Around the Toshiba Satellite U845W

If I could give an award for "most improved design year over year" to a notebook vendor, I think Toshiba might just have it locked up (with Acer in a close second for finally ditching the floating island keyboard). Every time I meet with Toshiba representatives in San Francisco and see what they have planned, I notice that they're continuing to iterate and improve upon their designs. What used to be a vendor almost criminally obsessed with gloss is now turning out some fairly tasteful notebooks.

It starts with the lid of the Satellite U845W, which features a two-toned aluminum and rubberized/textured plastic design. I'm not usually a fan of brown shades, but the silver and brown finish is both distinctive and appealing, and importantly, it doesn't look or feel cheap at all. They finish it off with a tasteful etch of the Toshiba logo in the corner.

Unfortunately, opening the U845W reveals one flaw that vendors seem hellbent on continuing to make: a glossy screen bezel. We're this close to being rid of glossy plastic almost forever, but they continue to put it in the worst place it can go, the place most likely to get fingerprints and smudges. It's not even for an edge-to-edge glossy display, either; the bezel is bevelled, with the glossy 21:9 display a touch below it.

The lower half of the U845W's interior continues the same tasteful aesthetic of the lid. The chiclet keyboard surrounded by silver aluminum and speaker grills to the left and right, while the clickpad and palm rest employ the same brown textured plastic. The touchpad itself is distinct from the rest of the interior surface, which is appreciated and goes a long way towards making the U845W feel like a smartly designed machine. With all that said, while the clickpad works fairly well (though I still miss dedicated mouse buttons), the LED backlit keyboard is probably the weakest link in the design. The keys feel mushy and too short, similar to the Portege R700/R800/R900 notebooks. I actually had a very difficult time typing on this keyboard, and it's something you'll want to experience in retail if possible before buying.

Finally, the bottom of the U845W is a simple, single plastic surface with the same soft touch texture as the interior palm rest and the lower third of the lid. I understand why vendors don't make the internals accessible in ultrabooks, but I still don't like what it portends, and Toshiba has historically been pretty good about things like this.

I remember being pretty impressed with the U845W when it was previewed to me, and I'm still mostly there. This is a far cry from the gloss factory Toshiba used to be, and I'd actually find it to be a very usable and attractive design were it not for the mushy keyboard. While I'd typically been a fan of chiclet keyboards when they were more rarefied, I'm finding poor keyboards to be increasingly common in modern notebooks and especially in ultrabooks that lack the z-height needed to include a more satisfying keyboard. While the U845W's keyboard is certainly usable, it's definitely the weakest link, and I'm becoming increasingly concerned with the direction keyboards have taken in modern notebooks.

Introducing the Toshiba Satellite U845W Overall Performance
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  • processinfo - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    Come on, now you can have all your icons pined to taskbar. They also removed a need for horizontal scrollbar. Maybe 45:9 would be even better (or 5:1 if you like).

    Kidding aside I agree this is horrible idea. Get us back 19:10 or 4:3 laptops!!

    Kind of reminds me a joke about bus that was 30ft wide and only couple of feet long because everybody wanted to sit next to driver.
    Reply
  • MobiusStrip - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    It's time to move out of the '90s. Thunderbolt should be a standard item at this point. Reply
  • Streetwind - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    There's one thing I am missing in this review, and that is a look at how the form factor affects portability.

    Ultrabooks are meant to be just that: ultraportable. They are meant to weigh little, fit in every pocket (figuratively), and easy to hold and handle, with one hand if necessary.

    How does this form factor rest on the lap? Does it feel heavier, or more unwieldly in size, when compared to the regular 16:9 model? Does it fit into bags and backpacks just the same? What's the general feel of it in a day to day usage and carrying scenario?

    I suppose it's a nice thing that this model has so much space to dedicate to cooling, but really: that space doesn't come out of nowhere. This thing is very large for an ultrabook, so the handling should be examined.
    Reply
  • Calista - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    The FW11E I'm using as a HTPC is 16" with a 16:9 aspect screen is roughly 1 cm wider than the U845W and it's very clumsy to bring along the few times I for one reason or another have to have it with me. And so I have to assume the U845W will be fairly clumsy as well even if it's both much thinner and lighter.

    The development we have had for the last few years saddens me. I guess 16:10 is workable, but from a portability and ergonomic point of view the old 4:3 format makes much more sense with one exception and that's among 12" laptops since they are small enough as is.

    Obviously depending on what you do but I find a vertical resolution of 1600 (as in 30" at 2560x1600 or 20" at 1200x1600) to be the sweet spot even if 1050 is workable on a laptop. But 768 is a far cry from 1050 and even more so from 1600.
    Reply
  • Avendit - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    I had a toshiba libretto L1 (http://tinyurl.com/ck4f9yo) that got me through a lot of uni and a few coding jobs. 1200 x 600 wasn't ideal, but you could swap height for width with little effort. Tool bars on the side or floating, work full screen, autohide etc.

    The wide res really worked for coding - you could get long lines of code all on the screen, and the PPI of 1200 on a 10" screen was stunning. System was reasonably powerful for its day too (played quake!), just wish I'd been able to get a later version with onboard NIC.

    Superwide can work, you just need to be willing to change your work habits a little. What worries me is the size of this - I don't think I would put up with such an odd screen res without some other compelling feature tho - at the time the L1 was a ~1kg laptop that appeared to sacrafice very little for its size, the screen was a resulting oddity that you learned to live with and like to some extent. At 2kg there are probably other alternatives that I'd want to try in person first.

    Avendit
    Reply
  • jabber - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    ...is because someone typed the wrong horizontal resolution number into a screen order and they ended up with 30000 non standard screens.

    As mentioned, though you get a machine with a odd feature as its main USP and the review doesn't even showcase it so we can see what the fuss is about.

    You know some of us do care about other factors than pretty pointless benchmark graphs.

    What next? Anandtech get a laptop in that has the ability to be used underwater yet it never leaves the testbench?
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    I wish you were right. With Follywierd producing ever more content at 2.37:1; this is probably a trial balloon for the next step in degrading computer screen usability for anything except consuming their garbage. Reply
  • Mugur - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    Maybe they should call it "Portable 2.35:1 Movie Player"... :-) Reply
  • Mugur - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    Oh and it has ONLY USB 3.0, which means that most probably you cannot install Windows from a USB stick... It happened to me a few times when I accidentally plug the stick into a USB 3 port on various notebooks. Reply
  • xTRICKYxx - Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - link

    Uhh, That shouldn't affect your installation. USB 3.0 is backwards compatible. I've installed Windows 7 on three notebooks using 3.0 ports and it went fine. Reply

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