Toshiba is aiming for the laptop sweet spot with the Satellite L55t-A5290. This 15.6-inch notebook features plenty of processing power, a vivid touch screen and a fantastically comfortable keyboard. However, it lacks Intel's latest Haswell processor, and has a somewhat meager 4-cell battery. Available at Staples for $713 (after rebate), should you swing by and pick up the L55t?
The Satellite L55t looks like it belongs to the previous generation of Toshiba's Satellite series of notebooks: Rather than the elegant brushed aluminum design of the Satellite P55t, the L55t features a silver-gray plastic lid and deck, with a glossy black plastic cradle for the keyboard. The lid and deck sport a subtle horizontal striped pattern that breaks up the monotony, and a silver Toshiba logo sits on the lower right corner of the lid.
A thin speaker grille runs along the top of the deck. The keyboard features a full number pad on the right, but thankfully doesn't feel cramped. Despite the clickpad's slightly off-center placement on the deck, we didn't experience any errant clicking or scrolling thanks to its excellent palm rejection.
Measuring 14.9 x 9.6 x 1.13 inches and weighing 5.4 pounds, the L55t feels beefier than the competition. The $679 Satellite P55t is slightly thicker than the L55t at 1.2 inches, but thanks to Toshiba's new Skyline design, weighs only 5.2 pounds. The $699 Acer Aspire M5, which measures 15 x 10.08 x 0.68~0.9 inches and weighs only 5 pounds, feels razor-thin by comparison.
The latest 1080p trailer for "Wolverine" looked rich and vibrant on the Toshiba Satellite L55t's 15.6-inch, 1366 x 768 TruBrite display. The orange blossom of an explosion stood in sharp relief against the snow-covered Japanese dojo, and we could make out fine details such as the decorations on an assassin's samurai armor.
Unfortunately, TruBrite's touted anti-glare coating and wide viewing angles failed to deliver. The colors washed out when we moved more than 30 degrees to the left or right, and watching a movie in a room with even a moderate amount of sunlight at any angle other than straight-on caused the glare to obscure large parts of the screen.
The L55t's 155 lux display fell well short of the 208 lux category average. However, the Toshiba Satellite P55t and the Acer Aspire M5 fared no better, averaging 138 lux and 158 lux, respectively.
On the positive side, the notebook's touch screen responded swiftly and accurately to our input. We scrolled Web pages smoothly, for instance, and we shuffled seamlessly between apps when we swiped in from the left side of the bezel.
When we listened to Jeremy Soule's magisterial score to "Skyrim," the booming baritone choir easily filled our apartment's living room. Thanks to the notebook's DTS Sound software, the audio suffered from virtually no distortion even when we cranked the volume up to 100 percent, and allowed us to fine-tune the settings for Bass, Voice and Treble. For quick adjustments, DTS Sound also provides options for Surround Sound, Volume Max and Bass Boost. We wouldn't recommend disabling DTS Sound: audio sounded distant and tinny.
Keyboard and touchpad
The Satellite L55t's island-style keyboard proved a delight to use, thanks to its generous key travel and textured keys. The keyboard exhibited very little flex, and Toshiba thoughtfully included enough space between the keyboard and the number pad that we never accidentally pressed the wrong key when trying to use the Backspace, Enter or the right Shift key. On the Ten Thumbs Typing Test, we achieved a rate of 68 words per minute, which is just above our average.
However, the keyboard lacks backlighting, unlike both the Satellite P55t and the Acer Aspire M5.
Like the keyboard, the L55t's 4.25 x 2.7-inch clickpad is reliable and pleasantly quiet. Multitouch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom, rotate and two-finger scrolling performed as expected, and the clickpad itself made almost no noise when depressed.
The L55t remained cool during our testing. After streaming a video on Hulu for 15 minutes, the clickpad registered 79 degrees, the space between the G and H keys hit 85 degrees and the bottom reached 86. The upper center of the underside reached 92.5 degrees, but that still falls below our comfort zone of 95 degrees.
Ports and webcam
The right side of the Satellite L55t houses a headphone jack, a microphone jack, two USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port and a VGA port. On the left side of the notebook are a Gigabit Ethernet port, a USB 2.0 port with sleep-and-charge technology (which allows you to charge your device even while the laptop is in Sleep Mode) and a DVD-SuperMulti Drive. A 6-in-1 card reader sits on the right side of the front lip.
Video and stills captured by the L55t's 0.9-megapixel camera suffered from severe graininess and washed-out colors. Our baby-blue shirt appeared almost navy in a headshot, and details as large as our eyes became an indistinguishable blur. On the plus side, video playback was smooth.
Unlike competing mainstream notebooks such as the Toshiba Satellite P55t and Acer Aspire M5, which use Intel's latest Haswell chipset, the Toshiba Satellite L55t comes equipped with an older Ivy Bridge processor. Nevertheless, its 1.8-GHz Core i5-3337U CPU and 8GB of RAM delivered smooth performance even during heavy use. We had no problem, for instance, streaming "The Avengers" while running a Norton virus scan with 13 tabs open in Google Chrome.
