In search of a back to school laptop that can handle both your class work and some gaming in your downtime? Toshiba's Satellite S55t-A5277 may be just what you're looking for. This 15.6-inch touch-screen notebook features a powerful Intel Core i7 processor, 12GB of RAM, an Nvidia GeForce 740M graphics chip with 2GB of RAM and a massive 1TB of hard drive space. At $989, though, this laptop won't leave much room in your back to school budget for anything else. Then again, the Satellite S55t might just be worth it.
Toshiba has put quite a bit of work into sprucing up its notebooks for the back to school season, and the Satellite S55t is no different. Like its sibling the Satellite P55t, the S55t sports Toshiba's new Skyline design language, the primary focus of which is to afford Toshiba's notebooks a more refined look. That starts with the Satellite S55t's Ice Silver-colored brushed aluminum lid. Adorned with a chrome Toshiba logo in the bottom right corner, the lid's appearance is sleek and understated.
Open the lid and that brushed aluminum design continues to the laptop's spacious and comfortable wrist rest. Above that is the notebook's glossy black plastic keyboard deck. A thin silver speaker grille adds some character to the inside of the notebook, while an edge-to-edge glass display lends the laptop an air of elegance.
MORE: Best Laptops 2013
Measuring 14.9 x 9.6 x 1.2 inches and weighing 5.4 pounds, the Toshiba Satellite S55t-A5277 is both smaller and lighter than the Acer Aspire V5-571PG-9814, which measures 15.4 x 9.9 x 0.96 inches and weighs 5.6 pounds.
For a notebook that has such a powerful processor and graphics chip, the Satellite S55t's display sure is a letdown. At 15.6 inches the S55t's TruBrite 10-finger touch-screen display sports a middling resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels. When a notebook is priced well north of $900, a display with a resolution less than 1600 x 900 is a nonstarter.
Images and videos such as a trailer for "The Wolverine" were a bit pixelated, while colors appeared dull and washed out. The low resolution also means you don't get the kind of desktop screen real estate offered by notebooks with higher resolution displays. Similarly, games suffer from a lower image quality and lose out on the kind of minute details that make them look great.
We were also let down by the S55t's extremely low display brightness, which measured just 115 lux. That said, the Acer Aspire V5's display, which also sports a 1366 x 768 resolution, barely outshined the S55t with a brightness rating of 121 lux. Those scores are nowhere near the mainstream notebook category average of 208 lux.
Further affecting the Satellite's display are its poor viewing angles. While playing the aforementioned trailer for "The Wolverine," colors became distorted and eventually inverted when viewed on an angle.
The Satellite S55t's Harman Kardon speakers situated just above the keyboard offered exceptional sound quality, though we would prefer if it offered louder bass. While listening to Kanye West's "Blood on the Leaves," we could easily make out each note produced by the synthesizer, but bass hits sounded a bit too flat. Rock songs, however, sounded clear and accurate, allowing us to hear every note without issue. The included DTS Sound Studio software lets users increase bass and treble output, as well as select between surround or 3D sound settings.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Thanks to its relatively large footprint, the Toshiba Satellite S55t-A5277 has a full-size keyboard and number pad. The frameless, backlit keyboard's plastic keys offered sufficient tactile feedback, as well as a satisfying tapping noise when pressed. We were especially thankful for the reversed function keys situated along the keyboard's top row. On the Ten Thumbs Typing test, we scored an average of 86 words per minute with a 2 percent error rate, a personal best. That's well above our usual 76 word-per-minute average.
The Satellite S55t's 4.5 x 2.6-inch Synaptics touchpad offered spot-on accuracy. Windows 8 and multitouch gestures were smooth and easy to use. Still, we took issue with how needlessly complicated Toshiba made it to enable the twist-to-rotate gesture. In order to activate it, you have to open the touchpad's settings, check the box next to rotating, then enter a submenu to select enable twist to rotate.
Ports and Webcam
Toshiba equipped the Satellite S55t with a number of connection ports and jacks. On the right side are two USB 3.0 ports, a full-size HDMI port, a VGA port and headphone and microphone jacks. On the left side is a single USB 2.0 port that supports Sleep and Charge and Sleep and Music. The former allows you to charge your USB devices using your notebook even when it's powered down. The later lets you listen to music stored on your smartphone when the notebook is turned off. The notebook's left side also plays host to an Ethernet jack and a SuperMulti DVD drive, as well as the power adapter. Up along the notebooks front lip is its multimedia card reader.
Images and videos shot using the Satellite S55t's 0.9-megapixel camera were grainy and lacked any significant details. Wrinkles and lines in our subject's face were difficult to make out and colors were off. A red and white striped shirt, for example, looked brighter than it actually was, with reds appearing pink and off-white's looking white.
After streaming a 1080p Hulu video for 15 minutes, the Satellite S55t-A5227's touchpad topped out at a relatively cool 75.5 degrees Fahrenheit. The keyboard, meanwhile, reached just 78 degrees, while the notebook's underside hit 82 on the thermometer. The highest temperature we recorded was a 94.5 degrees spot below the large cooling vent on the notebook's right side. We consider temperatures of 95 degrees and lower to be comfortable.
Packed with a fourth-generation 2.4-GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-4700MQ processor, 12GB of RAM, an Nvidia GeForce 740M graphics chip with Optimus technology and a 1TB, 5,400-rpm hard drive, the Satellite S55t is a portable powerhouse. To test the Toshiba's real-world performance, we opened 12 tabs in Google Chrome, streamed a video over Netflix and ran a Norton PC Checkup, and didn't notice a hint of system slowdown.
