falls short in a few key areas
- Lots of storage space
- Good speed
- Comfortable keyboard
- Very reflective screen
- Touchpad could be better
- Single-band Wi-Fi
- No SSD
Toshiba's Satellite P840 is an all-purpose laptop with good speed and lots of style. However, it doesn't have what's needed to justify its premium price tag and we think that the build quality of its screen is questionable.
Price$ 1,699.00 (AUD)
Toshiba's Satellite P840 (PSPJ6A-00G001) is a Windows 8-based, 14in touchscreen notebook that's a bit of an all-rounder. It's stylish, stocked with useful features, has sufficient power under the hood, and at 2.2kg, it's not too heavy to carry around on a daily basis. However, you have to contend with a heap of annoying software, some questionable build quality, and a very reflective screen.
Specs and performance
The components inside the Satellite P840 provide plenty of speed for everyday office tasks, video, and even some gaming. You could use this laptop to escape from reality with a not-too-intensive 3D game just as easily as you could use it to be productive throughout your day. It features an Intel Core i7-3517U CPU, 8GB of DDR3 SDRAM, a 1TB hard drive, and it also has a dual graphics solution: the CPU's own Intel HD 4000 graphics, which are used for the majority of the time, and also a discrete NVIDIA GeForce GT 630M adapter, which is used to crunch 3D graphics.
The CPU performed as expected, recording 42sec in the Blender 3D rendering test, which is the same as other units we've seen with this processor (the ASUS Zenbook Prime and Samsung Series 9, for example). It's a CPU that suits a thinner laptop than the 29mm thick Satellite though, and this can be seen from the example laptops we've linked to. The NVIDIA graphics also put up an expected showing, recording 8894 in 3DMark06. It will run many games comfortably at the native resolution of the screen (1366x768), but with detail settings set to low or medium.
Where the Satellite P840 disappoints, especially for a premium model, is in the storage department. Unlike many new laptops that make use of a dedicated solid state drive to boost boot time and performance, the Toshiba only has its 1TB, 5400rpm hard drive. However, Toshiba has included a HDD Accelerator utility, which allows up to 256MB of system RAM to be used as a cache in order to speed up the loading of regularly-used data.
This had little noticeable effect on the laptop during everyday usage (it felt like Web browsers loaded just that little bit quicker) but CrystalDiskMark did report a slight speed boost when the feature was enabled. With HDD Accelerator disabled, read and write rates of 101.8 megabytes per second (MBps) and 99.25MBps were recorded, respectively; with HDD Accelerator enabled, the read rate increased to 105.3MBps and the write rate to 104MBps.
So much software
It's worth noting that there is a lot of pre-loaded software on this laptop, and some of it just gets in the way of a good time. Clickfree, in particular, popped up each time we plugged in an external device to ask if we would like to use it as a backup, and it also regularly reminded us to "start your free trial today". We also got messages from Norton Internet Security, Splashtop, and from Toshiba's own utilities (for updates and further attention).
It's the type of laptop you really need to sit down and streamline to your liking before you can really start to enjoy the computing experience. Another mild annoyance for us was the overly-sensitive hard drive utility, which detected even the most minimal movement and alerted us that the drive had been stopped in order to be protected from damage. We disabled it, but we could have adjusted this sensitivity instead.
The only useful pre-installed software, in our opinion, is Toshiba's Desktop Assist, which allows you to view system settings and change the way some things work (such as swapping the Function key operations). It also allows you to easily create backup media for the laptop, to optical disc or USB.
The pre-installed software loads in the background after you've booted, even though the system may seem ready while you're at the Windows 8 Start screen, and the system boots up quite slowly due to being hard drive-based. It took 32sec to cold boot, which is slow. A system that has a hybrid solution consisting of a hard drive and a solid state cache drive (such as the ASUS VivoBook S400C, for example) can cold boot in only 12sec.
