So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Toshiba Satellite U840W (PSU5RA-002001) Ultrabook
Toshiba U840W review: an extra-wide, and very stylish Ultrabook that offers a fantastic multimedia experience
- Well built and very stylish
- Provides a great multimedia experience
- Good battery life
- Glossy screen
- Keys a little too shallow
- Slow networking
The Toshiba Satellite U840W is designed for multimedia above all else -- it has exceptoinal speakers and its extra-wide screen allows many movies to fit in it perfectly, but it's also very useful for multitasking. We like the build quality and the design of the notebook and think it looks very stylish. We just wish it had a matte screen, a slightly better keyboard and faster networking features.
Price$ 1,499.00 (AUD)
Toshiba's 14.4in Satellite U840W Ultrabook is specifically designed for entertainment purposes. It has a wider than usual screen that's perfect for displaying movies shot in cinemascope widescreen format, for example, as it means those movies will usually fill up the screen perfectly, without black bars appearing at the top and bottom of the picture. It's an odd notebook to behold at first, but the more we used it, the more we liked it, and not just because of its shape: its build quality is excellent and its speakers also add to the appeal of this unit as a purposeful multimedia unit.
A widescreen notebook designed for movies
With a native resolution of 1792x768 pixels, the notebook's screen looks a little cramped at first. After all, it is the same height as a typical mainstream Ultrabook and you'll still need to do the same amount of vertical scrolling in documents and Web pages. However, the extra width opens up more opportunities when it comes to productivity. You can easily run two Web browsers side by side, for example, which is something that's usually only comfortable to do on slightly pricier Ultrabooks that have a Full HD resolution (such as the ASUS Zenbook Prime UX31A).
The ratio of the resolution is 21:9, which means that films using the wider aspect ratios (such as Casino and The Bourne Identity, for example) will play perfectly on this screen, without black bars at the top and bottom of the picture. When movies or TV shows with a 16:9 ratio are played, black columns will appear on the left and right sides of the screen instead. A drawback of this wider ratio is that regular photos won't look good when used as wallpaper. You might have to start creating some customised 'papers if you want to make your desktop look good.
The quality of the screen itself is decent, but it has a glossy finish that's prone to reflecting light sources, and this can be annoying, even when using the maximum brightness setting. It would have been nice if Toshiba ditched the glossiness for this model in preference of a matte finish. We also had to play around with the tilt now and then to get better contrast in the image. The vertical angles, like those of many notebook screens, are a little narrow.
Overall though, we found the movie-watching experience with this laptop to be very enjoyable, and this was also due to the good speakers that have been installed in the base. It's a two-speaker system with a driver placed either side of the keyboard and the quality of the sound is clear, rich and acceptably loud for a thin laptop. Not only is it good for movies, it will also do a good job with most types of music genres.
Our only gripe is that the volume control isn't overly representative of the sound level. The changes in volume are dramatic, which means the volume gets very loud after about the 40 per cent mark, and then there is barely a discernible difference the rest of the way up. Some distortion was evident when listening to music at full blast, and we found optimal listening to be at around the 60-70 percent mark.
Features: Hooray for USB 3.0! Boo for slow networking
Because this model is an Ultrabook and Ultrabooks are meant to be thin and light — this model has a thickness of 19mm (not including the 1mm feet on the base) and a weight of 1.7kg — it doesn't have a built-in optical drive. This means that you can't just pop in your DVDs or Blu-ray movies, but instead you'll have to use another computer to rip them and encode them for use on this laptop. There is a 500GB hard drive installed, so you can store a lot of movies on it.
The lack of an optical drive makes the base of the U840W very solid. In fact, one of the things we love about this notebook is just how well built it feels. There is no noticeable flexing in the base, and the hinges that hold the wide screen are strong and smooth. There is some noticeable flexing and puddling in the screen though, which is the only sign of weakness. Metal has been used in the notebook's construction, but its exterior has a textured finish that provides grip and which feels absolutely beautiful to hold. As a bonus, it makes the notebook look very elegant. in the areas of style and build, the U840W definitely satisfies.
Its set of features, while being decent overall, doesn't satisfy. There are three USB 3.0 ports installed — two on the left side and one on the right side — as well as HDMI and separate headphone and microphone ports, but the notebook is let down in the networking department.
It has only 10/100 Ethernet (a Realtek AR8152/8158 controller) rather than Gigabit, and it features only single-band 802.11n wireless networking (via a Realtek RTL8723AE chip) rather than dual-band Wi-Fi. These features aren't ideal for those of us who want to transfer lots of movies to the laptop over a local area network at the quickest possible rates — 10/100 transfers averaged 11 megabytes per second (MBps) in our tests, so transferring large files via a USB 2.0 drive (or 3.0 drive, ideally) will be faster.
Specifications and performance
On the inside, the configuration of the Satellite U840W features a 1.7GHz, third generation Intel Core i5-3317U CPU with integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics, 6GB of DDR3 SDRAM and a 500GB hard drive with a 5400rpm spin speed. A 32GB solid state drive has also been installed to help boost boot times. The Ultrabook took only 21sc to boot during our tests (the same as the 15in HP Envy 6-1001tx, which also has a hybrid storage solution). There is a lot of background software installed, including Clickfree and Norton Internet Security, as well as numerous Toshiba utilities, which you might want to re-configure so that they don't impact you while you use this laptop.
