Now that almost all TVs and tablets are shaped to fit widescreen movies, why not laptops, too? That's the thinking behind the Toshiba Satellite U845W, whose 14.4-inch screen has an ultra-wide aspect ratio of 21:9. That means when you play the latest movies, it won't show the black bars on the top or bottom. The unique 1792 x 768-pixel display also makes it well-suited for road warriors who like having two documents open side by side. Better yet, its squat dimensions means you don't have to worry about the person in front of you reclining his or her airplane seat. Is this the ultimate work and play Ultrabook?
Click to EnlargeOne of the more unusual notebook designs to come along, the Satellite U845W looks like Toshiba took a 15-inch notebook, and sliced a few inches off the long end. Measuring 14.5 x 7.8 x 0.72 inches, it's as long the 15-inch Acer Aspire TimelineU M5-581TG, (14.4 x 10.1 x 0.79-0.81 inches), but much narrower. If anything, its dimensions reminded us of a legal notepad, or a supersized Sony VAIO P. While slim and light (the U845W weighs about 4 pounds), its length stretched, ever so slightly, our messenger bag.
Click to EnlargeYou'll get stares for more than just its dimensions, though. This is an attractive laptop. About two-thirds of the U845W's lid is made of a Midnight Silver brushed aluminum (which has a slightly bronze tint), and the top third is covered in a black textured rubber. The underside is coated in the same material, which makes the U845W very comfortable to carry around while closed.
Inside, the palm rest is made of the same rubberized material. Above, the keyboard deck is a bead blasted aluminum. On either side of the black keyboard are two large speakers. Overall, it's a subdued yet sophisticated look.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Click to EnlargeAs the chassis of the U845W is more squat than traditional notebooks, the island-style keyboard attempts to accommodate its unorthodox dimensions. As a result, the keys are squatter than is usual. Additionally, the keys felt a bit slippery and the key travel was sorely lacking, which resulted in more errors than we're used to making. The backlighting is a nice touch, as are the media keys along the function row, but overall, this layout just doesn't provide a comfortable typing experience.
Click to EnlargeThe 3.9 x 2.5-inch Synaptics touchpad on this Toshiba is quite spacious, and the integrated buttons are easy to press with one hand. We had no problem selecting text using our thumb and forefinger. Multitouch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom, rotate, and three-finger swipe worked well.
Of course, the star of the show is the U845W's 14.4-inch 1792 x 768-pixel display. When watching 1080p trailers for "Total Recall," "The Avengers" and other films, the glossy panel did an excellent job with whatever we threw at it. Blacks were deep and true, with no artifacts, and colors were wonderfully vibrant.
Click to EnlargeWith an average brightness of 259 lux, the U845W outshines the thin-and-light average of 202 lux, and is on a par with the Dell Inspiron 14z (254 lux). It's far better than the T13, whose screen was a relatively dim 163 lux.
One of the things that Toshiba touts with this Ultrabook's display is that the black bars on the top and bottom of movies are minimized. However, this is dependent on the movies themselves being filmed in the same 21:9 aspect ratio as the display. For example, "The Avengers" was shot in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, while "Total Recall" was filmed in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. As a result, the latter completely fills the screen, while the former has black bars on the left and right sides.
Click to EnlargeOf course, you can do more than just watch movies on the U845W. Toshiba built in a small utility designed to maximize productivity. Called Snap Screen, it allows you to snap windows to either side of the display, and automatically resize them to a size of your choosing. You can tell the feature is activated by a small icon that appears on the upper right of any active window. It takes Windows 7's Snap feature an extra step.
We found it very useful to have the text of this review open on one side, and our notes on the other side. However, text does appear a bit smaller than we'd like, especially when it came to menu items.
Half the experience of watching a movie is listening to it, which is why we were pleased that the U845W's harmon kardon speakers pumped out loud, accurate sound. Bruce Springsteen's "I'm on Fire" resonated, as did U2's "Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." There was a nice amount of bass, and trebles were clear without being distorted. Flo Rida's "Turn Around" cranked out loud enough for a small dance party, and the bass thumped.
