Don't judge the Toshiba Satellite M55 by its cover (its choice of ostentatiously colored lids may turn you off). Beyond its hue (bright blue, copper, or silver), there's a lot to like about this thin-and-light laptop, including an exceptional design, handy multimedia controls, solid speed and battery life, and a palatable price. Though we were not keen on our test unit's almost-teal lid, the Satellite M55 is a good thin-and-light for the home or small-office user.
The Satellite M55's case measures 13.5 inches wide, 9.5 inches deep, and 1.2 inches thick. It weighs 5.2 pounds, and the heavy AC adapter tacks on nearly a pound to the system's total weight. These measurements make the case slightly larger and heavier than those of competing thin-and-lights such as the Sony VAIO VGN-S470P and the Averatec 4200. However, the Toshiba has a 14-inch screen, while the Sony and the Averatec have slightly smaller 13.3-inch displays.
Aside from its gauche colored lid and some small mouse buttons, the Satellite M55's design is impressive. Its broad keyboard features quiet keys that don't clack when you type, which will please your neighbors on long flights. A standard-size touch pad and small mouse buttons sit below the keyboard. To the right of the keyboard lie six buttons in a ladderlike formation. You can program the first two buttons to launch the applications of your choice. The remaining four buttons control the laptop's multimedia player; you can even watch DVDs or listen to CDs without booting up the operating system. While not huge, the 14-inch display has a 1,280x768 native resolution and a wide-aspect configuration that works well for watching movies and comparing documents side by side. (If you're looking for an even larger screen, the less expensive HP Compaq nx6125 includes a 15-inch display, and the similarly priced Toshiba Tecra A4 has a 15.4-inch display.) A volume wheel on the front edge allows you to turn sound up or down, and the Harman Kardon speakers located below deliver above-average sound. Finally, a wireless on/off switch helps you preserve battery life by disabling the integrated Wi-Fi when you're not online.
The Satellite M55 strikes a good balance between moderate case size and useful connectors. The thin-and-light leaves out bulky legacy connectors, such as parallel and serial ports, and instead provides more contemporary connectors. These include FireWire, S-Video-out, VGA, and four USB 2.0 ports; 56K modem, Ethernet, headphone, and microphone jacks; one Type II PC Card slot; and one 5-in-1 flash media slot that supports five types of flash memory cards: Secure Digital, Memory Stick/Memory Stick Pro, MultiMediaCard, and xD-Picture.
The Satellite M55 comes standard with Microsoft Windows XP Home and the scaled-back Microsoft Works 8.0 mini office suite. The company also offers a few applications to help with video viewing (InterVideo WinDVD 5.0) and disc burning (Sonic RecordNow Basic and DLA). The last program of note is Toshiba's ConfigFree utility for altering wireless settings, programmable-button applications, and more.
You can nab a Satellite M55 at retail stores such as Best Buy and CompUSA, as well as through several online resellers. Our test model, the Satellite M55-S325, goes for $1,399 (as of August 2005)--a fair price, considering its overall solid configuration. The system features a 1.73GHz Pentium M processor; a giant 100GB, 5,400rpm drive; a killer double-layer DVD burner; and an Intel 802.11b/g wireless card. It also ships with a couple of ho-hum parts: 512MB of somewhat slow 333MHz memory and an economical Intel 915PM chipset that borrows up to 128MB of video RAM from main memory. The rival Sony VAIO VGN-S470P costs $500 more for a smaller screen and hard drive, though it provides a more powerful Nvidia GeForce Go 6200 graphics chip. In contrast, the Averatec 4200 is priced $200 less than the Satellite M55 but includes a slower 1.6GHz Pentium M processor, a smaller hard drive and display, and a single-layer DVD burner. Check out our Satellite M50 series review for more details on this series' alternate configuration. (Note: The Toshiba Satellite M50 and M55 are basically the same system; you can customize the M50, while M55 models come preconfigured.)