When Intel launched its Ultrabook initiative, one of its aims was to make these super-slim notebooks affordable enough for the masses. Toshiba is targeting such a market with the Satellite U845-S402, a 14-inch Ultrabook that costs $719 (as cheap as $699). Hoping to find a happy medium among portability, power and price, Toshiba packs the U845 with a last-generation Sandy Bridge processor. But with so many competitively priced Ultrabooks on the market, is the U845 a bargain or a bust?
The Satellite U845 exudes an understated elegance, and we loved running our fingers over the Sky Sliver brushed aluminum lid. Not only does the lid feel cool and smooth against our fingertips, it's also highly repellent to fingerprints and smudges. The chrome diamond-cut Toshiba logo is a nice touch. The hard plastic strip along the top looks a little lame by comparison, but we suspect that's where the wireless antennas are located.
The notebook's interior also sports a Sky Silver brushed aluminum finish. The black keyboard and the dark gray matte touchpad, both in shallow wells, provide a nice contrast from the smooth brushed aluminum. Other small design notes include an indentation along the front lip in front of the touchpad as well as the chrome, spun-metal power button above the keyboard.
At 3.9 pounds and 13.5 x 9.1 x 0.8-inches, the U845 is significantly lighter and slightly thinner than the 4.4-pound, 13.4 x 9.7 x 0.83-inch Acer Aspire TimelineU M5-481TG-6814 and the 4.2-pound, 13.7 x 9.5 x 0.83-inch Dell Inspiron 14z. To be fair, both of those systems are outfitted with optical drives, which adds weight.
Display and Audio
The U845's 14-inch, 1366 x 768-pixel display delivered vivid colors with clear, sharp text on CNN.com and Joystiq.com. During the 1080p "Cloud Atlas" trailer, we appreciated Halle Berry's detailed henna tattoo as well as the gold filigree in her gorgeous red sari. We were also taken with the deep blues and greens throughout the trailer. There was only the smallest hint of pixilation during night scenes. However, the viewing angles were quite shallow; the color inverted almost immediately after we stepped from directly in front of the screen.
The U845 registered 163 lux on our brightness meter, which is below the 201 lux thin-and-light laptop average. This was enough to outshine the IdeaPad U310's 148 lux display and HP Envy 4t (142 lux), but both the Inspiron 14z (171 lux) and Acer M5-6814 (185 lux) were brighter.
The pair of bottom-mounted speakers located along the sides of the notebook delivered decent sound. Dialogue during the "Cloud Atlas" trailer sounded loud and crisp. We heard clear, distinctive vocals from Common and Pharrell roll playfully over the synthesized instrumentals on "Universal Mind Control." However, the bass was faint throughout the track. Overall, we prefer the audio from the Acer Aspire TimelineU M5-481TG-6814.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The U845 features a spill-resistant, island-style backlit keyboard. There is generous spacing between the medium black matte keys but typing on the squat keys was uncomfortable. We were also disappointed with the shallow feedback. When we attempted the Ten Thumbs Typing Test, we scored 42 words per minute with a 2 percent error rate. That's lower than our usual 50 wpm/1 percent error rate.
The striations on the 2.45 x 3.75-inch Synaptic touchpad felt good against our fingers as we scrolled and performed multi-touch gestures. Normal navigation was responsive and accurate. Performing gestures such as pinch-zoom, two-finger scroll and rotate, three-finger and four-finger flick were also quick and fluid. The bottom portion of the touchpad delivered a satisfying click as we used it for right and left button commands.
After 15 minutes of running a full-screen Hulu video, the U845's touchpad measured a cool 77 degrees Fahrenheit. The space between the G and H keys and the bottom of the notebook were significantly hotter at 97 and 102 degrees. That's well above our 95-degree comfort threshold.
The U845's webcam captures images and video in 640x480. When we snapped some test photos our complexion looked washed out, as did our green shirt in both fluorescent and natural lighting. There was also a lot of fuzziness.
We also used the camera in conjunction with Toshiba Face Recognition software. After launching the software, we aligned our face in the designated prompt and followed the directions to move our face slowly vertically and horizontally to register our face, a process that took about 2 to 3 minutes to complete.
The right side of the Satellite U845 houses a pair of USB 2.0 ports, a 7-in-1 card reader and an Ethernet jack. A USB 3.0 port sits on the left with HDMI, a secure lock slot and jacks for headphones, a microphone and an AC adapter.
During our real-world testing of the Toshiba Satellite U845-S402, we able to successfully stream SNL digital shorts "Lazy Sunday 2" and "Like a Boss" with eight open tabs in Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and Internet Explorer. The shorts continued to stream seamlessly even with the addition of a full-system scan.
However, on our benchmark tests, the U845 and its 1.5-GHz Intel Core i3-2377M CPU (Sandy Bridge) with 4GB of RAM was consistently outperformed by its Ivy Bridge counterparts. For example, on Geekbench, the U845 scored 3,713, which is 1,577 points below the thin-and-light category average. The Lenovo IdeaPad U310, Acer Aspire TimelineU M5-481TG and the Dell Inspiron 14z, all of which have a 1.7-GHz Intel Core i5-3317U processor, notched 5,715, 5,897 and 5,971, respectively.
