Toshiba took quite a tumble in this year’s report, falling all the way from a tie for fourth place in 2012 to a basement-dwelling ninth place finish this time around. What’s to blame? We’d point to uninspiring design for many laptops, mediocre keyboards and a disappointing showing in our Tech Support Showdown. Toshiba does offer some compelling values for Windows 8 bargain hunters, but otherwise there’s heck of a lot of room for improvement.
Last year, Toshiba introduced a number of innovative notebooks. Some systems impressed, such as the ultra-widescreen Satellite U845W, but others fell flat. In all, we reviewed 12 systems, one of which (the $599 Satellite P845-S4200) earned an Editors’ Choice award, and eight received ratings of 3.5 or 4 stars. Unfortunately, two of the brand’s notebooks, the U925t and the U845-S402, were awarded just 2.5 stars, which brought down the company’s overall score.
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Ho-hum designs sunk Toshiba’s score in this category to the bottom of the list. While wafer-thin, the Portégé Z935-P300 was just a retread of last year’s Ultrabook with Windows 8 slapped on. And while the P845t-S4310 has a classy champagne color, its scaly chassis reminded us of a fish. Our favorite Toshiba design was the Satellite U845W, whose textured rubber not only looked cool but also made this Ultrabook easy to carry. The only drawback is that the ultra-wide body made this notebook a tight fit for smaller backpacks.
We marked down Toshiba’s keyboards for slippery, squat keys that offered limited travel. The Satellite U845W-S430’s keyboard, in particular, caused us to make more typing errors than usual. The Satellite U925t allowed for speedy typing, but the slippery keys resulted in our fingers occasionally sliding off. While we generally liked the company’s touchpads, the Satellite U925t and Satellite P845t had difficulty recognizing user input at times. These ergonomic issues resulted in Toshiba losing two points in this category compared with last year.
Adding a Twitter account was not enough to boost Toshiba’s tech support score this year. A new policy offers only 90 days of free support, instead of one year as you find with most brands. There’s no live chat or email assistance, and we failed to get a complete answer to our problem via Twitter. Meanwhile, Facebook support may as well not exist. Although phone calls were brief, they were also unhelpful. All of that added up to a second-to-last place finish here.
Most of Toshiba’s screens failed to impress this year, with displays that offered mediocre viewing angles. There were a few outliers, such as the Satellite U845W, which had a bright display with vibrant and rich colors. The brand’s audio fared better, with several notebooks offering robust sound. A good example is the P845t, whose Harmon/Kardon speakers and SRS Premium Sound 3D software combined to offer powerful audio.
Of the Toshiba systems we reviewed in the past year, the Satellite P845-S4200 offered the most value, featuring a Core i5 processor and an aluminum design for $599. The Z935 ($835) also impressed because of its light weight and performance for the price. Consumers can take their pick of multiple notebooks at Toshibadirect.com, from budget Satellite systems starting as low as $329 with AMD dual-core CPUs to Qosmio gaming powerhouses starting at $1,099. Multiple brick-and-mortar sites for purchase include Best Buy and Walmart.
For a brand that’s best known for its cheap Black Friday specials, it’s hard to shake the image of being a maker of value boxes. But Toshiba certainly broke that mold with the Satellite U845W, the first notebook with a 21:9 ultra-widescreen. The Ultrabook not only makes watching movies more immersive (no more black bars), it also took multitasking to the next level with a Snap Screen utility that lets you snap windows to either side of the display. Toshiba’s first Windows 8 slider, the U925t, was less successful, with an awkward switching action and a cramped keyboard.
Toshiba is known for preloading its systems with a host of utilities. PC Health Monitor is a diagnostic service, while ReelTime provides quick access to recently opened files and websites. Eco Utility helps to conserve battery life and Bulletin Board encourages note-taking and allows you to paste images and bookmarks to a virtual bulletin board. Toshiba Book Place is a hub for e-books.
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