In our Blender 3D and iTunes MP3 encoding tests, the Satellite U840W recorded times of 49sec and 59sec, respectively. Converting a DVD file to an Xvid file using AutoGordianKnot took 60min, which is decent. Its Blender time is a fraction slower than we expected for an Ultrabook with a 1.7GHz ultra-low voltage CPU (the HP Envy Spectre XT has the same CPU and recorded 48sec), while the iTunes time is a little slower due to the use of a spinning hard drive rather than a solid state drive.
The hard drive recorded a read rate of 120MBps and a write rate of 82MBps in CrystalDiskMark, which can't hold a candle to the fast rates achieved by Ultrabooks with good solid state storage, and its sluggishness was further indicated in our file duplication tests, where a rate of only 27.1MBps was achieved.
Graphics performance was solid, as a result of 5503 was notched up in 3DMark06. This is a little better than the result posted by the Envy Spectre XT (5298), and much better than the result posted by the Sony VAIO T Series Ultrabook (4085).
Toshiba laptops aren't generally known for stellar battery life, but the U840W performed quite well in our rundown test. It lasted for 3hr 49min in our standard testing configuration, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise screen brightness and loop an Xvid-encoded video. This is 11min better than what the HP Envy Spectre XT achieved in the same test, but 41min shy of the Sony VAIO T Series, which has the best life of all the recent Ultrabooks we've seen. Toshiba ships the U840W with an eco mode utility so that you can get more out of the battery when you need to.
The backlit keyboard on the Satellite U840W has chiclet keys that have a smooth, matte finish. There is lots of space between the keys, but the keys themselves feel a little small. Furthermore, they have relatively shallow travel, the space bar can sometimes require a firmer hit than usual to perform its job, and the board tends to bounce a little when keys in its middle area are hit. That said, it's a keyboard that we got used to after a couple of days, but we still don't think it's great if you're a writer.
The layout is standard for the most part, although there is a column of page, home and end keys to the right of the enter key. We love the extra space given to the arrow keys and we also like that the volume, media controls and Wi-Fi toggle are the primary functions of the F keys. A function key combination still needs to be pressed to configure the keyboard's backlight though: you can turn it on or off, or enable the timer mode.
A Synaptics touchpad is installed and it measures 100x64mm. It supports two-finger scrolling, three-finger flicks and four-finger swipes. It was mostly responsive and accurate in our tests and it didn't get in the way while typing. However, taps sometimes took a couple of attempts to register, depending on how low we were hitting on the pad. The left- and right-click buttons reside under the touchpad and we didn't have any problems using them for click-and-drag operations.
The palm rest of this Ultrabook feels great thanks to its textured finish and the same finish is replicated on the base, making this notebook a joy to hold. Because of its extra width (it's 367mm wide and only 200mm deep — this is about 50mm wider and 5mm shallower than a typical 13.3in or 14in Ultrabook) it might not fit easily into existing bags. We used a small backpack to carry it and had no problems fitting it in. The balance of the notebook is excellent and the wider-than-usual shape gives it an elegance that is missing from typical 13.3 or 14in models. Put simply, it was a pleasure to carry this thing around with us on an everyday basis.
Cooling vents reside only on the spine of the Ultrabook and they do a good job of keeping the base cool, even after running lots of CPU-intensive programs. Only some slight warmth was felt on the right side of the base, but it wasn't uncomfortable (disclaimer: we tested on a couple of the coldest days of the year in Sydney). The vents pull and push air through the gap just in front of the screen when the laptop is open all the way, so you can use it on your lap easily without fear of blocking any of the vents. Noise from the fan wasn't an issue. It was audible when it was spinning at full speed, but it wasn't an irritating sound.
We initially had our doubts about this Ultrabook. It seemed like it was just another Toshiba novelty product. But after using it for a few days, we think it's a great overall product. It feels very well made, it's reasonably comfortable to use and the extra width of the screen is great for productivity as well as playing back widescreen (2.35:1) movies. With a matte screen, faster networking devices and more responsive keys, it could be even better. Even so, it's still an Ultrabook that's well worth considering.
Related notebook reviews:
• HP Envy Spectre XT Ultrabook
• Origin EON15-S gaming notebook
• Dell Inspiron 15R 5520 Ivy Bridge notebook
• Medion Akoya P6635 Ivy Bridge notebook
• HP Envy 6-1001tx Ultrabook
• HP Pavilion dv6-7030tx Ivy Bridge notebook
• Sony VAIO E Series 14P Ivy Bridge notebook
• ASUS Zenbook Prime UX31A Ultrabook
• Fujitsu Lifebook U772 Ivy Bridge Ultrabook
• Dell XPS 14 Ivy Bridge Ultrabook
• Samsung Series 9 Ultrabook
• Lenovo ThinkPad X230 Ivy Bridge laptop
• Apple MacBook Pro (15in with Retina display)
• ASUS N56VM Ivy Bridge laptop
• Acer Aspire Timeline Ultra M3 Ultrabook
• Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E530 Ivy Bridge laptop
• Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook
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