Why can't I get what I want? It doesn't seem too complicated to me, but I find myself frustrated at every turn by the PC industry. Maybe it's a pipe dream, but I want a reasonably thin, reasonably good-looking laptop, with a high-quality touch screen, and a decent discrete graphics card for gaming. Of course, I don't want to pay too much for it.
The Toshiba Satellite S55t-A5277 is the latest to promise this to the world, but deliver significantly less. It's painfully close to being a near-perfect laptop, offering a new fourth-generation Intel Core i7 CPU, a reasonably good Nvidia GeForce 740M graphics card, 12GB of RAM, and a huge 1TB hard drive, all for $999.
What's not to like? Well, if you've got a solid CPU-GPU combo for playing games, you're going to want a decent screen to play on, and that's where the S55t-A5277 falls painfully short. While it's a touch screen, which is practically a requirement for Windows 8 these days, it has a low screen resolution of 1,366x768 pixels. That's rare in midprice, midsize laptops these days, and I can't imagine feeling good about paying $999 for a laptop that's not at least 1,600x900. On top of that, the screen just doesn't look very good.
I had high hopes for the S55t-A5277 as a mainstream gaming laptop that could also work as an everyday slim 15-inch productivity machine, but the poor display sticks a real wrench in that plan. Laptop gaming is a question of choosing priorities, with high-end gaming rigs such as theand lacking a touch screen, and most sub-$1,000 laptops being stuck with basic integrated graphics.
That one major flaw, the screen, aside, the S55t-A5277 is more than powerful enough for everyday use, with a slim body, optical drive, plenty of ports, and better components than you usually find outside of very expensive premium laptops. It's so close to what I want that it's especially frustrating to see it fall short.
|Toshiba Satellite S55t-A5277||Sony Vaio Fit SVF14A15CXB||Toshiba Qosmio X75-A9278||Asus VivoBook S500C|
|15.6-inch, 1,366x768 touch screen||14-inch, 1,920x1,080 touch screen||17.3-inch 1,920x1,080 screen||15.6-inch, 1,920x1,080 touch screen|
|2.4GHz Intel Core i7-4700MQ||1.8GHz Intel Core i5-3337U||2.4GHz Intel Core i7-4700MQ||1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3337U|
|12GB 1,600MHZ DDR3 SDRAM||8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz||16GB 1,600MHZ DDR3 SDRAM||6GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz|
|2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 740M||32MB Intel HD Graphics 4000||3GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 770||32MB Intel HD Graphics 4000|
|1TB 5,400rpm hard drive||750GB 5,400rpm hard drive||256GB SSD + 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive||24GB SSD + 500GB hard drive|
|Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Windows 8 (64-bit)||Windows 8 (64-bit)||Windows 8 (64-bit)||Windows 8 (64-bit)|
Design and features
Toshiba's entire laptop line has been slightly redesigned for the 2013 back-to-school season, although the S55t-A5277 isn't radically different from previous Toshiba Satellite models. The body is a mix of brushed aluminum and black plastic, with an understated two-tone design that would work in an office, coffee shop, or at home. If the system cost a few hundred dollars more, it would be too plastic-feeling, but as priced, it's just right.
While not as thin and light as Razer's Blade gaming laptop, the S55t-A5277 is close to other 14- and 15-inch ultrabook-style laptops we've seen (although that term is used too extensively these days to cover a very wide range of sizes and weights). It's just over 5 pounds and a hair thicker than 1 inch, but considering the discrete GPU and Core i7 CPU, that's pretty good.
Toshiba's keyboard style is built around chunky square keys that offer a satisfyingly deep click under your fingers. This keyboard looked and felt a lot like the one on the recent Qosmio X75, with generous flat-topped keys, plus a full-size separate number pad. Toshiba laptops have oddly short spacebars, which I always find hard to get used to, but at least the function keys are reversed, which means you don't have to hold down the Fn key to access the volume, brightness, and other controls on the F1 to F12 keys. The keyboard is also backlit, which is a nice extra in a midprice laptop.
The offset buttonless click pad is closer to the left side of the laptop body, centered under the similarly offset keyboard (the number pad pushes the keyboard and touch pad to the left). The pad itself is large, so there's room for multitouch gestures, and two-finger scrolling is reasonably smooth.
No company is as adept at cluttering the Windows 8 tile interface with adware as Toshiba. By default, you're treated to full- and half-size tiles for WildTangent games, as well as Vimeo, Hulu Plus, Norton, eBay, I Heart Radio, and others. This was the industry standard several years ago, to be sure, but since then, most PC makers have moved to a more stripped-down initial setup, knowing that consumers like to pick and choose what tiles, icons, and shortcuts they see every day.
But despite everything there is to like about the system's design, components, and features, you can't get away from that screen. On a true budget laptop, a 1,366x768-pixel-resolution, 15.6-inch screen with an overly glossy glass overlay and poor off-axis viewing might be a reasonable tradeoff, but for $999, and with the expectation that the included Nvidia GeForce 740M graphics card is going to be used for gaming, it's tough to swallow. For everyday use, it'll suffice, but you'll find a lack of screen space, and it's not even optimal for 1080p HD video content.
The Harman Kardon speakers, long a Toshiba staple, are good for a 15-inch laptop, but not especially distinguishable from other midsize multimedia systems. With more space for bigger speakers, the 17.3-inch Qosmio X75 we tested recently had the kind of room-filling sound you want from a laptop that's playing games, movies, or music.
|Toshiba Satellite S55t-A5277|
|Video||HDMI plus VGA|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||2 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi|
|Optical drive||DVD writer|
Connections, performance, and battery
The old-fashioned VGA port may be slowly going out of style with PC makers, but you'll still find one here, alongside a more useful HDMI port. I always appreciate dual headphone/mic jacks over a single combo audio connection, but the lack of Bluetooth seems like a less-than-optimal way to save a few bucks on this configuration.
While our very well-equipped $999 review configuration has a Haswell-generation Core i7 CPU, with discrete Nvidia graphics, 12GB of RAM, and a big 1TB hard drive, you can get the Satellite S50 series down to $549 with a last-gen Core i3, no GPU, a 500GB hard drive, and 8GB of RAM -- but that's pretty standard for the $500-to-$600 category, and every version includes the same 1,366x768-pixel touch screen.