Sunday, 23 December 2012

Review: Toshiba Satellite U840W

Take a walk on the wide side with Toshiba's Ultrabook.
Toshiba has always been one to push the envelope when it comes to notebooks - the company was one of the first to release ultra-thin notebooks (Portege R100) years before Ultrabooks (or Apple's MacBook Air) ever saw the light of day.
The Satellite U840W is another one of these - instead of thin, however, this Ultrabook goes wide.
While most notebooks go for a 16:9 aspect ratio, the U840W goes even wider, going for a 21:9 aspect ratio that's wider than anything out there.
Why 21:9, you ask? Well, the reason is that the U840W is made to be a media player, with a screen that will fit the anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) aspect ratio of some movies.
In fact, many of of the U840W's features are skewed towards making it a mean movie-watching machine - for example, the speakers are high-quality Harman Kardon - with one notable exception that I will get into later in the review.
Wide and proud of it
THIN IS IN: Being an Ultrabook, the Toshiba Satellite U840W is relatively thin and light.THIN IS IN: Being an Ultrabook, the Toshiba Satellite U840W is relatively thin and light.
Anyone looking over my shoulder when I turn on the Satellite U840W will immediately notice the unusually wide screen. Indeed, the screen is the most prominent feature of this Ultrabook.
The width of the screen means that the resolution is a little odd - at 1792 x 768-pixels, the aspect ratio definitely takes some getting used to when you're not watching movies.
For example, when viewed fullscreen, webpages look like they have too much space at the side and not enough vertically.
However, it's actually not too bad if you open two windows side by side, although the amount of text that can be viewed vertically is still quite limited.
Toshiba actually has a small utility called the Split Screen that integrates into the toolbar to quickly resize your Windows into a 2/3 and 1/3 split, similar to how Windows 8 displays two screens at once in the Windows 8 Modern UI.
This differs from the normal Windows 7 behaviour where dragging a window to the far left or right of the screen will resize the window to fill half the screen.
The keyboard is well-spaced and chiclet style, although the key travel could be better.
There are three USB 3.0 ports on the device, and like most Toshiba notebooks, one of the USB ports is a Sleep & Charge port, which allows you to charge your smartphone or other USB devices even when the notebook is off.
The touchpad is large, clickable and supports some multi-touch features like two-finger scrolling.
The whole thing is done up in an understated, dark brown and dark brushed metallic finish which looks quite good.
Movie maestro
The U840W's primary function is as a media player and as such, it fulfils this function quite well.
I tested the notebook by playing back a variety of HD content and it handled them all without a hiccup.
The audio from the Harmon Kardon speakers are particularly notable. The audio is loud and bass is good, and because the speakers are spaced on either side of the keyboard, the stereo soundstaging is pretty good as well.
My one complaint is that the screen is a TN (Twisted Nematic) panel, which means that viewing angles are not that great vertically - tilt the screen even a little further backwards and the screen becomes almost unviewable.
USEFUL: The keys on the Toshiba Satellite U840W are backlit.USEFUL: The keys on the Toshiba Satellite U840W are backlit.
Since the U840W is meant to be a media player, it would have made more logical sense for Toshiba to go for an IPS LCD panel which has much better colour fidelity and viewing angles.
Battery life is very good though and I managed to play movies back to back for about four hours (with backlight set to reasonable levels) before the low battery warning flashed.
For surfing webpages and watching a bit of video, you can probably stretch it to about five or six hours.
You have to hand it Toshiba for trying something different with this Ultrabook - the ultra widescreen aspect ratio is actually quite good when you use it for watching anamorphic widescreen movies.
As a productivity tool, it's about the same as any Ultrabook in its class. It has pretty decent battery life and is powerful enough for most productivity applications out there.
SLEEK: The Toshiba Satellite U840W's brushed metal finish looks very elegant.SLEEK: The Toshiba Satellite U840W's brushed metal finish looks very elegant.
However, no talk of productivity apps would be complete without mentioning that the 21:9 aspect ratio of the U840W does affect how much information you can see vertically, which means most documents, etc. won't feel as comfortable to look at on the screen.
Pros: The 21:9 aspect ratio is great for watching movies; Harman Kardon speakers are great; good battery life.
Cons: Aspect ratio is not great for Internet browsing and word processing; TN panel has very limited viewing angles.
Satellite U840W
PROCESSOR: Intel Core i5-3317U (1.7GHz)
DISPLAY: 14.4in (1,792 x 768-pixels) LED back-lit
GRAPHICS: Intel HD Graphics 4000
CONNECTIVITY: WiFi 802.11b/g/n, 10/100/1000 Ethernet port, Bluetooth 4.0
PORTS/SLOTS: Three USB 3.0 ports, SD card, HDMI, headphone/microphone combo jack
BATTERY: 54-watt 4-cell
OPERATING SYSTEM: Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
OTHER FEATURES: Built-in webcam, backlit keyboard
DIMENSIONS (W X D X H): 9.4 x 4.31 x 2.8cm
WEIGHT: 1.59kg
PRICE: RM3,999
- The Star

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