With numerous laptops spread across its L, C, A, M, T, E, W, and R series, Toshiba may not run out of new product lines until it runs out of letters. We're pretty sure the midprice L series is above the entry-level C series, and below the premium A series, but that's as far into Toshiba's numerology (letterology?) as we're willing to delve.
That said, these L-series laptops (which carry the Satellite name) have always been workhorse machines, closest perhaps to Dell's Insprions; they typically include decent mainstream parts for $500 to $650. The latest version, called the Satellite L655-S5161, has Intel's second-gen Core i3 processor, basic integrated graphics, 4GB of RAM, and a 500GB hard drive--about as generic a loadout as a budget-minded laptop can get.
For less than $650 (we've seen it for as little as $619), it's not a door-busting bargain, and we were able to configure a comparable Dell for the same $619. But extra features, such as the sleep-and-charge USB ports (which can power phones and other devices even when the laptop is off) give it a leg up on the similarly priced competition.
|Price as reviewed||$619|
|Processor||2.1GHz Intel Core i3-2310M|
|Memory||4GB, 667MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||500GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Intel HD 3000|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||15.0 x 9.8 inches|
|Height||1.2 - 1.5 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.6 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||5.6/6.3 pounds|
Toshiba covers the L655, as most of its recent Satellites, with a dark silvery gray pattern, under one of the glossiest finishes we've ever seen. It could probably pick up fingerprints from someone just looking at it. Inside, the same pattern follows through to the keyboard tray and wrist rest, but the keyboard itself is jet black.
The body feels sturdy, but the trade-off is a thick, chunky laptop that isn't going to win any modeling contracts. It's also about a pound heavier than a 14-inch Satellite L-series laptop we looked at last year, so we wouldn't suggest lugging it around on your daily commute (a couple of days per week is probably fine).
Flat-topped, island-style keyboards are the norm now, and Toshiba has had nearly the same one on its last several generations of Satellite laptops. The 15-inch version includes a separate number pad, with very generous number keys, as well as large Shift, Tab, and other useful keys. However, Toshiba has not yet fixed its main keyboard flaw: an aggravatingly shortened spacebar, which can be murder for touch typists.
The matte multitouch touch pad lies flush with the rest of the keyboard deck and can get a little lost under your fingers, but it's well-complemented by a pair of large mouse buttons, which have a shiny surface and a convex shape for no discernible reason.
Toshiba continues to include the genuinely useful sleep-and-charge feature, which lets you use a USB port to power or recharge devices such as a mobile phone or media player, even if the laptop is asleep or off, via either the battery or AC power.
Also included are a couple of proprietary media/productivity apps. Book Place is an e-book reader/store, powered by a company called Blio ('cause it's really hard to find places to buy e-books online). And we've seen Toshiba's ReelTime before; it's essentially a system history browser, displaying recent documents and Web pages in thumbnail form along the bottom of the screen.
The 15.6-inch display features a 1,366x768-pixel native resolution, which is standard for the size. Movies and 720p HD video look fine, although the glossy screen coating can pick up glare from nearby lights. A pair of narrow speaker grills sits right above the keyboard, but they didn't push out much volume.
|Toshiba Satellite L655-S5161||Average for category [midsize]|
|Video||VGA plus HDMI||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader, eSATA|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
The Toshiba Satellite L655's connection options are on the bare bones side, as it doesn't have Bluetooth, USB 3.0, or eSATA. You can't expect too much for around $600, but we think a high-speed data port of some kind is essential these days for many users.
While this year's Intel processors (still called the Core-i series, but the second generation of them) have shown distinct performance and battery life improvements over last year's versions, the difference is more pronounced in the more mainstream Core i5 chips. With a lower-end 2.1GHz Intel Core i3-2310M, you'll get a perfectly fine system for general laptop use, from multitasking to HD video playback, but other recent laptops, including Toshiba's 13-inch, performed better. But, unless you're doing a lot of high-end video editing, it's unlikely to slow down or stutter under even a heavy multitasking workload.
Intel's new integrated graphics are better than last year's, but still not a substitute for a dedicated GPU. In Street Fighter IV, running at 1,366x768 pixels, we got 16.1 frames per second, while our older Unreal Tournament III test, at the same resolution, ran at 58.6 frames per second. That means basic gaming is possible, if you dial down settings and resolutions (and games such as World of Warcraft should play fine), but this isn't going to be a heavy-duty gaming rig.