Those in the market for a portable Windows 8 notebook for less than a grand are spoiled by all the great choices these days. Toshiba's $699 Satellite E45t Ultrabook (a Best Buy exclusive) offers a 14-inch touch screen, an Intel Core i5 CPU, a 750GB hard drive, a 32GB SSD cache and nifty Dragon Assistant voice software in a sleek, sturdy package. Is the Satellite E45t the Ultrabook for you?
Covered in silver aluminum with a brushed metal finish, the Toshiba Satellite E45t-A4300 Ultrabook sports a premium look. As with many of Toshiba's recent notebooks, the E45t features the company's "Skyline" design, with rounded corners toward the rear, and more squared corners toward the front of the system. A shiny, chrome Toshiba logo adorns the bottom left of the lid, and the underside is encased in black plastic.
Inside, the laptop's black, island-style keyboard is housed in a dark-gray aluminum deck, with a round, fingertip-size power button on the top right. The touchpad is centered beneath the keyboard's G and H keys, surrounded by a brushed metal palm rest.
At 13.4 x 9.2 x 0.8 inches and 4.4 pounds, the E45t is just a bit smaller but heavier than such competing Ultrabooks as the Lenovo IdeaPad U430 Touch (13.9 x 9.1 x 0.82 inches, 4 pounds) and the Dell Inspiron 14 7000 (13.6 x 9.4 x 0.6 inches, 3.8 pounds).
The Satellite E45t's 14-inch 1366 x 768-pixel TFT display delivered mediocre visuals. When we watched a 1080p trailer for "The Avengers," the Hulk's green skin and Iron Man's red-and-gold armor looked somewhat washed-out, blacks weren't deep and there was visual noise in darker areas. Viewing angles were narrow, with images washing out once we moved beyond 45 degrees to either side. We also found that we had to tilt the display about 30 degrees past vertical -- farther than we would like -- in order to see the truest colors.
On the bright side, graphics in games such as "Bejeweled 3" and "Dragon's Blade" looked rich. We enjoyed the vibrant orange and yellow flames surrounding special gems in "Bejeweled 3."
Although it was adequately bright to our eyes, the E45t sports a dimmer display than competing Ultrabooks. Registering 149 lux on our brightness meter, the E45t was outshone by the Lenovo IdeaPad U430 Touch (163 lux) and the Dell Inspiron 14 7000 (178 lux), and also scored lower than the thin-and-light notebook category average (211 lux). Additionally, the IdeaPad U430 Touch sports a sharper 1600 x 900p display, while the Inspiron 14 7000 boasts a full-HD (1920 x 1080p) screen.
However, the E45t's 10-point touch screen was responsive. Gestures worked well, including pinch to zoom, swiping back and forth to navigate Web pages in Internet Explorer and swiping up to view all apps. The laptop's sturdy hinge offered adequate resistance to our pokes, only budging slightly when we used more force than usual.
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The E45t's DTS Studio Sound speakers were good, but not great. We played "Oh Come, Emmanuel" by Lindsey Stirling and Kuha'o Case at full volume, and though the music was loud enough to fill a medium-size conference room, violin and piano notes sounded canned and hollow. When we listened to "Let Her Go" by Passenger, Mike Rosenberg's crooning vocals echoed oddly.
Toshiba's Audio Source Filtering app lets you prioritize voices or background sounds using a slider bar. Although placing the bar on the left for Voice Enhancement made Rosenberg's voice clearer and louder, we lost most of the accompanying instruments, and setting the dial to Background Sound Enhancement caused the vocals to disappear into the music.
Dolby's DTS Studio Sound program lets you add bass boost and surround sound, as well as control your device's output with an equalizer. We played around with the Dolby app but found no significant difference in the music.
To test the device's speaker volume, we played a tone at max volume and measured it from 13 inches away. The E45t notched 73 decibels -- softer than the thin-and-light category average (83 dB), the IdeaPad U430 Touch (90 dB) and the Inspiron 14 7000 (75 dB).
Keyboard and Touchpad
The island-style keyboard on the E45t is large and comfortably spaced. While there was adequate feedback, we wish the keys had deeper travel. We liked the dedicated row of Function keys at the top, which let you adjust brightness, volume, playback and connectivity settings with one tap.
On the Ten Thumbs Typing Test, we typed an average of 78 words per minute on the E45t -- better than our desktop average of 74 wpm. Error rates were the same at 1 percent on both desktop and the E45t. The bright, even LED backlighting under the keyboard times out after 15 seconds of inactivity but comes back to life once you hit any key.
Measuring 4.2 x 2.6 inches, the touchpad on the E45t is spacious and responsive. Windows 8 gestures worked like a charm; we easily swiped in from the left edge to toggle through our open apps, and scrolled through websites with two fingers.
After 15 minutes of streaming a full-screen Hulu video, the space between the G and H keys measured 77 degrees Fahrenheit, while the touchpad registered just 71 degrees -- cooler than the thin-and-light category averages of 85 and 80 degrees, respectively. The bottom of the notebook also measured a lap-friendly 87 degrees, well under our comfort threshold of 95 degrees.
The HD camera on the E45t took dull, grainy pictures. Our bright-pink planner and fluorescent-green iPhone 5c appeared to be in pastel tones, and there was prominent pixelation on our ribbed, green sweater and along our hairline.
