Toshiba Satellite U845W Ultrabook Review: Going Wide at 21:9by Dustin Sklavos on October 16, 2012 12:01 AM EST
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.