Review Price £755.00
Toshiba Satellite U840W – Hands-on
We’ve seen a few innovations from Toshiba in the laptop market. For example, the Japanese company was first to market with a glasses-free 3D model – the Qosmio F750 - and also held the record for lightest Ultrabook for a while with its Satellite Z830.
Now it’s innovating again with a concept that’s been tried in TVs but not yet in the mobile PC sector: the 14in Toshiba Satellite U840W Ultrabook (or U845W in the US) replaces the usual 16:9 aspect ratio with a 21:9 one, also known in marketing parlance as a Cinema Wide display.
What does this mean in practical terms? For movies it helps to eliminate black bars, while for productivity it lets you comfortably have two windows open side by side. But is Toshiba’s Satellite U840W the Philips 50PFL7956H Cinema TV of the Ultrabook world or is it a screen too wide?
We were glad to see that Toshiba didn’t just modify its existing ultraportable designs by merely cramming a wider screen in. Instead, the U840W is aesthetically and ergonomically different to the crowd. This is thanks mainly to a rubberised, patterned section on the lid and completely soft-touch base, that lend an excellent grip and make this Ultrabook a real pleasure to carry. Opening the laptop up, a soft-touch palm rest area ensures it’ll be just as comfortable while typing, though this area is not quite as soft as the outer sections.
The soft-touch bits don’t hurt the Satellite U840W’s looks either. It could have ended up appearing cheap, but combined with the brushed aluminium it conveys subtle class instead, and overall makes for a very attractive proposition.
Build quality appeared pretty good throughout, except for the touchpad which felt a bit plasticky. Despite its 14.4in screen, this super-wide Ultrabook is still relatively light at 1.8kg, and retains a slim profile of just over 20mm.
Connectivity is in line with larger next-generation Ultrabooks, meaning it’s pretty good. With three USB 3.0 ports, full-size HDMI, a flip-out Gigabit Ethernet jack, individual headphone and microphone jacks, and the obligatory SD card slot, you shouldn’t be left wanting.
Like with its Satellite Z830 Ultrabook, the Satellite U840W sports a fully backlit keyboard. Toshiba hasn’t taken advantage of the laptop’s extra width to give us a full number pad, but we’re happy enough to do without since this allows room for stylish and very good-sounding speakers. Keys are well-spaced and offer adequate travel but don’t have that nicely-defined click the best laptop keyboards require. However, it’s certainly still usable.
We were slightly disappointed with the touchpad, which as mentioned didn’t feel as premium as that of rivals. However, it was still responsive and its integrated ‘buttons’ were easy to use.
Specs and Speakers
Specs are nothing out of the ordinary. We were hoping for some media/gaming-oriented dedicated graphics, but it’s the same old Ultrabook regulars of an Ivy Bridge Intel CPU plus HD 4000 graphics. Unusually though, we’ll apparently see up to 10GB of RAM backing this up, along with a less interesting hybrid 32GB SSD/500GB HDD for storage.
As mentioned, the metal-grilled speakers are given plenty of room in this Satellite’s chassis. Of course a noisy event is hardly the ideal testing location for judging audio quality, but from what we heard the stereo efforts here more than justify the space they take up, with good depth and a decent amount of bass at their prodigious maximum volume.
Last but far from least, the Toshiba Satellite U840W’s piece de resistance is of course its 14.4in extra wide screen, with its 21:9 aspect ratio and 1,792 x 768 resolution. The good news first: blacks are deep with superb dark detailing and punchy colours, giving you a contrast-rich entertainment experience. It’s also rather spiffing to see movie material without those traditional black bars.
Where the U840W’s screen stumbles is in its viewing angles, which display the typical TN-panel weaknesses and make viewing from an oblique angle a bit hit-and-miss. This is especially unfortunate considering that competition using high-quality 1,920 x 1,080 IPS panels is only just over the horizon, with models like the Asus Zenbook Prime UX31.
However, getting back to the Satellite U840W, its 1,792 x 768 pixels allowed for some interesting productivity too, letting us view far more simultaneous information than the until recently standard 1,366 x 768, or even the 1,600 x 900 pixels packed into the likes of the Samsung Series 9 900X3B. In a nice touch, Toshiba has added an app that lets you view one window full-size while the other takes up the remaining screen space. In other words, you’ll get one ‘standard’ 16:9 window while the other snaps to 5:9.
Starting at £899, the Toshiba Satellite U840W is relatively affordable and definitely offers something different to the Ultrabook crowd. Its design is attractive, different and great to touch and hold, its speakers sounded promising, and its screen does enhance both movies and productivity. However, there’s no shortage of competition coming to the Ultrabook segment, so we’ll have to see how it holds up in our full review.