On the PCMark7 benchmark, which tests a laptop's overall performance, the Satellite S55t-A5277 scored a 4,842. That's far better than the 2,566 scored by the Acer Aspire V5-571PG-9814 and its 2.0-GHz dual-core Intel Core i7-3537U processor, 8GB, 1TB hard drive and Nvidia GeForce GT 710M graphics processor with Optimus technology. The mainstream notebook category average, meanwhile, came in at 2,949.
On Geekbench, another benchmark that tests a notebook's overall performance, the Satellite S55t pulled down a score of 8,238, easily topping the category average of 6,769, as well as the Acer Aspire V5's score of 6,913.
Despite the fact that it comes with a relatively slow 1TB 5,400-rpm hard drive, the Toshiba Satellite S55t-A5277 managed to boot in a lightning-fast 13 seconds. That's better than the Acer Aspire V5's boot time of 31 seconds, and well ahead of the category average of 38 seconds.
Where the Satellite S55t's hard drive becomes a pain is when you want to move data. It took the S55t 2 minutes and 52 seconds to complete the LAPTOP File Transfer Test, copying 4.97GB of mixed media files, at a rate of 29.5 MBps. And while that's better than the Acer Aspire V5's transfer rate of 16.6 MBps, it's far slower than the mainstream notebook category average of 43 MBps.
The star of the show, the Satellite S55t's 2.4-GHz quad-core Core i7 processor, was lights out on our GeekBench test, taking just 4 minutes and 23 seconds to match 20,000 names to their corresponding addresses. The Core i7-equipped Acer Aspire V5-571PG-9814 finished the test in 4:47, while the average mainstream notebook ran through the test in 5:47
Toshiba isn't messing around when it comes to the Satellite S55t's graphics performance. Packed with an Nvidia GeForce 740M graphics processor with 2GB of RAM and Optimus technology, the S55t scored an impressive 1,987 on the 3DMark11 benchmark. The Acer Aspire V5 could muster a score of only 1,209. The category average was a bit higher, but still well off the Toshiba's mark, with a score of 1,302.
The S55t's performance came in handy during gaming sessions, too. While playing "World of Warcraft" with the settings on autodetect and the resolution at 1366 x 768, we saw average frame rates of 92 frames per second. Kick up the graphics to max and frame rates held solid at 54 fps. That's much higher than the Acer Aspire V5's 36 fps, as well as the category average of 37 fps.
MORE: Best Gaming Laptop 2013
On the significantly more taxing "Bioshock Infinite," we saw frame rates as high as 45 fps with the graphics on low and the resolution at 1366 x 768. Turn the graphics all the way up, however, and the Toshiba hits a wall, with frame rates plummeting to just 16 fps. Still, the only laptops out there that can handle playing a game like "BioShock Infinite" with the graphics set to high are those made specifically for gaming.
If the Toshiba Satellite S55t-A5277 has one major flaw, it is battery life. The laptop's lithium-ion battery lasted just 4 hours and 20 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous Web surfing with the display brightness set to 40 percent. And while that may be better than the Acer Aspire V5's pitiful 3:29, it's still well off the category average of 5:35.
Software and Warranty
One of the most annoying thing laptop makers do is load down your brand-new notebook with a ton of bloatware. Unfortunately, Toshiba has done just that. The company hits you with its Toshiba App Place store, the Toshiba Book Place store, the Toshiba Start news app, Toshiba Video Player and Toshiba Media Player. The apps aren't necessarily bad, but they do duplicate a few of Windows 8's built-in apps such as News. We did, however, find the Toshiba Desktop Assist rather useful as it gives you access to several important system settings in one convenient place.
In addition to first-party apps, Toshiba has loaded the Satellite S55t-A5277 with myriad third-party apps, including Amazon, EA's Origin gaming service, Ebay, Evernote Touch, Netflix, StumbleUpon, Vimeo and the WildTangent game console.
Toshiba offers customers who purchase a Satellite S55t-A5277 a one-year warranty on parts and labor.
Our Satellite S55t-A5277 comes equipped with a 2.4-GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-4700MQ processor, 12GB of RAM, a 1TB 5,400-rpm hard drive and an Nvidia GeForce 740M with 2GB of RAM and Optimus technology for $989. If you're looking for something a bit more affordable, and are willing to sacrifice the power, you can grab a Satellite S50-ABT2N22 for $579. That notebook comes with a 1.9-GHz dual-core Intel Core i3-3227U processor, 8GB of RAM, a 750GB 5,400-rpm hard drive and integrated graphics chip.
Looking for more power? You can always customize your Satellite to include a 1.7-GHz Intel Core i7-4700MQ processor, 16GB of RAM, a 1TB hard drive and an 8GB hybrid drive, Nvidia GeForce 740M with Optimus technology, a Blu-ray writer and touch-screen display, all for $1,389.
The $989 Toshiba Satellite S55t-A5277 is a gorgeous powerhouse of a laptop that can not only handle your most intense class work, but also lets you blow off steam with some of the hottest PC games. Unfortunately, its dim, low-resolution display belies its high price, while its anemic battery life makes it less than portable. If you're willing to use a less powerful system, you can opt for the $699 Acer Aspire M5-583P-6428, which has a slightly slower processor but longer battery life. But if you simply want an attractive laptop with major horsepower and great sound, the Toshiba Satellite S55t-A5277 could be for you.