Despite the addition of a 16GB SSD cache to its 500GB, 5400-rpm hard drive, the U845 booted Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) in 76 seconds. That's 18 seconds slower than the 58-second average. However, when we used the Toshiba Hi-Speed Start Mode, the notebook booted in 24 seconds. The Acer M5-481TG and its 500GB 5,400-rpm hard drive/20GB SSD loaded Windows in 0:36, while the U310 and its 500GB 5,400-rpm hard drive started in 0:33. The 14z and its 500GB 5,400-rpm hard drive/32GB SSD started in a swift 0:25.
The U845 duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in 3 minutes and 4 seconds for a transfer rate of 26.2 MBps, slightly short of the 29.9 MBps average. The IdeaPad U310 and the Acer M5-481TG were closely matched at 28.6 and 29.9 MBps, while the 14z brought up the rear with 17.2 MBps.
During the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro test, the U845 matched 20,000 names to their corresponding addresses in 10 minutes and 36 seconds. That's 4 minutes and 36 seconds longer than the 6:00 category average. The Acer M5-481TG fell 11 seconds short of the average (6:11) while the U310 missed the mark by 6 seconds (6:06). The Inspiron 14z notched a more impressive 5:48.
Similar to many notebooks with integrated graphics, the Toshiba Satellite U845's Intel HD 3000 GPU will be able to play HD video, casual games and "World of Warcraft."
On the 3DMark06 benchmark, the Satellite U845 scored 3,705, far below the 5,117 thin-and-light average. The Lenovo IdeaPad U310 and the Dell Inspiron 14z, both of which benefit from newer Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPUs, notched 3,975 and 5,356, respectively. The Acer Aspire TimelineU M5-481TG, with its discrete Nvidia GeForce GT 640M LE GPU and 1GB of VRAM, scored a whopping 9,677.
On the "World of Warcraft" benchmark, the U845 registered 29 frames per second on autodetect at 1366 x 768. That‘s well below the 53 fps average and barely playable. The U310 and the Inspiron 14z notched 39 and 47 fps, respectively. The Acer M5-481TG blew away the competition with 132 fps.
During the LAPTOP Battery Test, which consists of continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi, the Toshiba Satellite U845 lasted 6 hours and 28 minutes, matching the thin and light average (6:28). The Acer Aspire TimelineU M5-481TG was a minute behind at 6:27. The Lenovo IdeaPad U310 and the Dell Inspiron 14z missed the mark at 5:19 and 5:15.
Software and Warranty
Toshiba pre-installs a helpful set of utilities, such as Toshiba Sleep and Charge, which lets users power gadgets even when the lid is closed via the USB 3.0 port. There's also PC Health Monitor that displays the notebook's temperature, fan speed and battery life. The eco Utility mode also came in handy for conserving battery life. Toshiba bundles a 30-day free trial of Toshiba Online Backup. That gets you 25GB of storage, after which it costs $4.95 per month; $7.95 gets you 50GB of storage, and $14.95 will give you 100GB of storage.
ReelTime delivers a visual timeline of recent activities. We also like Bulletin Board, which lets us post sticky notes, shortcuts and images on a virtual pin board. Avid readers might want to check out Toshiba Book Place, which features a number of popular titles including E. L James' "Fifty Shades of Grey."
Third-party software includes Windows Live, Adobe Reader X, Microsoft Office Starter, and a 30-day free trial of Norton Internet Security. There are also shortcuts for Amazon.com, NetZero Internet Service and Wild Tangent's game hub.
Toshiba backs the Satellite U845 with a standard one-year limited warranty. See how the company fared in our Best and Worst Brands Report.
Our $719 review unit (Toshiba Satellite U845-S402) comes equipped with a 1.5-GHz Intel Core i3-2377M CPU (Sandy Bridge) with 4GB of RAM, a 500GB 5,400-rpm hard drive with a 16GB SSD cache and Intel HD 3000 Graphics. The $829 model (U845-S406) features a third-generation 1.7-GHz Intel Core i5-3317U CPU (Ivy Bridge), 6GB of RAM, a 500GB 5,400-rpm hard drive with a 32GB SSD cache, an Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU, Bluetooth 4.0, and a backlit keyboard. The $800 model (U845-S404) has identical specs to the S406, but lacks Bluetooth.
The $719 Toshiba Satellite U845-S402 undercuts many Ivy Bridge-powered Ultrabooks on price and features a sleek design and long battery life. However, for not much more money you can get a 14-inch Ultrabook with both a faster CPU and discrete graphics, such as the Acer Aspire TimelineU M5-481TG-6814 and the Dell Inspiron 14z. These systems are heavier, but they also include DVD drives.
Yes, you can upgrade to a U845 with a faster CPU, but you'll still be getting a system that suffers from a cramped keyboard and a hotter-running chassis. The U845 just isn't as good a deal as it seems.