Windows 8 seems destined to be appreciated the most on computers with touch screens. It's not that you can't have a perfectly decent Windows 8 experience on a standard PC, but you're missing out on a good deal of the design it was intended for.
The Toshiba Satellite U845W, an ultra-wide-screen ultrabook I first reviewed several months ago, boasted a funky 21:9 aspect ratio, 1,792x768-pixel display crammed into a long, slim laptop. The U845W-S430 is that very same laptop, for the most part, with Windows 8 added.
In case you're curious about the U845W, read the original full review. My feelings on it still largely stand: the wide screen is intriguing but not necessary for movie-watching (in fact, many 16:9 movies will end up with "reverse letterboxing" on the sides as opposed to the top/bottom in order to fit the screen). The speakers are loud. The keyboard is uncomfortable but oddly stretched. The whole experiment still doesn't cost much more than a "normal" laptop, at roughly $1,085, although it's a little more expensive than before (although another Windows 8 U845W for $1,000 with a seemingly identical configuration is listed on Toshiba's Web site, and retail prices are often lower).
But, here's the catch: there are many new experimental laptops out now with funky designs, including touch screens and swiveling displays. The Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13 costs nearly the same. Yes, it's a completely different type of a machine, but I think it's a far more sensible one.
This Toshiba laptop isn't an ideal Windows 8 laptop, nor is it an ideal laptop. It's really, even more than before, simply lost in the middle.
|Starting price / Price as reviewed||$1,085|
|Processor||1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U|
|Memory||6GB, 1,600MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||500GB, 5,400rpm + 32GB SSD hybrid|
|Graphics||Intel HD 4000|
|Operating system||Windows 8 (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||14.5x7.9 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||14.4 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||3.7 pounds / 4.3 pounds|
The compact design of the U845W remains attractive: this ultrabook has a shallower footprint than most ultrabooks despite being longer, making it fit more easily on a narrow airline tray or table. Even though its dimensions are odd, it still stowed away into a small laptop backpack I use with little difficulty.
The two-tone bronzed metal surface, paired with a textured, slate-gray rubberized layer that lines half of the back lid and the entire palmrest, offers a comfy grip, and the whole laptop feels sturdily built and cleanly arranged. It's one of the more attractive Toshiba laptops I've seen this year.
That doesn't always translate into easy-to-use, though. The wide backlit keyboard ends up oddly centered between two very large side speakers, resulting in a layout that's hard to touch-type on. I made a bunch of errors, and it didn't help that the raised island-style keys have a mushy travel to them. It didn't feel good to write on at all, compared to other recent ultrabooks.
The large but uncomfortable touch pad on the U845W didn't feel easy to use with Windows 8 gesture controls, either. It's the same problem I had with the Sony Vaio E17: the recessed multitouch clickpad means that gestures made off the edge of the touch pad (to bring up Charms, for instance) are hard to pull off. Windows 8 has several of these off-edge finger-swipe gestures, and none of them feel fun on the U845W's limited surface area. Ideally, Windows 8 laptops should have flush, flat touch pad, with plenty of room around them on all sides.
You can still navigate Windows 8 via cursor movement and keyboard commands, but it's yet another buzzkill to experiencing the already borderline-alienating world of the Windows 8 user interface.
The 14-inch 1,792x768-pixel display amounts to a lot more pixel resolution than your average laptop, arranged in a very odd, super-stretched way. It's a clever idea in some ways: you could watch a movie with no letterboxing, theoretically, or even look at full Web pages and documents side-by-side with relative ease. Because there are still 768 pixels vertically -- the same as the average laptop -- browser windows and apps look normal, at least from a top-to-bottom spatial relations perspective. There's so much side room, however, that most Web pages end up looking odd in full-screen mode, with tons of extra empty space.
Movies sometimes have problems at this specialized, odd resolution if you're streaming them (which is how most of us watch video nowadays). Apps like Netflix and Hulu Plus don't optimize for 1,792x768, so some movies end up with black bars all around the movie. "Captain America" via Netflix looked like it was matted in black strips on all sides. Also, the screen isn't of the best quality: at full brightness, images looked washed out, and viewing angles deteriorate quickly when you tilt the screen. IPS, this is not.
Toshiba offers a split-screen utility for auto-snapping apps to fill part of the screen, but the uses for this service are limited. I preferred stretching out windows myself to fit the content.
Windows 8 shows off some of the U845W's extra-wide display, especially when viewing apps in the tile-based user interface view, but it's not a perfect match: you end up seeing about a screen and a half of app tiles, resulting in odd overlapping on the sides. Loading customized apps, such as the included iCookbook, had the same effect. I could read a full page layout of a recipe, and about half a cut-off page of another. Then I had to two-finger scroll to swipe to the next set of pages.
Considering the number of other hurdles Windows 8 still faces with the myriad touch-screen hybrids and convertibles out there, the odds that apps will strive for better compatibility with this weird ultra-wide screen resolution, which is unique to this Toshiba Satellite, are slim to none. You get what you get, and to my eyes, it isn't a perfect marriage.
Stereo Harman Kardon speakers flank the keyboard, and offer big, booming audio. It sounds initially impressive when watching a movie, but certain sounds and music can sound distorted at higher volume levels.