The good news is that Toshiba improved over the past year, increasing its overall score from a lowly 56 to 68 (out of 100). The bad news is that the brand still placed seventh out of nine companies in our report. Toshiba fared well in the display and audio category, as well as in value and selection, but it still trails other competitors when it comes to phone tech-support and keyboards. Toshiba also failed to offer a compelling Windows 8 hybrid — at least so far.
Toshiba’s reviews were evenly spread: Three laptops earned ratings of 4, 3.5 and 3 stars, respectively, resulting in an average overall score that was still five points above last year’s showing. We loved Toshiba’s gaming-focused Qosmio X75, which earned 4 stars and an Editor’s Choice award, but the AMD-powered Click hybrid proved too unwieldy as a tablet, and had too short of a battery life, earning it a mere 2 stars.
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The only consistent thing about Toshiba’s phone support is its inconsistency. This year in our testing, a representative tried to get us to purchase Toshiba’s Premium Support bundle for $159, and when we refused, the rep continued to push the bundle on us by lowering the price. Toshiba’s new website, however, is easily navigable and chock-full of useful guides and videos. In fact, reps referred us to those guides during our live chat experience, rather than offering actual help.
Toshiba is in the basement again this year when it comes to design. There was a bright spot in the Kirabook. And the new Skyline design featured on the Satellite P55t, Satellite S55t and Satellite E45t with brushed aluminum and rounded corners pleased. Sadly, the needlessly chunky Satellite Click made us scratch our heads; it’s too heavy as a tablet and notebook. The Satellite L55t is the definitive ho-hum plastic chassis.
While some Toshiba laptops, such as the $1,999 Kirabook and the gaming-oriented, $1,819 Qosmio X75, provided a solid typing experience, many others suffered from mushy feedback and shallow travel. The company also sometimes uses keys that are shorter than normal, as on the Toshiba Satellite NB15t. The company’s touchpads were highly accurate and responsive in our tests. Many Tecra business notebooks have high-quality pointing sticks that are second only to Lenovo’s famous TrackPoint in comfort and accuracy.
Toshiba’s high-end ultraportable notebooks and gaming laptops have some of the most impressive displays on the market. For instance, the Kirabook’s 13.3-inch, 2560 x 1440-pixel screen packs 221 pixels per inch. The Toshiba Qosmio X875’s vivid 1080p 3D display made us feel like Killer Croc was right in front of us when we played “Batman: Arkham Asylum.”
However, Toshiba’s notebook displays could be brighter, averaging 214 lux (lower than the 242-lux laptop average). And some notebooks in the Satellite line, such as the S55t-a5277, had a low resolution for the price.
On the plus side, audio was loud and clear across higher- and lower-end models, and we appreciate the DTS Sound software that comes preloaded on Satellite notebooks. With an average decibel count of 84 during the LAPTOP Audio Test, Toshiba’s laptops fell just below the average notebook score (85 dB).
Toshiba’s Innovation score remains a low 4 points. The Kirabook caught our eye, as that notebook features a gorgeous, 2560 x 1440-pixel Concore Glass display. The company’s Satellite Click hybrid offered a 2-in-1 design with a vent-less tablet portion, but the execution left us wanting. The most innovative feature the company can claim in its laptops over the last 12 months is the inclusion of dual 720p webcams in the Qosmio X875, for capturing 3D videos and photos.
Talk about variety. Toshiba tied for first place in this category, in part because it offers six clearly defined laptop lines — Satellite for everyday use, Qosmio for gaming, Kira Ultrabooks, Portege thin-and-light notebooks, Tecra for business and Chromebooks. Options range from the $349 Satellite C to the brand’s super-powered $1,899 Tecra W series. Budget-conscious gamers can get the powerful Qosmio X75 for just $1,799, compared to a $2,149 Alienware 17 with similar specs. Many of Toshiba’s notebooks are customizable on the company’s website, and you can even get Windows 7 on many of the brand’s laptops. Plus, you’ll find Toshiba laptops available from a range of retailers, such as Best Buy, Walmart, Office Depot and Newegg.
Toshiba’s software selection hasn’t changed much from last year, with a handful of utilities to back up Microsoft’s stock Windows 8.1 offerings. The company has a proprietary media player, Toshiba Start for news, and Toshiba Book Place for downloading and reading eBooks. Recent models such as the Toshiba Tecra Z40 pack Toshiba Assist for PC diagnostics, while the Satellite E45t comes preloaded with Nuance Dragon Assistant for voice controls.