Lauren Goode

Toshiba’s Widescreen Ultrabook: Good for Movies, Multitasking

Let’s face it: Most Ultrabooks look alike. When browsing through rows of these tapered, lightweight laptops in a Best Buy, many consumers wouldn’t see much of a difference between models.

So, in an effort to stand out from the pack, Toshiba has introduced an eye-catching, ultra-widescreen Ultrabook. Its display is much wider than it is tall, with a 21 by 9 aspect ratio — wider than even the rectangular, 16 by 9 aspect ratio that has become standard for most HD TVs. Called the Toshiba Satellite U845W, this laptop, with its extra screen real estate, is aimed at heavy media consumers and multitaskers.

It measures 14.5 inches by 7.9 inches, and is .83 of an inch thick. At four pounds, it’s substantially heavier than the 2.96-pound MacBook Air, but in line with some other Ultrabooks. It felt surprisingly lightweight when it was open and resting on my lap.

The Satellite U845W hit the market in late July. The base model, which has a mid-level Intel chip, comes with a 500 gigabyte hard drive plus 32GB of solid-state drive and retails for $1,000. The model Toshiba sent me for testing costs $1,500, and has a faster, 256GB solid-state drive and Intel’s third generation Core i7 chip. Both machines are built with 6GB of RAM. While the Satellite U845W was designed with Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 8 operating system in mind, it’s currently running Windows 7. And, unlike some upcoming Windows 8 laptops, this one lacks a touchscreen.

Overall, it’s a solid laptop, with fast processing and boot-up speeds and terrific speakers. I did find the widescreen display to be useful for multitasking, because I was able to view a couple of Web pages side by side on the screen, such as a live video stream next to my Twitter feed.

But the design is a little too awkward for my taste. The wide screen feels lopped off at the top, and the laptop doesn’t fit some of my larger purses as well as other Ultrabooks do. Plus, I couldn’t find a ton of video content with a 21:9 aspect ratio to fully enjoy the widescreen experience.

The laptop’s color is called “midnight silver,” but it actually has a coppery sheen to it, which I liked. The chassis of the laptop is made of machined aluminum, with a thick, black, rubberized strip running along the long side, which gives it a distinguished look.

The underside of the laptop is made of a combination of polycarbonate plastic and aluminum, and is covered entirely with the same textured black rubber, for keeping a good grip on the laptop.

The keyboard is backlit, with an extra-large trackpad. Another benefit of such a wide-sized computer: My fingers had a little extra room and didn’t feel at all cramped while typing. The keys themselves were a little flat, without the kind of spring I usually prefer.

In terms of ports, the Satellite U845W has an HDMI port, three USB ports and an expandable Ethernet port, as well as a headphone port and a microphone input. It also has an SD card slot.

It does not have a DVD drive. While a lot of newer, thinner laptops are lacking optical disc drives, a drive would be particularly handy with this one — since it’s targeted at movie buffs.

The 14.4-inch, glossy display has a resolution of 1,792 by 768. While I’ve seen more luminous laptop displays, most movies and video clips looked pretty crisp, with good color quality.

I wasn’t able to watch a lot of video content optimized for this sort of screen because it’s just not widely available. I more often watched 16:9 videos, which appeared with black bars on the right and left sides of the screen because of the extra-wide display. This included shows on Hulu, a movie on Netflix and the livestream of President Barack Obama’s convention speech on YouTube.

The only full-screen media I watched was several new movie trailers that were in 21:9 — “The Hobbit,” for one — which were suggested to me by Toshiba. The few clips I found did feel a little more cinematic, but ultimately, I didn’t get a lot of out of the video-watching experience.

I found this laptop to be more useful for browsing multiple Web pages at once. I could snap two browser windows side by side and get a good-sized view of both of them, so I could monitor work email while watching a movie, or see the commentary from Twitter while watching livestreamed videos from the conventions.

Among the standout features of the laptop were its battery life and its speakers. Toshiba says this laptop has a battery life of nine hours; in my test, which involved turning off sleep mode, playing iTunes on a loop and running an email application, all while the display was on full brightness, the battery lasted just under five hours.

This is weaker than the battery life of the MacBook Air, according to our previous tests at AllThingsD, but beats out some other Ultrabooks, including the Lenovo IdeaPad U300s, the Dell XPS 13 and the Sony Vaio T13.

And, as with other premium Toshiba laptops, the Satellite U845W comes with two powerful Harman Kardon speakers that offer full, clear sound for both music files and movies.

Despite these features, the Toshiba U845W is still a niche product that, for now, will likely appeal to only true cinephiles or multitaskers.

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