You'll find plenty of connectivity options on the Satellite E45t. Two USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port and an Ethernet port line the laptop's right side, while the left edge houses a power jack, USB 2.0 port, 3.5mm combination audio jack and a memory-card reader.
With a fourth-generation 1.6-GHz Intel Core i5-4200U processor with 6GB of RAM, the E45t delivered zippy performance. We played a round of "Dragon's Blade" without lag while apps such as Evernote Touch, Windows Store, Bejeweled, Internet Explorer, Video Player and Gallery were open. Switching between apps and the Modern screen was instantaneous as we repeatedly pressed the Windows button on the keyboard.
The Satellite E45t did similarly well on performance benchmark PCMark 7. Its score of 4,316 is better than the average thin-and-light notebook (3,460), the IdeaPad U430 Touch (3,785) and the Inspiron 14 7000 (2,771). Both the IdeaPad and the Inspiron pack the same CPU as the Toshiba and carry 4GB and 6GB of RAM, respectively.
On Geekbench 3, the E45t notched 4,963, which is lower than the category average of 6,021 and the Inspiron (5,048) but higher than the IdeaPad (4,739).
The E45t's 750GB 5,400rpm SATA hard drive, which is complemented by a 32GB SSD cache, booted Windows 8.1 in 21 seconds. That's faster than the average thin-and-light notebook (29 seconds) and the Dell Inspiron 14 (23 seconds). However, the IdeaPad U430 Touch booted in just 16 seconds.
Copying 4.97GB of mixed-media files in 2 minutes and 31 seconds, the E45t's transfer rate of 28.1 MBps is less than half the category average of 60 MBps, and slower than the IdeaPad U430 Touch (29 MBps) and the Inspiron 14 7000 (30 MBps).
The Satellite E45t did well on our OpenOffice Test, matching 20,000 names and addresses in 5 minutes and 20 seconds. That's almost a full minute faster than the average (6:18) but a tad slower than the IdeaPad (5:11) and the Inspiron (5:18).
Graphics and Gaming
Packing an Intel Mobile HD graphics chip, the E45t fared pretty well on various tests. Its 3DMark Ice Storm score of 34,306 was better than the performance of the IdeaPad U430 Touch (29,623) and Inspiron 14 7000 (33,494), both of which are powered by Intel's Integrated HD Graphics 4400. The thin-and-light category average is a higher 42,006.
When we played "World of Warcraft" with all three notebooks set to 1366 x 768 pixels and effects on Autodetect, the E45t averaged a playable 36 frames per second. That showing is worse than the Inspiron 14 7000 (46 fps), but slightly better than the IdeaPad (35 fps).
With the settings bumped up to Ultra, the E45t mustered an unplayable 19 fps.
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The Satellite E45t's 3-cell lithium-polymer battery will last you an entire workday on a charge. Clocking 8 hours and 6 minutes on LAPTOP's battery test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi), the E45t beat the thin-and-light category average (6:44) and the Inspiron 14 7000 (7:09). The IdeaPad U430 Touch provided 20 more minutes of juice (8:26).
Programs that ship with the Satellite E45t include the standard suite of Windows 8 apps, such as Internet Explorer 10, Skype, People, SkyDrive and XBox Games. Toshiba also throws in a one-month trial of Office 365 for new customers, a 30-day Norton Anti-Theft trial, a 12-month subscription to Norton AntiVirus and the WildTangent Game Console.
You also get an array of Toshiba apps, such as App Place (app store), Book Place (e-book store), Maintenance Utility, Media Player, Recovery Disk Creator, Password Utility and Service Station.
Nuance Dragon Assistant
Toshiba also packed Nuance's voice-control software Dragon Assistant into the E45t, so you can use a Siri-like program to search the Web, compose tweets or messages, and check your various accounts. After about 10 minutes of setup and calibration, we were ready to start using voice controls on our E45t. Greeting the computer with "Hello, Dragon" activates the program.
The software's effectiveness depends on the amount of noise around you. In a lively, open office, we asked the E45t several times to "Open Camera," to no avail. Dragon either did not register our request or misheard it. We said, "Shut Down Computer," and Dragon returned Hulu results for "Calculator shut down computer."
Dragon was much more accurate and responsive in a quiet office, letting us open Internet Explorer, the calculator and other programs. Having Dragon Assistant is a nice touch if your hands are occupied but requires plenty of refinement to make it more useful.
Configurations and Warranty
Our review unit of the Toshiba Satellite E45t (A4300) is a Best Buy exclusive and sports 6GB of RAM; a 750GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive with a 32GB SSD cache; and an Intel Core i5-4200 processor, all for $699.
A second configuration, E45t-AST2N01 -- available on Toshiba's site for $779 -- has 8GB of RAM; a 1TB, 5,400-rpm hard drive with a 32GB SSD disk cache; and the same Intel Core i5-4200U CPU.
The Satellite E45t comes with a one-year limited warranty each for parts and labor.
For $699, the Toshiba Satellite E45t Ultrabook is a capable and attractive Windows 8 thin-and-light notebook. It offers brisk performance, long battery life and a responsive touch screen. Our biggest qualm is this notebook's lackluster display. For $20 less, we prefer the Lenovo IdeaPad U430 Touch. That system offers a higher-resolution display, longer battery life and an even better keyboard. Still, the Toshiba E45t is a stylish, thin and light notebook with enough power and juice to last you the day.