The SRS Premium Sound 3D control panel let us tweak settings; one unique slider, called SRS Focus, redirected the sound toward the middle of the notebook, as opposed to the edges. This increased the volume, but made things sound a bit tinnier, especially higher notes.
Click to EnlargeThe left side of the U845W has an Ethernet port, as well as two USB 3.0 ports. The right side has a third USB 3.0 port, HDMI, and headphone and mic jacks. The front edge has an SD card slot.
Click to EnlargeWhile the U845W's webcam only takes pictures at a max resolution of 640 x 480, images and video were reasonably clear and well-balanced in terms of color. Our skin tones were accurate, as was the blue and white of our shirt. We did notice a bit of graininess in darker areas, though.
After streaming a Hulu video at full screen for 15 minutes, the U845W's touchpad measured 76 degrees Fahrenheit, and the space between the G and H keys was 83 degrees. Both are well below our threshold for what we consider uncomfortable--95 to 100 degrees. However, the middle of the underside reached a troubling 101 degrees.
Packing a 1.7-GHz Intel Core i5-3317U processor, 6GB of RAM, and an Intel Graphics HD 4000 GPU, the U845W turned in impressive performance numbers. On PCMark07, the U845W's score of 4,488 was comfortably above not only the thin-and-light average of 2,333, but also bested the Dell Inspiron 14z (2,984) and Sony VAIO T13 (3,334), both of which have the same CPU as the U845W.
Like the 14z, the Toshiba Satellite U845W has a 500GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive augmented with a 32GB SSD cache intended to speed up boot and wake times. As such, it booted into Windows 7 Home Premium in 29 seconds, one second slower than the 14z, but nearly twice as fast as the category average (57 seconds). It woke from sleep in about 4 seconds, about twice as long as we've seen from other Ultrabooks.
Duplicating 5GB of multimedia files took 3 minutes and 19 seconds, a rate of 25.6 MBps. That showing is a bit below the 14z and the category average, both of which are 30 MBps. The VAIO T13 notched a much lower 19MBps. When it came to matching 20,000 names and addresses in our Spreadsheet test, the U845W's time of 5:42 was slightly faster than the 14z (5:47), the T13 (5:53), as well as the category average (5:58).
Graphics and Gaming
While the U845W has an integrated Intel Graphics HD 4000 GPU, it's more than powerful enough for some moderate gaming. With the screen set to its native resolution and effects on autodetect, the U845W averaged 49 fps in "World of Warcraft." Amping up the effects to ultra dropped the rate to an unplayable 20 fps. Still, that's better than the T13, which averaged 32 and 15 fps at those same settings, but with the resolution at a lower 1366 x 768. The 14z, which has a discrete AMD Radeon HD 7570M GPU, averaged a higher 64 fps and 32 fps at those same settings.
The U845W's 3DMark11 score of 614 falls below the 14z (902) and the category average (819), but bests the T13 (456) by a comfortable margin.
Click to EnlargeThe U845W will definitelyClick to Enlargelast you through a double feature. On the LAPTOP Battery Test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi), the notebook lasted 7 hours, about a half-hour longer than the category average, 90 minutes more than the Inspiron 14z and two hours longer than the T13.
Aside from the SplitView, the U845W is loaded with Toshiba's usual suite of software and utilities, including Book Place, Video Player, Bulletin Board and ReelTime. Hi-Speed Start is intended to boot the system even faster; in practice, we found it shaved about 3 to 4 seconds off the boot time. Other utilities include PC Health Monitor,
Third-party software includes a 30-day trial subscription to Norton Internet Security 2012, and Toshiba Online Backup.
Toshiba offers six different configurations of the U845W on its site. Our model (U845W-S410), the least expensive, costs $999, and comes with an Intel Core i5-3317U processor, 6GB of RAM, a 500GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive and a 32GB SSD cache. The top-end 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.
Those looking for a cinematic experience--or simply looking to get the benefit of nearly two screens in one--will find the Toshiba Satellite U845W an intriguing option. For $999, you get a 14-inch Ultrabook with a wide, bright screen, excellent audio and seven hours of battery life. The biggest issue holding this notebook back is its mushy keyboard. We'd be a lot more willing to live with this system's wider frame if the typing experience were better.