How can a laptop maker make a splash with its new Windows 8 machine? How about with a uniquely designed wide-screen display? Like its predecessor, the $1,085 Toshiba Satellite U845W-S430 offers a 14.4-inch ultrawide display with a 21:9 aspect ratio that movie lovers will find themselves salivating over. And when it's time to get down to business, this laptop's display can also display two windows side-by-side. So is this Toshiba a good example of what a Windows 8 machine can do?
The 14-inch Toshiba Satellite U845W-S430 is essentially a carbon copy of the Satellite U845W-S410. That said, this is still one of the most uniquely designed notebooks to come through our lab in quite some time. Its wide-screen display and matching body look like someone stuck a few extra inches of screen and chassis onto an existing 14-inch notebook.
Although it may look different than your normal 14-inch notebook, the U845W is still exceedingly attractive. Roughly one-third of its lid is covered in a textured rubber, as is its base, making it very comfortable to carry around. The other two-thirds of the lid features a Midnight Silver brushed aluminum coating with a hint of bronze that lends the Toshiba an industrial styling. In the lid's lower right corner is a polished Toshiba logo. Pop open the lid and the rubber coating continues on the the palm rest, easing strain on your wrist. The U845W's deck is absolutely massive, with two huge speaker grilles surrounding its island-style keyboard.
At 14.5 x 7.9 x 0.83 inches, the U845W is more than an inch wider than the HP's ultraportable Envy 4-1030US, which measures 13.4 x 9.3 x 0.8 inches. The Toshiba, however, weighs a hair less than the Envy 4, 3.6 pounds versus the HP's 3.7 pounds.
Like its predecessor, the Toshiba Satellite U845W-S430's island-style keyboard has limited key travel and feedback. The keys are flatter than we like and lack any kind of textured coating, making them fairly slippery. All of this combines to create a keyboard that caused us to make more typing mistakes than we normally would. The Toshiba's keyboard also suffered from a good amount of flex, which was especially noticeable in the area of the H and J keys.
That said, we did appreciate the keyboard's adjustable white backlighting, as well as the dedicated reversed function and dedicated media keys running along the top of the keyboard. If you're new to Windows 8, you'll note the dedicated Windows key on the left side of the keyboard. Pressing the key provides you with a shortcut to the Modern UI interface, or can be used in tandem with other keys to quickly access the desktop, Windows Explorer and more.
Since the Satellite U845W's 14.4-inch display is not a touch screen, the system handles Windows 8 gestures via its 3.9 x 2.5-inch Synaptics touchpad. Swiping in from the right side of the pad brings up the Charms menu, while swiping down from the bottom brings up the All Apps pane. Swipe in from the left and you'll be able to quickly switch between running apps. However, you can't swipe in from the left and back to bring up the running apps menu. We also had to be quite deliberate when performing the gestures, or else they wouldn't be recognized by the notebook. Also, we noticed a slight lag from time to time with two-finger scrolling. This was most prevalent while using the Toshiba User's Guide app while in the Modern UI.
In addition to Windows 8 gestures, the touchpad also supports multitouch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom, rotate, two-finger scroll, three-finger swipe and four-finger flick.
The Toshiba Satellite U845W-S430's gorgeous 14.4-inch 1792 x 768 display is the kind of screen movies were made to be watched on. Its 21:9 aspect ratio eliminates the black bars at the top and bottom of the screen for movies filmed using the same aspect ratio, such as the latest James Bond film "Skyfall." Explosions ripped across the screen in bright orange and red flashes while Bond's cool demeanor never once failed him. Of course, the bars will return if you watch a movie filmed in a different aspect ratio, such as "Captain America: The First Avenger."
Colors were exceedingly vibrant and we didn't notice any disturbing artifacts. Viewing angles, on the other hand, were not as good as we would have liked. At a 45-degree angle, the screen quickly became washed out, with blacks and other dark colors fading into a bluish mess.
The display's 259 lux brightness rating was far better than the HP Envy 4's 142 lux rating as well as the thin and light category average of 210 lux. That high rating proved especially helpful when using the laptop outside. With the brightness turned all the way up, the screen was easily able to shrug off direct sunlight.
The U845W's wide screen comes in handy for more than just watching movies, though. It can also be a boon for multitasking, thanks to Toshiba's Snap Screen utility. The feature, which is accessible via a small button in the top right corner of any active window in desktop mode, allows users to automatically snap windows to either side of the display. The feature differs from the standard Windows' snap utility by also allowing you to resize the window to your liking. We used the feature to have Google Docs take up two-thirds of the screen and our live fantasy football stats take up the remaining one-third. We wish this feature would also work in the Modern UI, too.
With its two large Harman/ Kardon speakers flanking either side of its keyboard, the Satellite U845W-S430 produces top-notch audio. The folk rock stylings of Mumford and Sons' "Babel" sounded crisp and clear. The addition of SRS's Premium Sound 3D utility allowed us to adjust the audio settings to add a deeper level of depth to any tunes we listened to.
More bass-heavy songs such as Kanye West and Jay Z's "Clique" aren't as hard-hitting as on a laptop with a dedicated subwoofer, but you'll definitely get your share of bass.
For one of its first Windows 8 machines, Toshiba eschews the much-hyped touch-screen aspect of the operating system and instead simply installed it on one of its existing laptops. As a result, you have to use the Satellite U845W's touchpad to navigate Windows 8. Unfortunately, as mentioned, the touchpad doesn't offer some of Windows 8's most important gestures, such as swiping in from the left and back to bring up the running apps screen.
When you boot into Windows 8, you're first presented with the Modern UI, or Start screen, from which you get access to the majority of your applications in the guise of customizable Live Tiles.
