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Toshiba Satellite U400-189 - 13.3in Notebook - Toshiba Satellite U400-189
Beyond the basics the U400 also continues to impress. Unlike the Samsung R522 we looked at recently, it boasts both Draft-N Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.0 and though Ethernet is only of the 10/100 variety (i.e. not the fastest), this shouldn't pose a problem for the majority of home users. After all, when you're around the home with a laptop, it's all about being wireless, isn't it?
Connectivity is also very good. You get three USB ports, one of which moonlights as an eSATA port. They're all powered, too, so you can plug your mobile phones and other USB devices to charge them, without having to turn your notebook on. In addition, you'll find HDMI and VGA outputs, a 54mm ExpressCard slot, a mini-Firewire port, Ethernet and even a modem port - something we see less and less of these days. Finally, on the front, there's a memory card reader, a wheel-style volume control and a hardware switch for the wireless radios.
Indeed the only potential banana skin in hardware terms is the Intel integrated graphics, but gaming is hardly a big priority for a machine such as this, while battery life is - something integrated graphics most certainly enhances. Moreover, at this price point, it's pretty much impossible to find a notebook of this size that can offer anything perceptibly better, rendering any complaints effectively moot.
So let's return to more tangible issues, such as the keyboard and our continued love-hate relationship with it. Indeed, it really is a Jekyll & Hyde affair. On the plus side, it sports an excellent layout; among the best for a notebook of its size. Everything is the right size and where you'd expect it, with a smart dividing line between the top line of numeric keys and the F1 to F12 keys above. Likewise, the cursor keys are intelligently withdrawn, avoiding any potential interference, while the addition of Page Up and Down keys just below the Return key is a welcome one.
As for the keys themselves, they're pleasant to type on but don't quite match the quality of some notebooks - go find a ThinkPad to see what we mean. Unfortunately, this otherwise positive experience is let down by an alarming amount of flex through the middle of the keyboard. Some people are more sensitive to this than others, so all is not lost, but the U400 would be much better without this particular issue.
Happily, no meaningful complaint can be made of the touchpad. It's well proportioned and has a textured surface to separate it from the glossy interior around it. Likewise, the two faux-chrome buttons have a firm and positive action that makes them nice to use.