So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Toshiba Satellite S50t-B 15.6in laptop
Toshiba's Satellite S50t-B may look good, but it harbours a poor screen and doesn't represent great value for money
- Slim chassis
- Not heavy
- Good keyboard
- Poor screen
- Inconvenient SD card slot
- No hybrid storage
Don't let the good looks fool you. This Toshiba Satellite S50t-B has a poor screen and just isn't great value considering the $1500 price point at which it's offered. For the asking price, it could use a Full HD panel, as well as better storage. It's got a good keyboard, though, and we like that it's a slim and relatively lightweight unit, despite its 15.6in form factor. But we can't get over the screen.
Price$ 1,499.00 (AUD)
Toshiba's Satellite S50t-B (the specific model number is PSPQ8A-008008) is a 15.6in laptop in the $1500 price range that looks classy, and it has a powerful configuration that includes a Core i7 CPU and an AMD Radeon graphics adapter. While all that's great, the big problem with this laptop is its screen. Apart from the Kira and the more recent Satellite P50t notebooks that we've reviewed, Toshiba laptops don't impress when it comes to screens, and the one on the S50t is a let-down of large proportions.
A poor display
Considering that the screen is your main interface with a laptop, you would want it to be of least very good quality, especially in this price range. Unfortunately, the screen on this laptop is of a poor quality. It has a cramped 1366x768 resolution, narrow viewing angles, and because it's a touchscreen, reflections off the screen will be cause for frustration; the highest brightness level won't be able to counter them. When moving around in our seat, we constantly had to adjust the tilt of the screen in order to see photos and Web pages properly, and even when we did, the colour quality of the display was pale.
It's a big disappointment, mainly because the rest of the laptop's design is well thought out to accommodate users who want a mobile notebook that's also thin and light, and comfortable to use for long typing tasks.
The keyboard is full, well laid out, and backlit, and it features a number pad that doesn't crowd around the arrow keys -- there is plenty of space around the left and right arrow keys. Furthermore, the keys feel soft and they have enough travel to make for an enjoyable typing experience. The only drawback is that the keys have a smooth texture that can sometimes feel slippery.
There is plenty of space to place your hands on the palm rest (90mm), and the touchpad is a large one (101x66mm) that not only supports multi-finger gestures, but also Windows 8 swipe-in gestures. It's not the best touchpad we've ever used; we found it to be unreliable at times, with many taps often having to be repeated in order for them to be executed -- two-finger taps to bring up the right-click menu also weren't always executed on the first go.
The texture of the pad is slightly rough, but we didn't find this to be annoying. The palm rest has a brushed finish that feels a little slippery if your hands get sweaty while you type, and the lid has the same brushed finish, while the bottom panel has a matte, grippy texture that feels good. It's held by Phillips-head screws and is removeable.
Build quality and design
We like the overall size and weight of the laptop, which is which typically wide (380mm), but manageable thanks to a weight of 2.2kg. It's a thin notebook (20mm) that feels reasonably well built, though its hinges could stand to be both smoother in their movement and firmer in their hold of the screen. It's an easy laptop to carry in a typical 15in backpack, and the power adapter is one of the smallest we've seen for this laptop size (90mm wide, 45mm deep, and 26mm thick).
There isn't a whole lot of clutter around the sides. You get three USB ports (two of them are USB 3.0), a Gigabit Ethernet port (there is also 802.11ac Wi-Fi via an Intel Wireless-AC 3160 adapter), HDMI, a headset port, and a full-sized SD card slot. The SD card slot is on the front, and it's not spring-loaded. Getting an SD card out of it can be a chore as you have to lift up the chassis to get your fingers around the card properly.
You won't find an optical drive in this laptop; instead, there are mostly clean lines along the portions of the chassis that don't have ports, with the only blemish being an air vent on the left side. The laptop doesn't get too warm or loud during general document creation or Web browsing tasks, but the fan does get noticeable from close range and the base gets warmer when the CPU or graphics adapter have to do a lot of work.
Specs, speed, and battery life
Inside the chassis is an Intel Core i7-4500U CPU, which has a standard frequency of 1.8GHz, two cores, and Hyper-Threading, and it's surrounded by 8GB of DDR3L SDRAM. It's an ultra-low voltage CPU, and the RAM is also of the low-power variety. That's why Toshiba has been able to install it in such a thin chassis.
However, we've seen it in an even thinner chassis before, such as in LG's UltraPC. The low-power benefits of the CPU and the extra space of the 15.6in form factor have allowed for better cooling, and this is important since the S50t-B has a discrete AMD Radeon R7 M260 graphics adapter, and a mechanical hard drive. It's a 1TB Toshiba hard drive (model number MQ01ABD100), and there is no hybrid component to give regularly used data a boost.
In our performance tests, the laptop wasn't as fast as we expected, with the Blender 3D rendering result of 45sec being a few seconds slow. CrystalDiskMark's read speed for the hard drive was 106.3 megabytes per second (MBps), while its write speed was 101.6MBps, and these are a lot slower than what a solid state drive would supply, but the write speed is a little faster than what the Dell Inspiron 15 5000 Series got in the same test using the hybrid version of this hard drive (MQ01ABD100H). Graphics performance using 3DMark was decent, recording 943 in Fire Strike, 289 in Sky Diver, 4490 in Cloud Gate, and 45963 in Ice Storm. It should handle older games well enough, though newer ones might struggle unless you reduce quality levels.
Battery life was good in our tests, though without a Full HD screen, a large chassis for a bif battery, and a low-voltage CPU, we expected this. In our rundown test, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise screen brightness, and loop a video file, the Satellite S50t-B lasted 5hr 25min. A lower brightness, and refraining from frequenting sites with too many CPU-heavy elements (such as Flash), mean you could get a little more than this when using the laptop for simple Web browsing and typing tasks.
It's worth noting that there is a lot of pre-installed software on this laptop that could end up being quite annoying. In particular, external USB drives and SD cards will be met by a pop-up from Clickfree asking if you want to back up. Then there are the frequent requests from Norton to upgrade your anti-virus protection. For sanity's sake, you might want to uninstall these bits and pieces as soon as you start using this laptop.
Overall, Toshiba has produced a laptop that's easy to slag off due to its poor screen. It plays in the same price range as Dell's Inspiron 15 5000 Series laptop, but even that one has a Full HD screen to serve as a more tasty treat, and even a hard drive with flash memory to boost its read performance.
As it stands, the slim profile and comfortable keyboard of the S50t-B, along with the decent CPU and GPU, are the best parts, and you should only consider this laptop if those aspects are more important to you than a great screen.
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