An innovative screen but, with limited benefits and niggles elsewhere, it’s little more than a sideshow.
The desktop wallpaper on Toshiba’s latest laptop claims the firm is “leading innovation” and, for once, this might be more than marketing hyperbole. In a world where it’s hard to distinguish between hordes of identikit Ultrabooks, the Toshiba Satellite U840W stands apart.
Rather than including a 16:9 screen, as used by almost every other laptop on the market, this machine has a 21:9 panel with a resolution of 1792 x 768 spread across its 14.4in diagonal.
It’s strikingly different, and it’s a design aimed specifically at those keen on watching movies on their laptops. But that isn’t the only advantage. When working on the laptop, we appreciated the option to have two documents lined up side by side. It makes up for the lack of vertical space, which caused us to spend more time scrolling than we would on 16:9 screens.
Critically, though, image quality is lacking. The gamma level of 1.9 is close to the ideal of 1.8 and a colour temperature measurement of 6348K isn’t far enough away from the 6500K ideal to cause concern. Brightness is fine at 344cd/m2, too, but viewing angles aren’t great, and the contrast ratio of 232:1 is low. This means movie scenes lack punch and depth.
This is a shame, since the U840W-107 is certainly striking. The wristrest, lid and base are all covered with soft, textured material, and the rest of the machine is clad in brushed metal. We have a few complaints about build quality – there’s a little give in both screen and base, and the Toshiba is a little chunkier than rivals at 20mm thick and 1.7kg in weight – but that’s about it.
The backlit keyboard makes a good first impression, too, but soon disappoints. The base is bouncy and the keys don’t have enough travel for comfortable typing. Toshiba has opted for extra-wide keys rather than a number pad; we found this made it tricky to get to grips with.
At least the trackpad is good: smooth and responsive, with a firm click and a pair of comfortable buttons built into its bottom corners. And the Harman Kardon speakers are among the loudest we’ve heard on a laptop.
Processing power comes from an Intel Core i5-3317U. This is an Ivy Bridge part, which sounds good, but in fact it’s the weakest mobile Core i5 chip in Intel’s current range. Its twin cores run at 1.7GHz, and they delivered a benchmark score of 0.62. That’s on a par with the Asus Zenbook but behind the 13in MacBook Air, which scored 0.68. Battery life stretches to 6hrs 57mins in our light-use test, which for an Ultrabook isn’t that impressive.
The rest of the Toshiba’s specification fits the Ultrabook blueprint. There’s a 32GB SSD used for caching, and a 500GB mechanical hard disk for the donkey work. Six gigabytes of RAM comes as standard, and connectivity is handled by 10/100 Ethernet and single-band 802.11n Wi-Fi. And, of course, there’s no optical drive, denting this laptop’s movie-watching credentials.
One thing the low-power processor does have going for it is Intel’s HD Graphics 4000 chipset. It helped the Toshiba to a score of 34fps in our Low quality Crysis benchmark. That figure dropped by only two frames when we ran the benchmark at the screen’s native resolution.
Toshiba’s U840W-107 packs in plenty for $1499, with a wide screen, distinctive chassis and beefy speakers. But there isn’t quite enough quality on show for our liking: the screen isn’t punchy enough, the keyboard is disappointing, and performance is middling. Unless you desperately want the unique, super-wide screen, we’d opt for a 13in MacBook Air instead.