Apps are broken down into two sections. That first, Windows 8 apps, includes Internet Explorer, Mail, Weather, News Desktop and Store, among others. The second set of apps, on the right, gives you access to Toshiba's apps package, including Toshiba Support, iHeartRadio, Netflix, The Encyclopedia Britannica and more.
Swiping down from the top of the touchpad brings up the All Apps menu at the bottom of the screen. From here, you can open any of the U845W's programs, as well as add apps to the Modern UI menu. Swiping from the right side of the touchpad will bring up the Windows 8 Charms menu, from which you can access the Search, Start, Devices and Settings menus.
To access the Desktop menu, open the desktop app from the Modern UI and you'll be brought to a Windows 7-style interface. There's one major difference: The Start button has been replaced by an Internet Explorer button.
As of this writing, Microsoft's Windows Store currently offers more than 3,400 apps, which is small, but should begin to explode quickly when Windows 8 officially hits the market. Open the store from the Modern UI and you'll be met with categories such as Top Free Apps, New Releases, Spotlight Apps, Toshiba Picks, Games, Social and more.
Early Windows 8 adopters will, however, notice a lack of top-tier apps from the likes of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Gmail. There were also some noticeable absences from the Games section, including "Angry Birds." Fortunately, we were able to find other titles, such as "Cut the Rope," "Fruit Ninja" and "Age of Empires Online."
Toshiba has gone relatively lightly on the bloatware this time around, adding just a few of its own applications to the U845W, including Toshiba Central, which gives you access to the notebook's User Guide, how-to videos and other helpful menus. Other apps include Toshiba's Book Place, and eReader and book store, as well as Toshiba's App Place app store. Security software is limited to a 30-day free trial of Symantec's Norton Internet Security.
The Satellite U845W's left side features two USB 3.0 ports, an Ethernet port and a Kensington lock slot. The right side includes a third USB 3.0 port, full-size HDMI port, power port and microphone and headphone jacks. Up front, along the front edge, you'll find the U845W's SD card slot.
With its 1-megapixel webcam, the Satellite U845W-S430 shot photos at a resolution of 1280 x 800. Those images, however, had a significant amount of artifacts and were rather grainy. Videos shot using the webcam were also fairly grainy. Despite that, colors were accurate and the cam managed bright light sources with ease.
After streaming a Hulu video at full screen for 15 minutes, the U845W's keyboard measured just 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Its touchpad remained similarly cool, reaching just 80 degrees. The notebook's underside reached 89 degrees. Temperatures below 95 degrees are considered comfortable.
Equipped with a 1.7-GHz dual-core Intel Core i5-3317U processor, 6GB of RAM and an intel Graphics HD 4000 integrated graphics chip, the Satellite U845W-S430 turned in impressive performance numbers. On the PCMark 7 benchmark, the Satellite U845W registered a score of 4,170. That's better than the HP Envy 4-1030US (1.7-GHz Core i5-3317U, 4GB of RAM and Intel Graphics HD 4000 graphics chip), which scored 3,836, as well as the thin and light category average of 2,709.
A 500GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive with a 32GB SSD cache helped the U845W boot into Windows 8 in 19 seconds flat. That's a ridiculously fast boot time, especially when you consider that the HP Envy 4 booted Windows 7 in 31 seconds and the thin-and-light category average is 50 seconds.
The Toshiba's hard drives also gave it a leg up in our LAPTOP File Transfer test, duplicating 5GB of multimedia files in 1 minute and 45 seconds, a rate of 48.4 MBps. The HP Envy 4, with its 500GB 5,400-rpm hard drive and 32GB SSD, averaged 31.4 MBps, while the category average is 40 MBps.
The Satellite U845W isn't exactly built for serious gaming, but its integrated Intel Graphics HD 4000 GPU can handle some light action. On the 3DMark11 graphics benchmark, the Satellite U845W-S430 came in with a below average score of 611. While that's higher than the HP Envy's score of 562, it's lower than the category average of 769.
While playing "World of Warcraft" with set the graphics to Good and the resolution turned to 1366 x 768, we were able to fly through Azeroth at a healthy clip of 38 frames per second. When we pumped up the resolution to the U845W's native 1792 x 768, we noted a slight frame rate reduction to 32 fps.
When we turned up the graphics to Ultra and set the resolution to 1366 x 768, however, the Satellite U845W's performance began to suffer, managing just 13 fps. Frame rates remained averaged 14 fps when we bumped the resolution to native.
Our Toshiba's 4-cell 54Wh battery lasted 6 hours and 28 minutes on our LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuously surfing the Web via Wi-Fi with the display brightness set to 40 percent. While that time is better than the HP Envy 4-1030US (6:18), it's just shy of the category average of 6 hours and 29 minutes. However, the Satellite U845W-S410 we reviewed back in July lasted an impressive 7:01.
Configurations and Warranty
Toshiba currently offers seven different versions of the Satellite U845W. Our $1,085 U845W-S430 runs Windows 8 and came packed with a 1.7-GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, 6GB of RAM, an Intel graphics chip, as well as a 500GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive and 32GB SSD. The top-of-the-line model (U845W-S414P) costs $1,564, and has an Intel Core i7-3517U processor, 6GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. These are the same specs as the $1,499 U845W-S415 and 44, but, as a "built for business" model, it comes with several upgrade options, remote manageability and Windows 7 Professional.
The Satellite U845W-S430 comes with a one-year standard limited warranty.
Like its Windows 7 predecessor, the $1,085 Toshiba Satellite U845W-S430 has a beautiful 14.4-inch wide-screen display and classy design. And with a powerful Core i5 processor and 6GB of RAM, the U845W was able to push past the competition in our performance tests. However, it's held back slightly by its mediocre keyboard. Unless you're a dedicated cinemaphile, we suggest waiting for other, less expensive nontouch-screen Windows 8 notebooks to hit the market.