Look and feel
What's immediately striking about this 14in laptop is its metallic look. Toshiba has made this model stand out by giving it a silver finish, a bumpy texture and some chrome trimmings. For the most part, it works well without looking too flashy, and it's definitely a laptop for those of you who want something a little more interesting than a traditional design.
The build quality of the base feels decent. There is minimal flex and it doesn't creak when you put pressure on it or move it around. However, we can't say the same for the screen. It has edge-to-edge, scratch resistant Gorilla Glass that goes from the left to the right edge, but it doesn't extend all the way to the top and bottom edges, leaving scratch-prone areas.
Additionally, when we flexed the screen, the glass could be seen coming away from the screen in the upper-left and right corners — and with moderate pressure, we also heard it unsticking. It feels like a flimsy design, and considering the price point of this notebook and its positioning as a premium model, it should be a lot sturdier. That said, we don't think it will fall apart; unless you actively put pressure on the screen a lot of the time, it will be fine.
Like many other Toshiba laptops we've seen, the screen on this model isn't great. The vertical viewing angles need frequent adjustment unless you're sitting just right, and reflections from the Gorilla Glass are terribly annoying, even when the screen brightness is at its highest level. There were times in the office when this computer was just not enjoyable to use because of the strength of the reflections coming off the screen. Because it's a touchscreen, you'll also need to keep a cloth handy to wipe off any finger marks, which will be especially visible on dark screen.
The screen supports 10 touch inputs and it can be used to perform Windows 8-specific swipe-in gestures, as well as facilitate basic navigation. Because it doesn't transform into a tablet form factor, you can't use it for gaming or any other prolonged touch-based activities.
As for the keyboard, it's a good one. There is a little bit of bounce towards the middle, but the keys feel solid for the most part and they have sufficient travel and bounce. We like the chiclet styling and we like the backlight, which is white and really stands out when typing at night. There aren't any keys in awkward positions and we like the spacing that's given to the arrow keys and also to the Page and Home keys, which are located to the right and slightly separated from the main keyboard.
The palm rest is ample and it houses a large touchpad (101x62mm). The touchpad is far from great though. It felt erratic when we moved the pointer and taps weren't always accurate, causing the pointer to 'bounce' and sometimes hit slightly off our intended mark. You can definitely get by using this touchpad, but it's not as good as other Synaptics touchpads we've tested in the past. It supports Windows 8 swipe-in gestures, but we had to disable these as they were a little too sensitive. The other aspect of the touchpad that we don't like is the slight rattling that's audible when you tap it.
The speakers at the top of the chassis are adequate for casual listening, even though they aren't very loud and lack depth, and we like the feature that allows you to use the speakers independently of the system being on. If you're a bit old fashioned like us, you could plug in an MP3 player via the microphone port and listen to it through the laptop's speakers when the laptop is switched off or sleeping.
Connectivity and battery life
Around the base's edges (which taper in a little so as to make the unit look a little sporty), you get three USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, VGA, Gigabit Ethernet, separate headphone and microphone ports, an SD card reader and a DVD burner. You also get a webcam, Bluetooth and 802.11n Wi-Fi. Unfortunately, that Wi-Fi module is only of the single-band variety. For a notebook like this with a $1699 price tag, a dual-band adapter should be standard.
There is a removable battery located on the base, which has a rating of 48 Watt-hours. It lasted 3hr 47min in our rundown test, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise screen brightness and loop an Xvid-encoded video. This is a decent time for a 14in laptop and you can get more out of it if you use a lower brightness, or if you enable the supplied 'eco mode' utility.
Toshiba's Satellite P840 is a good all-rounder, but it's let down by a very reflective screen, a questionable screen build quality, the lack of solid state storage, and the lack of a dual-band Wi-Fi adapter. For a premium model, these issues are hard to overlook. The plus side is that you get a good configuration that offers plenty of performance for office apps and multimedia, and its keyboard feels nice to type on.
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