When we ran PCMark 7, a benchmark that measures overall performance, the L55t notched a healthy 3,434, almost 400 points higher than the mainstream average of 3,165. The Haswell-powered Toshiba Satellite P55t and Acer Aspire M5 (both of which feature a 1.6-GHz Intel Core i5-4200U CPU and 8GB of RAM) achieved scores of 3,434 and 2,969, respectively.
The Satellite L55t's 750GB 5,400-rpm hard drive proved almost twice as slow as the average mainstream notebook, but on a par with the speeds offered by the Satellite P55t (750GB 5,400-rpm HDD) and the Aspire M5 (500GB 5,400-rpm HDD). On the LAPTOP File Transfer Test, the Satellite L55t copied 4.97GB of files in 3 minutes and 1 second, for a rate of 28.1 MBps. While this falls well short of the category average of 48 MBps, the Satellite P55t achieved a measly 23.1 MBps, while the Aspire M5 fared only slightly better at 34.6 MBps.
Thanks to Windows 8, the L55t booted the OS in just 16 seconds, a significant improvement over the 36-second category average. The Satellite P55t and Aspire M5 booted Windows in 18 and 25 seconds, respectively.
On the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Test, the Satellite L55t matched 20,000 names and addresses in 5 minutes and 50 seconds. This matches the category average, but is a bit slower than the Satellite P55t (5:14) and the Aspire M5 (5:15).
Graphics and gaming
You won't be playing many games between classes with the Toshiba Satellite L55t. Powered by Intel's HD 4000 graphics chip, the notebook delivered lackluster performance on our benchmarks and in games. On 3DMark11, a benchmark that measures overall graphics performance, the L55t achieved a score of 682, more than 200 points short of the category average. The Toshiba Satellite P55t and Acer Aspire M5, both of which use Intel's newer HD Graphics 4400 GPU, racked up scores of 878 and 967, respectively.
When playing "World of Warcraft," the L55t managed a barely playable 31 frames per second with the graphics on auto and the screen at its native resolution of 1366 x 768. At these same settings, the Satellite P55t fared slightly better at 35 fps, while the Aspire M5 managed a healthy 46 frames per second.
On Ultra settings, the frame rate on the Satellite L55t dropped to 20 frames per second. This squeaks past the P55t (19 fps), but falls just short of the category average (28 fps) and the Aspire M5 (24 fps).
Power hogs will wish that Toshiba had equipped the Satellite L55t with Intel's battery-saving Haswell chipset rather than an older Ivy Bridge CPU. On the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous surfing on the Web over Wi-Fi) the Satellite L55t's 4-cell lithium-ion battery lasted 4 hours and 43 minutes. This falls well short of both the mainstream average (6:11) and the Toshiba Satellite P55t (5:32). The Acer Aspire M5's 4-cell 3560mAh lithium polymer battery lasted a whopping 8:55.
Software and warranty
Like the P55t, the Satellite L55t comes loaded with a ton of Toshiba-branded apps. These include Toshiba App Place and Toshiba Book Place, where you can download -- you guessed it -- apps and books; Toshiba Start, which serves as a pseudo-Start Menu and news aggregator; and Toshiba Central, which provides links to a user's guide and support pages.
Third-party apps include Evernote Touch, StumbleUpon, Netflix, Electronic Arts' Origin, and a one-year subscription to Norton AntiVirus and PC Checkup. Microsoft-branded apps include Skype, SkyDrive and a trial version of Microsoft Office 2013.
In addition to the configuration we reviewed (1.8-GHz Intel Core i5-3337U CPU, 8GB of RAM, 750GB 5,400-rpm HDD), Toshiba offers a number of other configurations of the L50 series on its website. These range in price from the $429 Satellite L50D-ABT2N22 (1.7-GHz AMD Quad-Core A8-5545M Accelerated Processor, 4GB of RAM, 320GB 5,400-rpm HDD) to the $799 L50-AST2NX3 (2.4-GHz Intel Core i7-4700MQ CPU, 12GB of RAM, 1TB 5,400-rpm HDD).
The 15.6-inch Toshiba Satellite L55t-A5290 ($713 at Staples) features a touch-screen display, loud audio, and a fantastic keyboard and clickpad. However, the design on this laptop looks dated, and you'll have to settle for a third-generation Intel CPU. The $699 Acer Aspire M5 is a better deal because it offers an aluminum lid and deck, Intel's new Haswell architecture, and nearly double the battery life.
Toshiba's Satellite P55T also beats the L55t in terms of value. That $679 15-inch Best Buy notebook offers a newer Haswell chip for 45 minutes of longer battery life along with a sleeker chassis. Overall, the Satellite L55t is a decent touch-screen notebook, but there are much better options for the money.