As for the keyboard, it isn't a bad effort - it has an excellent layout and the key actions are okay - but Toshiba hasn't solved the flex that was evident from our previous review. All keyboards have some level of flex to them, but the U500 suffers more noticeably than most and it does have a negative effect on typing, which feels more cumbersome as a result.
Happily the touchpad holds no such gremlins. It's just fine on all counts. Connectivity is also a strong suit, with every conceivable option squeezed into the relatively small chassis. This includes an eSATA and USB combo port, which also offers standby power for charging mobile devices on the move. This is joined by a further two USB ports, HDMI, VGA, two audio jacks (1x headphone, 1x mic) and a 54mm ExpressCard.
A memory card reader is also present on the front, as is a hardware switch for the wireless radios. We were a little disappointed to see that Toshiba has reverted to a standard tray-loading DVD drive over the slot-loading one from before, though. It just doesn't look as good. Keyboard backlighting is another feature that's been sacrificed.
Never fear, though, because you do get that multi-touch screen. From a functional point of view the touch element of the screen works extremely well, much better than we'd anticipated in fact. It's both sensitive and accurate, responding well to our finger prods even where the Windows interface doesn't lend itself well to finger operation.
Unfortunately we're at a loss as to what to use it for. At least on a Tablet PC it makes some kind of sense, but without a rotating hinge it seems a bit pointless. Worst still, not content with making the screen incredibly thick, the touch layer also does a number on the brightness and colours produced by the 1,280 x 800 resolution screen. Consequently video and photos look rather dull on the U500, though Toshiba has at least resisted the urge to add a glossy, reflective finish.
While not up to the standards of some of Toshiba's larger, more entertainment orientated laptops, the speakers on the U500 still pack a decent punch. Bass isn't prodigious (to say the least), but there's plenty of clarity and volume for a small laptop and should do the job in most instances. We've heard a lot worse on similar laptops.