The keyboard is really quite good. There is a full number pad, which is great if you do lots of number work and for those rare two-player local PC games. Layout is impeccable, aside from the small ‘American’ Enter key which we’re not used to seeing on UK notebooks. Key feedback is excellent, with just the right amount of travel and click, while the shape and feel of the keys is also very pleasant. In fact, I’d go so far as to say typing is almost as comfortable as on a decent desktop keyboard.
Initially one might frown at the secondary functions not being marked in a different colour to the rest of the key symbols, but not only does this make the M17 more aesthetically pleasing, it’s actually done for a very good reason: the entire keyboard is beautifully backlit. Not only that, but you can cycle between red, green and blue, or of course turn the effect off altogether with Fn+F10. Personally, I’d go for blue because it matches both the alien’s eyes on the lid (which can only be switched on or off and are blue by default) and the backlit status icons above the keyboard, as well as the power button.
Above the keyboard is the inevitable set of touch-sensitive controls. Annoyingly, these aren’t backlit meaning they’re useless in the dark, but since they only offer email/Internet shortcuts and media controls it’s often easier to use the keyboard anyway. At least they’re very responsive, with the slightest touch being enough to operate them, and well-separated too.
As usual, the speakers on this laptop are none too impressive. This is still a field where Toshiba, thanks to its alliance with Harman/Kardon, mostly plays alone. This is not to say the speakers are unusable, since they do manage to produce a decent amount of volume, and quieter audio sections come across with clarity. Once the explosions kick in, though, things become muffled and muddy and audio generally seems to lack depth and a sense of immersion.
Thankfully, the screen makes up for a lot. This is not to say it doesn’t suffer from the ailments common to laptop screens, but never to a degree that negatively affects normal use. Blacks are very deep without too much loss of dark detail, and banding is very slight. There is almost no backlight bleed and everything is very sharp, partially thanks to the small dot pitch achieved by cramming 1,920 x 1,200 pixels into a relatively small 17in panel. The screen’s coating is glossy, which does lead to a distracting amount of reflections in a lit environment. On the other hand, horizontal viewing angles are truly impressive: aside from a slight degree of the almost unavoidable contrast shift, you can easily enjoy a film with a few friends.
The only downside with the screen, and it can be fairly major depending on use, is that it’s very picky about the resolutions it will accept. Oddly enough, even other 16:10 (the aspect ratio of 1,920 x 1,200) ones such as 1,280 x 800 or 1,440 x 900 aren’t supported – yet 4:3 resolutions like 1,280 x 1,024 or 1,600 x 1,200 are not a problem, nor are 16:9 ones such as 1,280 x 720 and 1,920 x 1,080.